Erin Praiz-Hintz: Love Lives On

Those we love are never really lost to us - we feel them in so many special ways- 
through friends they always cared about and dreams they left behind, in beauty that they added to our days... in words of wisdom we still carry with us and memories that never will be gone... Those we love are never really lost to us - For everywhere their special love lives on. 
~ A. Bradley 

Saturday, March 3rd was his 21st birthday. 

On Friday he shared this Facebook status: 

just 8 more hours until i can finally go to the bars!!! 

He met friends for drinks at the bars on the downtown Square at midnight. He left Joe’s Bar around 1:15 am. 

Dressed in a beanie and a flannel shirt, he headed north along the edge of the Wisconsin River toward Franklin Street to visit with some friends. 

He never made it there. 

Later, the friends reported that they heard someone shouting for help outside around the time of his disappearance. They rushed outside but found nothing. They lived right along the river’s edge. 

Friends and family put up fliers and canvassed the area. Red alert phone calls were made to the residents of this town. People went door to door and searched all properties in a two mile radius. Search and rescue dogs were on the hunt. Three very cold winter nights later not a trace of this ruggedly handsome young man with the red hair and glasses. 

My office is right on the Wisconsin River. I first heard the loud roar of the rotors at 8:30 am. I thought it was just an exercise that the police and fire departments were doing, as they have done many times before. But then I remembered the automated phone call that I received on Saturday from the Stevens Point Police Department. And the mention of this boy at our Newman University Parish on Sunday. This was no drill. 

Police spent this Monday morning dredging the banks of the river, chopping up the thin layer of ice with the rotors from the rescue boat. This is no rescue. This is a recovery. 

What once looked like a white blanket with the thin layer of snow is now an ice flow. I can see how thin the ice really is, barely holding up the weight of one duck. I can imagine how cold the water is, as the trained divers plunge into the depths with their special lighted goggles near the bridge outside my office. 

What should have been a celebration of a young man’s coming of age turned to tragedy. I just saw them pull a body bag out of the water and speed off in the boat. 

Eric Duffey was a 21 year old college student at the UW-Stevens Point. Police say that he likely was headed toward his friends’ house along the river and wandered off the path, breaking through the thin ice. Alcohol was most certainly a factor in cutting short this young man’s life. 

Eric was a young forestry major at UW-Stevens Point who just found out that he got a job with the US Fish and Wildlife service in North Dakota this summer. He wrote of his trip of a lifetime to Costa Rica in January. On his wall, he shared his recently inked compass rose tattoo with a four leaf clover to “remind myself to always to travel and try new things.” He most recently indicated that he was in a relationship with girlfriend Elly. 

Eric leaves behind loved ones. But he also left behind dreams, passion and promise. In an instant, the world has lost a bright light, a rising star. 

So why would I write about something as solemn as this for Grateful Living? 

When I was Eric’s age I took a lot of risks, many involving alcohol, thinking that nothing like this could happen to me. When I look back now I see how unbelievably lucky I was that I am still standing here today. I am grateful that my youthful exuberance did not turn to foolishness. I am grateful that on my 21st birthday in these same bars oh so long ago I chose to order a Diet Coke as my first drink, something my friends teased me about for years. 

I cannot imagine the heartbreak that Eric’s parents and friends are enduring right now. No parent should ever lose a child. But I hope that they will know that they are supported by a community that cared for Eric and was proud of his accomplishments. I am grateful that this young man touched so many others in his short life. I am grateful that he had a plan and he was living life to its fullest. I am grateful that our community could come together with a common goal, even if the outcome was not a happy one. 

My children are not at this age, but I realize that they will become adults far sooner than I would like. There are so many lessons that I have left to teach them. I will hug my kids a bit tighter tonight to will them not to rush into growing up so fast. I will remind them as the years go by and they get older of this day so that this sadness can be turned to a lesson to build on. I am grateful that I still have chances to share the lesson of this tragedy with them. I only hope that they will listen. Despite the tragedy, I am grateful that this young man was working to make the world a better place just by his being in it.
You an learn more about Erin on her blog, Treasures Found


Shirley said...

Erin, I can relate as well to this story. I too, can look back and see how many times God bailed me out of my foolish decisions. He has a plan for me, just as He does for this young man. I am so glad that His ways are not mine. It makes it easier to accept that He is using what is a tragedy in my eyes; for the good of all. And I think that is what your post reminds me of, that in the midst of tragedy is where we can also find great blessings. I have some sweet memories of people steadfastly standing by me through my hurtful moments. I too, will hug my children more often, and be more intentional with them. Thanks for the reminder. Blessings, Shirley

Alice said...

I can think of many times in my teens and beyond where I have been spared from the consequences of my bad decisions. I know that there is a plan for all of us, which is somewhat comforting. Now that two of my three children are out on their own and one just starting to drive, I have done more praying than ever before.

This past summer our wonderful nephew died in a motorcycle accident at the young age of 24. His friends witnessed the wreck. It always makes me a little angry that someone so young was chosen to go home, eventhough I know it is not up to me or anyone else.

Life goes on, and hopefully we use these tragedies to be closer to God, and to appreciate the blessings we have been given. Thank you for a wonderful post.

Chris said...

Erin, this is a good post to make us look hard at all of our blessings and praise to high heavens for them!

Riki Schumacher said...

What a wonderful post Erin. How tragic for the loss of such a young man, can't believe how sad, with such a huge future. We all need to remember life is such a gift, and to hug all our loved ones a little tighter each day. Xox Riki