The Passing of Eric Fatla

I have the very sad duty of reporting that Eric Fatla, one of my first-year evening law students has died in Chicago. Eric was 26 years old. I have been informed that Eric died today shortly after 1 p.m. from the severe injuries that he sustained in his fall at the Union League Club in Chicago shortly before Christmas. I cannot express the profound sadness over the loss of Eric who was a brilliant young man with an extraordinary background and an even brighter future. As shown by the outpouring of comments on this blog and other messages sent directly to the family, Eric’s tragedy has left many in shock and disbelief. We have lost a good friend and a wonderful person at George Washington and he will be long missed by those who knew him.

In speaking with his father, Ed, and mother, Marcia, over the last few days, I have learned so much more about Eric and his remarkable life. I had Eric as a member of my Torts class and Legal Theory class. I used to tease him in class for being a White Sox fan. In one of the first classes, he refused to recant his support for the White Sox . . . even when I threatened arbitrary and retaliatory grading as a Cubs fan. He and I, however, found a point of alliance in our mutual dedication (obsession?) with the Chicago Bears. I would often speak with Eric during the break and in the halls. I last saw him after the Legal Theory exam and we both discussed our plans to return home to Chicago in a matter of days.

Eric took his father to the Union Club and, when they were heading home, Ed went briefly to the restroom. When he descended the stairs, he found Eric at the bottom of the stairs. It is still not clear how he fell. He suffered extremely grave injuries. His family has been at his bedside the entire time. They have fulfilled Eric’s wishes to be an organ donor.

When I first learned of Eric’s fall on Christmas Eve, I was heading to Midnight Mass with my kids. I sat at St. Mary’s of the Lake trying to comprehend the incomprehensible loss of a person so young and so full of life. Eric had already accomplished more than most people accomplish in a lifetime. He had gone to China on a research project, gone to Honduras as an election monitor, and worked in Congress as a staffer. He was currently with a lobbying and law firm while attending class in the evenings. He told his Dad about his “five-year-plan,” which included finding a wife and having children. Ever since Eric almost died of a brain hemorrhage in high school, he led a purposeful and active life. He was constantly in motion — planning new adventures and organizing his life with precision and passion. He was a unique and extraordinary person.

The death of someone so young and so full of life is a tragic absurdity. It is impossible to find meaning in such a death. Instead, we have to find meaning in his life. Eric showed us that every moment that we spend with friends and loved ones is precious and irreplaceable. He also showed us how to live life the fullest — creating our own path. I will truly miss Eric and I have , with so many professors and students at George Washington, expressed my deepest condolences to the Fatla family.

Jonathan Turley

40 thoughts on “The Passing of Eric Fatla

  1. This story got to me. I graduated from university just a week or two ago, at a rather late age. Nothing so severe as brain trauma, but I too have had a health condition always on the horizon that I feel has always pushed me when my body and mind were tired. This reminds me of why we push so hard; because we have so little time. Eric at least had the benefit of knowing that and made the most of the life he had, when most of us only theorize it and waste so many of those precious years.

  2. Most sincere condolences to the Fatla family and friends on the loss of Eric. Although I did not have the pleasure of knowing him personally, he must have been quite a fellow to garner such lovely tribute as seen here. The world is surely lesser for the loss of Eric Fatla, but he is never truly gone as long as he lives in your memories.

  3. I had the pleasure of being Eric’s 4th grade teacher. I am saddened by this tragedy. My sympathy to the Fatla family.

  4. Eric sounds like a wonderful person. My deepest condolences to Eric’s family and friends, I’m very sorry for your loss.

  5. When a young man such as Eric Fatla walks this earth with pride, honor, and firm senses of purpose/accomplishment and fairness—all without braggadocios swaggering; rather, accompanied by contagious self-confidence—his lasting influences reflecting his brief time here are as incalculable as they are immutable.

    FFLEO

  6. Something unnatural for a son to pass before a parent….My deepest sympathy to the family and loved ones of this gem of the universe…..

  7. “There is a sacredness in tears. They are not the mark of weakness, but of power. They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues. They are messengers of overwhelming grief…and unspeakable love.”

    Washington Irving

  8. Prof Turley

    I posted this, in a similar fashion, on Scott Greenfield’s blog the other day, and thought I’d repost here:

    Your post, and the related post of Mr. Greenfield, certainly struck a nerve here and brought tears to my eyes. The holidays are already crazy but for me they reboot the images and memories of the loss of my 19-year old son Andrew on 11/5/08. I wish Andrew would have had people like you and Mr. Greenfield writing about him, telling the world what a wonderful, loving, creative, talented exciting kid he was – he never knew or “got” that, I think – but the hundreds of people who stood in a long, bitter cold line that stretched out the funeral home door for blocks just to say a few words about what he meant to them hammered that point home to me.

    I am hopeful that Eric’s family can draw strength during this time from the fact that Eric touched so many lives in such a wonderfully positive way – I know I did. Eric clearly lit a flame in many, many people…

    While your support for his family is certainly important right now, don’t forget that 2, 5 and 10 holidays from now Eric’s family and friends will still be coming to grips with their loss, still vividly feeling his presence, so remember them in your thoughts and prayers and friendship forever.

    Life is not a right or privilege – a club we can demand entry into with some expectation of having it in our grasp at will – life is a gift of unknown duration to be guarded preciously and lived aggressively – you should never treat it like a handful of sand, slipping mindlessly through your fingers – Make yours count and make sure you let people like Eric know how important they are – you don’t know whether your time with them numbers in years, months, weeks, days, minutes or seconds…

  9. steve magas:

    “I wish Andrew would have had people like you and Mr. Greenfield writing about him, telling the world what a wonderful, loving, creative, talented exciting kid he was – he never knew or “got” that, I think – but the hundreds of people who stood in a long, bitter cold line that stretched out the funeral home door for blocks just to say a few words about what he meant to them hammered that point home to me.”

    ******************

    Simple acts of honor and respect for those who have passed are more eloquent than any words spoken in eulogy no matter how poignant. You have your son’s elegy written right before your eyes in the silent and abundant testimony of his mourners.

  10. Steve,
    I am sorry for your loss. Your words are a good reminder to us all that our time here is finite. I look at my kids and now my grandkids and wonder how much more of their lives I will witness. I hope I can give them all that they need, while I am able to give it. Thanks for sharing.

  11. Eric was well-loved and respected at Illinois Wesleyan University. He was a scholar, leader, activist, philanthropist, musician, and most of all, a person of unwavering integrity. His classmates, faculty and staff ache for his family. We honor and celebrate Eric’s good life and pray for his family’s peace. As former IWU President Minor Myers instructed graduates, “Go into the world and do well. But more importantly, go into the world and do good”. Eric did just that. He makes us proud.

  12. I remember Eric as a high school student, a football player with my son. I remember how worried we all were when he was hurt then and couldn’t begin to imagin how hard it had to be for his family, waiting and worring, wondering if he’d be ok. Once again I can not imagine the pain and saddness that the Fatla family is going through, please know our thoughts and prayers are with you. Remembering Eric fondly and wishing you peace at this most difficult time.
    The Longbons family

  13. I lived across the hall from Eric in the dorms at American University. He became one of my closest friends over the course of that semester and I am heart broken to hear of his death. I feel priviledged to have known him as well as I did and I am proud to say he was my friend. I’ll never forget the countless late night conversations and debates that would last for hours about every topic imaginable.

    Goodbye dear friend, I miss you already. So much.

    Love always,
    “MereKat”

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