Posted by: Rob | June 16, 2008

In the Blink of an Eye

After an all around great Father’s Day weekend where some very good family time was spent and some gains were made on the seemingly endless list of domestic chores I am back at work.

Catching up on the company blog comments and newsline over morning coffee, I came across a short note about the loss of an employee at another subsidiary.

“Loss of an employee” usually means accidental or sudden death.  Before being widowed, I would normally have read the newsline note, thought something about that being too bad for the employee and move on to the next item.  Now, it seems, I need to know a little more.

With web tools like google, it’s pretty easy to find news reports, death notices and the like about a complete stranger.  The employee in question is a complete stranger to me.  We’ve never crossed paths professionally, which is not surprising given the size of our company.

The company newsline item provided the employee’s name.  I plugged it into google and learned that he was a victim of an automobile collision last week.  He was 49 – just a few years older than I.  He left a wife – now his widow – and three sons.

And that’s where my empathy goes.  Even for complete strangers.  Although I lost my late wife to an illness that took her very quickly near the end, we still had the time to say those things that need saying to each other.  Any loss is hard, but I know from interactions with those widowed by sudden death that it is much, much more difficult to reconcile the loss of a loved one, especially one that is so young, when they are here one minute and gone the next.

Sudden, unexpected loss has got to be one of the hardest for the survivors to heal and recover from.  And, in many cases, it’s also the one with the highest degree of preventability.  I know that, to the uninitiated, it seems we are invincible and that bad things only happen to other people.  I’ve been personally shown the fallacy of that thinking, but I still find it frustrating that it is not something that can be taught to others.  It can only be learned first hand.

It’s difficult to be philosophical about this when one knows that there will continue to be some relationships and families injured and grieving, even though in some cases it was perhaps avoidable.

I hesitate to make pronouncements like the previous one, though, because there is the aspect that “if your number is up, it’s up”.  I recall the story of another colleague who died young.  This one I knew slightly and worked with.  He took a transfer to Texas and moved there with his family.  He joined a group of bicyclists weekly for an extended road ride on Saturdays.  On this particular Saturday the group had stopped under an overpass to wait out a sudden rain squall.

As they waited, a young woman driving a pick up truck came around the corner toward the underpass.  She was driving too fast and the pavement was slick from the rain.  She lost control of her vehicle and plowed into the group of bicyclists.  My colleague was hit and killed instantly.  He left a wife – a widow – and several children.  One of his daughter’s had been a friend of my daughter.  I don’t know what became of them.

When it’s all said and done, I think the only thing one can say with any surety, is that you just never know.  The advice to live like there’s no tomorrow is not necessarily saying to live recklessly, but to live like you might not have tomorrow.  Tell the people you love that you love them.  Hug them.  Strive to not leave relationships with unresolved issues – at least not for long.  Because you just never know.



  1. hardest for me is when i need to let one of the kids “stew in the juices” for a day or so after a disagreement… i’m always hounded by the “what if” during that interminable waiting period – but i’ve learned that if i let things resolve too quickly, it can let them off the hook without the necessary soul searching. and if they come to the best solution on their own, they are more likely to learn from it… but yeah. treat each breath as if it is your last…

  2. Got to agree here, you just don’t know. You might die, or worse, end up like Terri Schiavo. I remember that ordeal, and how the parents just couldn’t say goodbye. I have worked with patients in persistent vegetative states, and knew they were deluding themselves. I’d seen it before. Say what you need to say while the person can hear it. Or as my mother always said, “Bring me flowers while I’m alive and forget the cemetery.”

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