I Saw a Friend Die

by Ken Lysen

This article appeared in the November 1994 issue of M.E.N. Magazine


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I saw a friend die today.

Iíve seen dead people and dead animals before. And Iíve seen animals die. But today was the first time I saw a person die before my eyes. And heís a friend of mine.

Today was the last day of an intense week of training at work. My group was to give our final presentation in the Board Room at 2:00. Returning from lunch just after noon I noticed some commotion in the elevator lobby. As I approached I could see a man down with three people over him. He was obviously in distress. It was Mike. I heard him say some words. "Iím diabetic."

Mike vomited. He evacuated. His entire system was saying, "I donít want this thing - - this death - - to come into me!". He choked and retched and blew a wad of something from his stomach almost up to the ceiling. They rolled him on his side to keep his air passage open.

Three people were with Mike. Tom, from Building Services, and two representatives in the building that day bringing us information about a United Way agency - CAPRI - - a research organization for heart disease and healing. Mike couldnít have been in two better pairs of hands.

The fire department was there in two minutes. The medics werenít far behind. There were others who gathered. Gapes. Gawks. I was one of them. Just watching. I began to feel useless... helpless... Another manager from my department showed up. We started talking about contacting Mikeís wife.

A paramedic wanted information. Someone started calling out for anyone from Mikeís department who could help with information. I walked past the security person who had begun shooing elevator people to another floor. We squatted by a medical case. Whatís his name? Michael. Gengo. G E N G O. George. His first name is George. He goes by Mike. The paramedic patiently wrote what I couldnít clearly say. I realized Mike was only two or three feet from us. Could Mike hear me? In another setting the conversation would have been pathetic. I would have sounded drunk. But I decided Mike probably couldnít hear me. I thought in that narrow moment that death must be lonely. Maybe desolate is a better word. Mike was in caring, professional hands. Yet, how could he know? He had been unconscious now for 10 minutes or more. Time. Such an odd thing. I finally decided there was nothing more I could offer Mike or those helping him. I returned to my meeting.

I had an hour to sit through before my presentation. Before it started the leader of the meeting asked me if I was all right. He knew of Mikeís situation. I said, "No. Iím not all right." He asked me if I thought I needed to be somewhere else. I told him no, I would stay with my group to do the presentation. I would survive. I say that a lot. This time my "Iíll survive" was more than trite.

So I sat. I prayed that I would hear the siren of the Medic One van leave before I had to give my presentation. I thought the most awful thing to happen would be for me to hear the siren as I started my talk. Thankfully it came well before that. Mike! Whatís happening to you? How are you? What will be your... future?

All but one presentation group had experienced technical difficulties. We were no different. But we got through it. We received congratulations and kudos for having survived the nightmare. I smiled. Said, "thanks!" Firmly shook hands. And was fully thinking about Mike again.

The meeting broke for refreshments. I walked out an saw Deetsy talking with one person off to the side. I knew that Deetsy had been on the mezzanine and knew about Mikeís distress. So I went straight to her. More congratulations. I let a couple sentences exchange in dialog. Then I asked her if there was any word on Mike. Her face told me faster than any words could ever tell me. She told me very simply, "Mike didnít make it". She told me how they wanted to keep it from the group until after all the presentations. There was one more group to go.

Then an odd thing happened. Deetsy apologized to me that she had to tell me this bad news. Anyone listening in would not have interpreted it as odd. But I did. Why should a friend apologize to me for telling me of another friendís death? I immediately and earnestly told Deetsy, "Please donít apologize. Thank you for telling me. I wanted - no needed - to know."

The conference leader made it clear that I could leave if I wanted to. I decided to leave. Deetsy told me there were some gathering in our programming department. One in particular I wanted to see was Jeff. Jeff was Mikeís very good friend. Jeff was also my former boss. I wanted to see them all. I wanted to be a part of their shock and grief. I quickly said good-bye to a few as they tailed back into the Board Room. Another seminar leader brought up the rear. As soon as she noticed I intended to leave she asked me to stay. She said there would be some important follow up at the end. I didnít argue. I crept in the back door and sat on the cold air conditioning vents. But soon I felt that I needed my own grief space. So I went back to the lounge. Thankfully I was alone - for a while. A senior manager saw me and walked in. He said that Deetsy told him I knew Mike was dead. He sat and talked with me for a couple minutes. He reminisced of when he first met Mike - a long time ago when Mike was Admin. Manager in Canada. Then he left to return to the presentation in progress. I sat for a while more watching the water and the mountains. Thinking. Always not quite crying. And frequently reliving watching Mike die.

I thought of loneliness. Desolation. Iíve thought a lot. This typing has helped. I have not yet outwardly cried for Mike. That will come. I know it will. That may be tonight when I go back to bed. It may come sometime later - maybe at some embarrassingly inappropriate time. But I know that sometime... I will cry for Mike.


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