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Distracted from Death
So you wait by her bedside day and night, thinking if you can stay with her all the time and never ever leave to sleep or eat she'll magically get better. And she dies while you are having a wee.
Letty, Teenage Worrier series

We all know that in fiction Death Is Dramatic. That's why a character who is about to die tends to get a Final Speech, Famous Last Words, or even a Dying Moment of Awesome.

Sometimes, though, it isn't. Sometimes the moment of death, even for a major character, might not even be noticed by the people around them. That's this trope.

In most cases where this happens, a character is already near death for some reason. Maybe they've been seriously ill, wounded in battle, or are Secretly Dying. Whatever the case may be, someone else is taking care of them, and either briefly leaves or stops paying attention to the dying character for a moment, (maybe because they went to get help, grab supplies, or were distracted by someone else coming over to them or another situation coming up) and when they return or start paying attention again they find that the other character has died during the relatively brief time they were distracted.

Perhaps the most stereotypical example would be someone watching over a loved one at a hospital, leaving the room briefly, and coming back to find their loved one dead.

Compare and contrast Dropped a Bridge on Him, Bus Crash, Never Got to Say Goodbye, and Dying Alone.

This is a Death Trope, so beware of spoilers.

Examples

    open/close all folders 

    Anime and Manga 
  • In the Scryed anime, Kazuma beats another Alter User with help from his Non-Action Guy/Mission Control friend Kimishima. Kimishima is injured in the fight, so Kazuma begins carrying him home, with the two even talking at times. When Kazuma makes it back home the Waif Prophet Kanami starts to cry as soon as she sees Kimishima. Kazuma doesn't get it because he just thinks Kimishima fell asleep or passed out on the way home. Then he tries to wake Kimishima up...
  • In Hell Teacher Nube, this happens to Nube and Yukime. He has had his Love Epiphany right before going to rescue her from her father's lackey, who is subjecting her to Cold-Blooded Torture for refusing to go Murder the Hypotenuse on her love rival Ritsuko. Once Yukime is rescued, Nube tells her that he does love her and happily talks about their possible future life as he carries her to safety, not noticing that her injuries are already fatal. As he speaks, Yukime is quiet and, at some points, whispers that she'll always love him and passes away... and Nube doesn't realize this until he's back to the side of Ritsuko and the others, who do notice and are very saddened. Then he looks at Yukime, sees that she's dead and that her lifeless body is starting to dissolve into snowflakes, which leaves him a screaming wreck... (Uncommonly for the trope, she later comes Back from the Dead. But it's still a very sad scene).
  • It sorta happens to Madlax in the very first episode of the series. She has befriended a cute soldier named Pete Aryan, they sorta hit it off, and after rescuing him from the enemies they ride in a jeep. They talk about possibly having a date when everything's over, but Madlax momentarily focuses on driving — and then she notices that Pete has stopped speaking right after asking her her name. Poor Pete, who had sustained serious injuries during the episode, has just passed away.
  • In the anime adaptation of Hakuōki, Yamazaki is grievously wounded protecting Hijikata during the battle of Toba-Fushimi. Chizuru tends to him during the Shinsengumi's trip by sea to Edo, but he dies quietly while she has turned away to prepare water and medicine and is cheerfully telling him that he needs to hurry up and get better.
  • In Candy Candy's Nursery School arc, Candy strikes an Inter Generational Friendship with the Cool Old Guy McDermott. At some point she wheels him around in a wheelchair as they make small talk, but then she leaves for a while to tend to other matters; when she comes back, McDermott has passed away. Cute to Candy begging him "Please Wake Up"...
  • In the first Vampire Princess Miyu OAV, a boy named Miyahito leaves his girlfriend Ryoko near the bridge she has to cross to go home. The moment he turns to walk away, Ra-en/Baku attacks her. When he turns back and rushes towards Ryoko, she's already dead.

    Comics 
  • In The Kindly Ones (the 9th volume of The Sandman) Rose Walker is taking care of and frequently visiting her friend Zelda, an AIDS patient very close to death. When Zelda passes along a message with apparently supernatural origins that Rose should go to England, Rose does, and comes back to find herself taking care of Zelda's funeral arrangements instead of hospital care.
  • In the story "A Fat Tip... for Murder!" in an issue of Crime Does Not Pay, a hospital orderly has altered a heart cancer patient's will, and triggers a fatal attack while the nurse is out phoning the patient's attorney since if the two were to speak, his fraud would be revealed. When the nurse returns, she finds the patient dead and seemingly assumes the normal version of the trope has happened.
  • Done cruelly in New Mutants: In a battle, Doug Ramsey throws himself in the path of a bullet for his teammate Rahne, receiving a fatal wound...but she doesn't realize what has happened and only chides him to be more cautious before turning back to the fight. No one realizes that Doug is dead until the end of the fight.
  • Subverted in Hellblazer: In the Dangerous Habits storyline, John befriends Matt, an old man dying of cancer. At the end of the story John races back to the hospital, certain that Matt has died while John was too preoccupied to visit. He hasn't, he's awake and happy to see John...thereby allowing John to witness his sudden and extremely ugly on-panel death a minute later.

    Film 
  • In The Edge, Bob and Charles survive for a prolonged period in the wilderness after their plane crashes. Bob becomes seriously wounded while they attempt to survive and get rescued. One day while at their camp Charles sees a rescue plane and grabs a burning branch to signal it. He gets the plane to notice him, but when he turns around to tell Bob, he sees that Bob has finally died just a few feet away from him while his back was turned.
  • In the first Highlander movie, Connor MacLeod's wife Heather is dying of old age, and Connor holds her in her last moments, telling her a comforting story so she can die happy. When he's done he looks down to find her dead in his arms, likely having died at some point in the middle of his story.
  • Saving Private Ryan:
    • Near the end, the tough Sergeant Horvath gets shot several times, but downplays the seriousness of it, commenting "I just got the wind knocked out of me, that's all." A minute or two later when Captain Miller is stunned after a near miss from a tank shell, he gets knocked down close to where Horvath was dragged to keep him out of the line of fire and realizes the sergeant is dead.
    • During the D-Day invasion, Miller turns to a radio man, and has the radio man relay their status to command. He turns back to the battle, then after a few seconds he gives more information to the radio man. He goes to talk to the radio man again after a few seconds, and finds that the poor guy's head was blown off while Miller's back was turned.
  • Subverted in Scent of a Woman, where Colonel Slade sends Charlie on a Snipe Hunt so that Charlie won't be there when Slade kills himself. Charlie realizes what is happening in time to go back and interrupt the suicide attempt.
  • In Untamed Heart, Caroline and Adam are coming home from a date and he appears to fall asleep. When Caroline tries to wake him up, however, she realizes that his bad heart had given out and he died without her noticing.
  • A variation occurs in Night at the Museum 2 - Battle of the Smithsonian. Teddy Rosevelt is about to go back to being wax, and wants to give him one last bit of advice before he does so. However, unfortunately, just as he is about to give said advice, Larry has to take a phone call, and looks up to find that Teddy has already turned to wax by the time he finishes talking.
  • This is used for comedy in the movie The Marrying Man. Charley's father is dying and Charley flies back to Boston to see him before he dies. He brings his new wife Vicki with him so his father can finally meet her. However, when they get to Boston the father is so sick that he is unconscious most of the time. They wait by his bedside hopping for him to regain consciousness one more time so he can give them his blessing. After hours of waiting Vicki has to go to the bathroom really bad. As soon as she starts to leave the room, the father seems to wake up. She rushes back but it proves to be nothing. This happens multiple times and Vicki finally can't wait any longer and runs to the bathroom. Right after she left, the father woke up, spoke his final words to Charley and then died shortly before she came back.
  • In the 1994 Little Women movie Jo is distracted from Beth's deathbed by the wind opening some shutters. Jo walks over to close them, then turns back to discover that Beth has died. Obvious symbolism that Beth's soul has left with the wind.
  • In Three Kings, both Troy and Conrad get shot within a few seconds of each other, with Conrad being hit in the shoulder, then Troy in the chest, puncturing one of his lungs. When Troy first goes down he falls very close to Conrad, who holds his hand for support. The others frantically try to save Troy while Conrad is momentarily forgotten. After about a minute Troy looks back over at Conrad, and sees that (in a subversion of Only a Flesh Wound) Conrad has died without anyone noticing.
  • In Cocoon, there's a scene where elderly couple Bernie and Rosie are talking together. He leaves to get her pills and some water, and by the time he comes back from the other room, she's gone.
  • In the film The Ultimate Gift, the little girl dies in the hospital while her mother is at the protagonist's meeting announcing a non-profit supporting cancer patients and their families that's named after the little girl.
  • Played with in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. Bill Carson dies of thirst and exposure in the minute or two it takes Tuco to run over to his horse and grab a canteen, but Blondie is there to hear him gasp out the name of the grave where the stolen gold is buried.
  • In The 13th Warrior, the surviving warriors and the people of Heorot are rejoicing at the retreat of the Wendel, when they hear a dog howl and look to see that Buliwyf has died from wounds and poison.
  • Subverted in Reservoir Dogs, when White and Pink go into another room to talk. They return to find Orange apparently dead from his bullet wound, but he's only unconscious.
  • In Navy Seals, Hawkins disobeys his superior's orders to stay quiet and assaults a group of Middle Eastern militiamen with Graham. After spraying them with his submachinegun, he cheers and turns around... to see Graham dead from the return fire.
  • In Fried Green Tomatoes Ruth is lying on her deathbed and asks Idgie to tell her one of her famous stories. Idgie moves to the window and begins, and while she's telling it the audience can see that Ruth has died, but Idgie doesn't realize it until she finishes the story and turns around.

    Literature 
  • In All Quiet on the Western Front, the main character is talking to a wounded Kat as he carries him on his back. He's then spotted by an enemy gunner who opens fire on him and sprints to the safety of the hospital. The medic looks at him and coldly points out that Kat is already dead, leaving the protagonist sobbing about how he couldn't be dead since he was just talking to him...
  • In the Belisarius Series, Antonina does this on purpose. As her beloved comrade Eon lies dying next to her, he asks her to read from the Bible to him; she does so, and deliberately doesn't look up till she's finished, so she won't have to witness the moment of his death.
  • The Dresden Files example: This happens to Harry Dresden in Proven Guilty: he's trying to save a girl from a phobophage, but gets carried away attacking it and, when he turns round to check on the girl, she's bled to death.
  • There's a minor example in the book Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill. Both the main character Jude and his dog Angus are injured in a car crash. Jude goes in and out of consciousness for awhile, but he comes to, (albeit in shock) and sees that Angus is still definitely alive (albeit barely) in the backseat of the car, and Jude briefly speaks to Angus and tries to encourage him, which Angus can only respond to with a miserable whine. A few minutes later when they reach their destination, he goes to get Angus out, and then realizes that Angus is dead. He is completely unable to believe it for several seconds, because it seems like Angus was definitely alive a few minutes ago and there was no noise or other sign to mark his death.
  • Mentioned in one of the Teenage Worrier books, when Letty brings up how to cope with the death of a friend, as seen by the page quote.
  • Inverted in Fracture by Megan Miranda. After Decker Phillips pulls his best friend, Delaney Maxwell, out of an icy lake, he spends day and night at her bedside as she lays in a coma. It's when he finally is convinced to take a short break from his vigil and spends it making out with another girl that Delaney wakes up. He spends most of the book being eaten up by the guilt of having been out of the room and with another girl when Delaney woke up, as he blames himself for the fact that she went under the ice in the first place.
  • Deliberately invoked in-universe in one of Isaac Asimov's Foundation books, when Elijah Bailey sends the robot Daneel Olivaw out of the room before allowing himself to die, in order to protect Daneel from the harmful effects of being unable to fulfill the requirements of the First Law in any form. The description of Daneel's internal reaction (because of course, he knows this is what Elijah is doing) is not-so-different from what one might expect of an actual human being who couldn't bear to watch an old friend die.

    Live Action TV 
  • Battlestar Galactica (Reimagined):
    • At the end, Adama takes the really-truly-dying Roslin for a cruise in his Raptor over the surface of their new planet to show her how beautiful and full of life it is, and she dies while he's looking away.
    • Starbuck vanishes while Lee is talking to her when Lee turns away for just a second. When he turns back, she's gone.
  • In Doctor Who, this happens to the planet Earth, as the sun is in the process of expanding a few billion years from now. Bad Things happen on the station everyone is observing it from, and at the end Rose noted that not only is the world doomed over a long enough timeline no matter what, in the end no one will even be watching, busy trying to save themselves.
  • Happens to Colonel Mitchell in Stargate SG-1. He spends most of the episode sitting with his friend who has an inoperable tumor and who would have been selected for the Stargate Program if not for a hotheaded mistake that Cam made. Near the end of the episode, Mitchell has to leave to help SG1 rescue Teal'c. By the time he gets back, his friend is gone.
  • Perhaps one of the most tragic examples is the death of Ben on Scrubs. Ben finally returns to the area after years of Walking the Earth, showing no apparent signs of the cancer he has been fighting, and is joyfully received by his longtime best friend, Dr. Cox. Then Dr. Cox leaves the hospital on a short errand, and Ben collapses and dies while he's away. Dr. Cox goes so deeply into denial that he hallucinates seeing Ben for the rest of the episode and blocks himself from consciously realizing that Ben is dead until he's at the funeral.
  • In Six Feet Under, in the final season, David is staying with Nate in hospital. He falls asleep, and wakes up to Nate's heart monitor flatlining.
  • In The L Word, Dana is in the hospital dying of cancer and Alice refuses to leave her side for even a moment until she is convinced to take a break and get some air. She speaks with another character briefly and buys Dana a singing flower from the gift shop, only to find nurses trying, and failing, to revive Dana, as the flower merrily sings "You Are My Sunshine".

    Theatre 
  • In La Bohème, Rodolfo is the only person in the room not looking at Mimi when she dies, for no better reason than tragic cliche.

    Video Games 
  • Utawarerumono has Teoro showing up in time to warn the cast that an incoming army has slaughtered practically everyone from his village. Hakuoro is so busy responding that he doesn't notice Teoro bleeding out minutes later.

     Web Comics 
  • One xkcd strip featured a character who was so worried about this happening when someone is leaving (even when they're just going out to the grocery store) that he suddenly tries to insert an "I love you" as a way of averting Never Got to Say Goodbye.

    Western Animation 
  • The Simpsons:
    • One Halloween episode, Homer has been cursed until he apologizes. So terrible things are happening to his friends and family. At Moe's, Homer witnesses the deaths of Lenny and Carl as they're crushed by a helicopter. Turing back to the bar, he sees Moe floating dead in a pickle jar.
      Homer: When did that happen?
    • "Alone Again, Natura-Diddly" — Ned and Maude Flanders go to a racetrack and Maude, naturally offended by Homer's inevitable antics, gets up to go get her family some hot dogs. They look away, and Maude dies in a freak accident moments later.

    Real Life 
  • Some dying people, not wanting their loved ones to have to watch them die, have actually been able to marshal enough Heroic Resolve to hang on until the person is no longer in the room, sometimes leading to guilt about not having been there.
  • Michael Jackson took a fatal overdose of a drug that was supposed to help him sleep while the doctor who was supposed to be watching him left the room for a few minutes. When the doctor came back, Michael wasn't breathing.
  • Blessed Jacinta Marto, one of the Fatima visionaries, often said during her Ill Girl tenure that she would end up Dying Alone. Her doctors, nurse and chaplain promised to stay by her side instead, but poor Jacinta passed away during the night when nobody was there. For worse, the girl had asked for the Communion and Last Rites that same day, but the chaplain didn't take her seriously and told her he'd come tomorrow...

Villainy Discretion ShotThis Index Happened Off ScreenEmpathy Doll Shot
Fed to PigsDeath TropesDivorce Requires Death
Distant DuetAdded Alliterative AppealDistracting Disambiguation

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