The Last Face

It’s late afternoon and I’m driving down a busy commercial street when an ancient looking station wagon explodes out of the opposite lane and heads straight for me. I slew my car to the right, but the station wagon counters my evasive maneuver and continues barreling towards me. Through the station wagon’s dirty windshield I can see an old woman behind the wheel – face ashen, eyes half open, head lolling loosely on top of her neck. In a flash of adrenaline boosted cognition I connect the dots. The old woman’s having a medical emergency. She’s losing consciousness and is no longer in control of her two thousand-plus-pound vehicle. There’s nothing I can do. I’m going to get hit. As I wait helplessly for the station wagon to smash into my driver’s side door I wonder if my legs will be severed.

There’s a loud bang followed by the sickening shriek of metal against metal. After both cars crunch to a halt I look down at my legs. They’re still there. After a quick self diagnostic I realize I’m uninjured. The old woman in the station wagon, however, isn’t so lucky. I watch as she leans back in her seat, clutching her chest.

The driver’s side door of my car is pinned shut. I climb out the passenger side and run up to the station wagon. The old woman looks like she can’t breathe. I can’t get to her because the driver’s side door is also crumpled shut. Cars are stopping all around me. People pour out of surrounding stores to see what’s going on. I notice an onlooker on the sidewalk talking into his cell phone.

“You!” I shout, pointing straight at the man. “Call 911! This woman’s having a heart attack.”

“You got it,” the man says, “Right away.”

Knowing that someone’s summoning help, I scramble across the station wagon’s hood, yank open the passenger door, and slide across the vinyl upholstered bench to the stricken woman’s side. Empty nitroglycerin packets are all over the floor.

“Ma’am,” I call out. “What’s wrong? Are you having a heart attack?”

The woman looks at right at me. Her right hand’s trembling. Her mouth’s moving but no sound’s coming out.

“Ma’am what’s your name?” I yell.

Behind me I hear a male voice saying an ambulance is on its way. Blood wells up in the old woman’s mouth and starts dribbling down her chin. She makes a horrible gargling sound.

“Ma’am,” I say, putting my fingers on her jugular vein. Her pulse is weak and slowing. “The ambulance is coming. Hang in there.”

The woman looks at me uncomprehendingly. Then her eyes glaze over and she slumps in her seat. The pulse in her neck is gone.

For the second time in a less than a minute I feel a terrible helplessness. I don’t know what to do. I consider dragging the woman out of the car and starting CPR. But the blood coming out of her mouth scares me. Maybe this woman has internal injuries. Maybe I’ll make a bad situation worse. The calm detached part of my brain tells me not to move her and wait for medical professionals to arrive. I know first aid. I’ve helped people in emergencies before, but this situation’s beyond my competency level.

Suddenly I feel a tap on my shoulder. It’s a cop.

“What’s going on?” he asks.

“I think lady’s having a heart attack,” I say. “She lost control of her car and smashed into me. I think her heart’s stopped.”

“Okay, sir,” the cop says. “Please step out of the car. We’ll take over from here.”

I exit the car. The cop speaks code words and numbers into the radio microphone clipped to the epaulet of his uniform. Within a minute paramedics arrive on scene. After a evaluating the situation they remove the woman from the car, lay her down on the cold pavement, bag her airway, and begin CPR. The young cop returns his attention to me.

“Sir,” he asks. “Are you alright?”

“I’m okay,” I reply. “I’m shaken up, but I’m fine.”

The cop looks at my car. “You’re lucky,” he says. “A couple of inches to the right and she would have punched through the driver’s side door.”

“I guess I am lucky,” I mumble.

“Wait here,” the cop says. “We’re gonna take all your info in a minute.”


“You sure you’re all right?”

“Yes, officer,” I reply. “I’m fine.”

The paramedics try shocking the old woman’s heart back to life. As the defibrillator delivers it’s current, the woman’s body convulses off the pavement. Her blouse is open and a flaccid nipple slips out from underneath her bra. Her panties are showing and she has no shoes. Her feet and legs are white and waxy looking.

“Oh my God,” I utter, my hand going to my head.

“What?” the cop says. “You gonna pass out?”

“No,” I reply. “I just realized something.”


“I might have been the last face this woman ever saw.”

The cop nods sadly but says nothing. There’s nothing to say.

I walk over to my car and lean against the trunk. My left leg is twitching involuntarily. It always does that after a massive adrenaline dump. I feel myself starting to numb over. Its cold out and I start to shiver. As I watch the medics load the woman into the ambulance a bystander comes up to me.

“She gonna be all right?” he asks.

“I think she’s dead,” I reply.

“Oh,” the man says, surprised. “You never know the time or the hour I guess.”

“I guess not.”

A guy from the pizza shop across the street gives me a bottle of water and a sympathetic pat on the back. I suddenly remember a line from the Gospel of Matthew. “I was thirsty and you gave me drink. I was a stranger and you welcomed me.” Feeling very grateful, and not just for the water, I thank the pizza man. The ambulance pulls away with blasting sirens and flashing lights. The police have cordoned off the area with yellow tape. Because my car was involved in an accident where death or serious injury occurred, the county prosecutor’s vehicle homicide unit is called in. My car is impounded and I and two eyewitness have to go down to the local police station and give videotaped statements. I’m legally in the clear of course, but the State has to dot their i’s and cross their t’s.

My parents just happen to be in the area and they pick me up at the police station. We go to a diner and get a bite to eat. I chew on my cheeseburger in a daze. When I get home I pull a bottle of Johnnie Walker out of the liquor cabinet and drink four scotches within half an hour. I’m drinking to get drunk. I’m afraid of the bad dreams waiting to crawl into my brain. I call a close friend of mine and tell her what happened.

“I might’ve been the last person she ever saw,” I say. “That’s crazy.”

“Maybe you were meant to be there,” my friend says. “You’re a good person. Maybe you were there so the last face she saw was a concerned face, a compassionate face.”

“Wouldn’t it be pretty to think so,” I reply caustically.

My friend’s a good person and means well. Heck, she might even be right. But I also know people die alone every day. Only yesterday a cop friend told me about a bloated corpse he recently found inside a house. The guy had been rotting on his living room floor for so long that his stomach exploded from the decomposition gasses. No one held that guy’s hand and said comforting things to him when he collapsed and died. I wonder what was the last face he ever saw? His paperboy? The postman? A newscaster on television? Who knows? Sometimes we’re alone when we shuffle off our mortal coil. Sometimes we’re not. It’s largely a matter of luck.

The whisky I drank suffocates my nightmares and I sleep like a log. The first thing I do when I get out of bed is call the detective investigating the accident. He confirms the lady died. He tells me her name and that she lived seventy-three years. I thank the detective and hang up. Thick tongued and hungover, I walk into the kitchen and make breakfast. As I sip my coffee a memory from the accident stabs me in the head and I jerk upright. Coffee slops over the edge of my cup and splatters on the floor. As I clean it up with a paper towel I try reassuring myself. “I’m okay,” I say to the empty kitchen. “I’m alive and that lady’s dead. Her number was up. Mine wasn’t. Maybe mine wasn’t the last face she saw. Maybe she was so whacked out with pain and confusion it was all a blur.” I guess I”ll never know. But then again I’ll never forget feeling that woman’s life end beneath my fingertips, the light draining from her eyes.

I finish my breakfast and toss the dishes into the sink. After some back and forth with my insurance company I secure a rental car and drive over to my brother’s house. Uncle Steve has to do some babysitting. Luckily my nephew’s napping when I arrive.

After my sister-in-law leaves to run her errands I stand over the boy’s crib and watch him sleep. I met this child during the first hour of his life. I met that old lady during the last seconds of hers. I can’t help but wonder whose face will be the last I see. Will it be the loving face of a wife or child? Will it be a doctor or a nurse? A cop or EMT? Maybe it’ll be some forty year old guy who’ll leap across the hood of my wrecked car and tell me to hang in there as I slip the surly bonds of earth. Maybe he’ll go home and get drunk too.

I look at the golden haired boy as he sleeps soundly in his crib. His face is unmarked by worry or fear. It will be one day – but not now. I reach down and stroke his cheek. When he’s forty I’ll be eighty. Maybe his will be the last face I see.

That wouldn’t be so bad.

153 thoughts on “The Last Face”

  1. Casey Hobbs says:

    Good stuff man. Sorry you had to go through that. It’s good to know something else Jesus said in Matthew’s Gospel:
    “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are numbered. Fear not therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.”
    Good to know you’re never alone Steve.


  2. Mike Harris says:

    Holy … crud. You did all you could do in a nightmarish situation. And you kept your head. She may have passed on, but you gave her the best chance for life she could’ve had. I hope the act of writing the entry was cathartic for you.

  3. Brian says:

    That was so incredibly morbid, Steve. And you know, I have that thought all the time. Had a liver transplant a few years ago, and now I keep wondering how and when I’m going to die. Morbid, but… what can you do?

    I guess you can just push on and keep thinking happy thoughts until that moment arrives, and just hope and pray that you’re not alone.

    And know that on some level, spiritually, emotionally, whatever… you’re not alone.

  4. JL says:

    Life is short. Love not only the ones you love but also the ones you don’t. Glad your okay. Keep your head up…

  5. Jenny says:

    That was very well-written; it was like I was there. And that was scary.

    I’m so sorry.

  6. Stacey says:

    This was powerful. Thank you.

  7. Crash says:

    What a horrible situation for you. I’m just glad that you’re alright. Glad that you did the right thing by that woman, that took character and courage.

    When you are single and live alone, those morbid thoughts can come to us all, especially when you are touched so immediately by personal tragedy.

    Her time was up, yours (thankfully) was not. Life is strange.

    Hope you’re feeling better and keeping the nightmares at bay.

  8. Cindy says:

    You’re a good person. Maybe you were there so the last face she saw was a concerned face, a compassionate face

    Your friend was right.

  9. Anonymous says:

    you are a good person.

  10. Lindsay says:

    Wow. This choked me up. To echo previous sentiments, you certainly did do the right thing, you are a good person and if you were the last face, at least you were concerned for her and not just some passerby that didn’t know what was happening.

    It always gets me how your posts are so well-written and engaging, more like short stories than blog posts or articles. They remind me of creative non-fiction writer Annie Dillard in that way.

  11. Karen says:

    Wow. That’s an amazing experience. I’m glad you’re OK. You did an excellent job writing about it. I’ve been reading a lot of Sylvia Browne in the last year or so. She says that it turns out that it’s not dying that’s scary for our souls, it’s being born. Hugs to you, Steve.

  12. shebadog says:

    Somehow, I think your running over there and dispaying concern and compassion towards a fellow human being will outweigh any other sentient thought she may have had, except of course, whatever flashes of her 73 year existence shot through her stream of consciousness. I’m sorry you had to experience such sorrow so closely.

  13. Snoopy says:

    How heartbreaking.

  14. HMARK says:

    Waiter – this is one story that smacks me square between the eyes. As a Firefighter / EMT I continually ask this question.

    I do not sleep well at night.

    After awhile, I have become immune/oblivious to the thought; but then at the worst times (passing a area of a suicide/death/injury) I completely lose it.

    My children/grandchildren eyes are all I care to see right after the pain has left.

    Thanks. / Aloha.

  15. Emery from Washington but on Maui says:

    Something in there – maybe the whole piece – I dunno, man, it was just very healing for me and I thank you.

  16. Martin says:

    Wow. I’ve been a reader here for several years, and this man’s blog has never let me down. Each and every time I’m here, I am amazed at what Waiter goes through every day. It’s truly amazing, and it has changed my life.

  17. Anonymous says:

    You’ve been awfully introspectively morbid lately, Waiter… I hope this burst of stardom isn’t taking too much of a toll.

  18. Val from CapeTown says:

    Glad you were there for her at the end. Sad and moving post. Take care.

  19. Corey says:

    That was… stunning.

  20. GP says:

    I’ma forensic scientist, i guess you could sy death is my trade.

    I was goign to try to say something deep and profound here but i’m having drouble summoning the right words, i’m suffering from a bit of burnout at the minute.

    So instead all i’m going to say is, whether she saw you there or not, and whether she realised what was happening or not, in the midst of all that chaos you tried to save her and tried to give her some comfort, and that makes you a far better man than many of the people you will meet in the street.

    Hope you get a nice new car, and hope you fee better.

  21. Denny says:


  22. Christina says:

    This was amazingly well-written. I was kind of hoping that you were recounting a nightmare, because this sounds like such an awful experience to have lived through.

    I hope you feel better.

  23. Cat says:

    What a story. Glad you are okay.

    Sending hugs and prayers your way.

  24. Stuart says:

    As unlikely as it is to come up again (I hope it never does) – If you ever find yourself in a situation where you need to do CPR, you can miss out the rescue breaths entirely. It’s known as cardiocerebral resuscitation and can actually be more effective than conventional CPR. Just make sure they’re on a hard surface – doing it on a couch/car seat etc. would be less effective.

    And remember even if there is an internal bleed, that doesn’t matter in the slightest if the heart isn’t beating. You might pump a bit of blood out, but if there isn’t blood getting to the brain they’re gonna die anyway

  25. mary says:

    I have been reading you for sometime now and you never fail to amaze me with your ability to write. No wonder you have been chosen to publish a book! You got to me with this one, tears in my eyes from your compassion and the poor ladies passing.

  26. Heather says:

    Hugs to you, for not freaking out while you were there, and being a good face for this woman to see.

    Great writing.

    Your friend is right. You were there for a reason, and maybe that woman needed to see YOUR face before she went.

  27. rnmom0416 says:

    Hi Steve, What an incredible experience you had–I know you probably won’t think this now, but you have been given a gift, to be there when someone leaves this earth, as well as when a baby enters. I have witnessed this many times, both personally & professionally. I like to think that when my time comes, they will all welcome me (to whatever side I’m going!!) Besides being the last face she saw, I am certain yours was the last voice she heard, as that is the “last sense” to leave. Give this some time, and on introspection you may feel as I do. Take care of YOU, Steve……..

  28. Becs says:

    And my love of you (in a non-creepy, non-stalkery way) continues unabated. Weird as it may seem, I should be so lucky to die with someone next to me, caring so deeply about me as I go on that last voyage.

    Happy Easter.

  29. Jan says:

    That was both traumatic AND stressful… obviously!! Look up the signs for Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome It is real and can affect different people in different ways. Be alert…be good to yourself…the last face you see may be in a mirror so SMILE!

  30. mur says:

    Although I weeping, I thank you for this story. It made me think of my sweet mother and grandparents and their last moments of life. How I miss them.

    You just never know.

  31. Anna Kate says:

    Mine was the last face my grandmother saw. I wish that I was more composed as she died. Watching death alters the way you look at the world and your own mortality. Be well.

  32. Cuprohastes says:

    I was in a car crash in January (WE all walked away from it), but what you describe reminded me a lot of it. You sound like you did everything right.
    You’ve seen disaster movies or news reports, and wondered if, when it came down to it, if you’d be the guy who got everyone out of a burning plane, or whatever, or be the guy frozen to his seat with hyteria? Well now you know. You’d be the guy pulling people out.

  33. paula says:

    i kept waiting for you to wake up…i was hoping this was just a nightmare. glad you weren’t hurt…trauma aside. i’m not sure i would have thought what you did about it being the last face she will see. if anything,the woman was lucky to have had someone compassionate by her side and it was quick and from the sound of it, rather painless compared to months in a hospital.

  34. Marc says:

    Good Morning Waiter,
    First and foremost, you did the best you could with the cards you were dealt. You even said in the posting that you had the wherewithall to recognize a situation that was beyond your immediate knowledge; but it didn’t stop your from trying. Or caring.

    I’m one of those people who believes that everything happens for a reason; and peoples paths cross for a reason. We all have something to teach to someone; or something to learn from someone. As brief as your encounter with the woman may have been, it sounds like your eyes have been opened to some starteling revelations about yourself. Now the only thing you need to worry about, is what do you plan on doing with that information.

    On an unrelated note; I’ve now read through your book a few times. I would like to thank you for sharing your story with us.

  35. Moshizzle says:

    Waiter, whether surrounded by people or there’s no-one else around, we’re all alone when we die.

  36. Erin says:

    I wish I knew you. Your friend had to be right; that lady was lucky to have you with her for the last moments. Your insight and compassion stuns me on a regular basis. You keep this lonely girl’s dying faith in the goodness of people alive.
    I’m glad you’re ok, wish there was something I could do for you…

  37. Mande says:

    Wow, you made me tear up a little. That was fantastic and very thought provoking.

  38. AM says:

    I’ve been a firefighter/EMT for the last 5 years, and I can empathize. Seeing death is never easy, and I can relate to the feelings you had about you being the last face she ever sees. It’s always tough watching someone die. Hang in there, brother. Just be thankful it’s not something you see everyday.

  39. annie says:

    Wow. I wish I knew what to say. I’m stunned and glad you are physically ok.

    As the comments above say, you’re an insightful and compassionate person.

  40. Benjamin says:

    You did the right thing, man. I’ve been the first one on the scene of an accident before, and it can take a lot out of you. Even the aftermath (Court, paperwork, talking to police, etc.) is exasperating. Especially when you just want to put the whole thing behind you. My condolonces.

    Well, I’m no doctor, but I’m gonna prescribe some time with friends and family. A nice meal, and some good music with a glass of your favorite alcoholic beverage.

    It’s sad that we die, but I like to think that we do so to make life important. I know it’s hard, but when I saw my accident, I got over it by doing the things that were important to me. Because that stranger was right. You never know when it’s your time. So live a little, and take comfort in the fact that you did the best thing possible. You were there for an old lady when she needed someone good.

  41. Irina says:

    You did good man, I’m glad you’re not hurt. You reassured her in her final moments. You did good.

  42. Tod says:

    The fact that the story of her death has now been shared with thousands of people serves a powerful purpose. Had you not been there no one would have received the benefit.

  43. Scarlett O'hara says:

    Have you considered contacting the woman’s family? I’m sure they would like to know that their mother, grandmother, whatever, was not alone in her last moments and that she had a caring , compassionate person with her. It may help ease their grief. They may be upset that she was alone when she passed.

  44. Sami-Ann says:

    Steve, I only wish I knew you personally. You always come out of nowhere with these incredibly powerful pieces, and I am caught off guard in the most wonderful ways. You are a gift to this world. You were a gift to that lady, and you will be a gift to so many more people. I wish and pray for the best of you always. 🙂

  45. Purple Dino Type says:

    The sound of tires screeching proceeded by the sickening shriek of metal against metal is the worst sound to hear. It never ends well. Feel lucky that it wasn’t both of you that ended your days on earth that moment. Everyday is a gift and from time to time we need to be reminded of that to truly be thankful.

  46. Narkito says:

    This entry strikes near home for me, two days ago I was in a car accident myself, my mum was driving and we got off the highway into a ditch, a very deep ditch. There were so many accidents that morning, there were not enough ambulances to take us to the hospital, so the police took us to the station so we could wait there for something to happen, whilst the police was taking us to the station a woman signalled the car and asked for a ride; it turned out her son had left a suicide note to his girlfriend and had left the house that morning without a word. I held her whilst she cried, I handed her a tissue, I told her to be strong and that most likely everything would be fine. Now I can’t stop thinking about it, about her.

    This sort of things, accidents and whatnot, alter they way we perceive others and ourselves, at least for a while.

    Anyway, I would hang on to what your friend told you. The last face she saw was one a kind concerned one, and at least she wasn’t alone.

    Hang in there Waiter.

  47. witchypoo says:

    You know, it’s fitting that one of the first persons you see in this life be one of the last. I was one of the last faces my mother saw as she died. She saw me into this world, and I saw her out. Death isn’t so shocking when a person has lived their life. It can be a release. I’m sad for that woman that her loved ones were not there, but glad there was a compassionate face.

  48. billp salem oregon says:

    So what kind of rental did you get? Sometimes a good way to try out a car!

  49. molly says:

    The first question that popped into my head was “What is this guy doing working as a waiter?” Horrible experience, beautiful writing!

  50. gagi says:

    That was really powerful. It’s amazing how everything can change in a split second. This is something that will stay with you. You did everything you knew how to do, and you showed her compassion and care in her last moments.

    And you won’t be only when it’s your time. God is always there.

  51. Sapphire says:

    I was a paramedic in Chicago for over a decade. I was “the last face” many people saw over the years. It is an awesome responsibility to carry that knowledge with you. You are a good, kind, compassionate man – a stranger who tried to help, who cared enough to make an effort. To me, that is much more of a gift than the family or friends who attend someone’s death out of obligation, or guilt, or even out of love – you did it because it was the right thing to do, period.

    You cared… for a stranger. That’s huge. We should all be so fortunate to have such a person witness our last moments.

  52. Amanda says:

    Glad to hear you’re ok. It’s depressing to watch someone die and be kinda helpless to stop it. Had the same thing happen to me at a pizza place, guy ran his motorcycle into a Suburban and crashed in the median. It really makes you fathom how fragile life really is.

  53. Heidi says:

    Hey Steve…i’ve been reading your blog for years and never left a msg. i’ve usually really liked the stuff you write, it felt real and i hate to say it and it’s just my opinion but after the book, your posts rang a little hollow for me. this one felt more like the guy i enjoy getting to know. thanks for coming back.

  54. Marti says:

    Blessed are they that mourn ….

    I pray for joy in the face of uncertainty, fear and sadness.

    Great post!

  55. Amy says:

    This was the best one yet.

  56. leffe says:

    I wish I could give you a hug.

  57. deena says:

    Good grief! I agree with Scarlett O Hara. Her family would like to know you were there I’m sure. Great writing. Death is so weird.

  58. Vegas Princess says:

    What a powerful and moving post. Steve, you never fail to amaze me with your ability to draw us in with your writing. Glad you are okay and know that you are a wonderful person and that lady was lucky to have you, a very compassionate and concerned person, by her side when she needed you the most.

  59. nunya says:

    You are a good person, your friend was right.

  60. Lisa S says:

    A horrible experience. Maybe you were meant to be there for YOU – rather than for her. Maybe God thought this was something you needed to experience first hand. Whether you were there for her or for yourself, I can’t think that there would be anyone more compassionate and caring to be there. Many times, reading your blog, I’m struck by what a wonderful person you are. I would be proud to know you. I am proud to know you “secondhand”, so to speak. So many of your blogs touch me inside and make me want to be a better person, too. Thank you for that.

  61. Missy says:

    You are the most fucking amazing writer. I really don’t have the words.

    I’m glad you’re ok and… geez, I don’t really know what to say.

  62. jpc says:

    A powerful experience reflected in a powerful piece of writing. Thank you.

    Some folks believe that the basis of the next life is created from the last moments of this one. If so, you were there for this gal providing caring support, reassurance and comfort. She knew, somewhere in the depths of her being, that she wasn’t alone.

    How ironic that this follows so closely your return from Las Vegas – the land of decadence, debauchery and self-indulgence! My oh my. Surely gives one pause for thought.

    You are truly paying something forward. Experiences like this are a reminder to cherish each day, and those we care about. You take care of you, too.

  63. DogsDontPurr says:


    That was an intense bunch of stuff to go through. Witnessing a tragedy is always mind boggling. My Dad used to be an accident photographer on call with the police. So I’ve seen a lot of grisly photos over the years. But my Dad was always there on the scene. I can’t imagine what an effect that had on him, as a young man starting out in the business, witnessing all this tragedy, documenting it, and living with it day to day. He said that he became immune to it, and just concentrated on framing the photo, getting the right angles, etc.

    I hope that you can let this experience slide away. But I know that once you experience something like this, it does tend to stick somewhere. Just know that you did all that you could do. It was beyond your power.


  64. JR says:

    This could be karma for all the things you’ve had to say about senior citizens in your blog 🙂

  65. Peter P says:

    Holy Granola!!

    I must agree with Lisa S. that this is the kind of experiential fodder that comes along at crucial points in one’s life. Could it only be coincidence that this came on so closey at the heels of your meditations on life and lonliness?

  66. anon says:

    You are an amazing storyteller!

  67. NicoZero says:

    I… wow. You know, being a retail person I love to share the general service industry pain with other people, and love reading horror stories. I get a link from someone saying I should check it out and take a look, and this is the first thing I see.

    I have to admit, I sat here shocked. I read through it twice, I didn’t really absorb it all the first time. That’s… incredible. Heartwrenching, completely unexpected. I feel for you, honestly I do. I hope I never have to go through that sort of thing, I might just end up drinking myself into oblivion. Even with a total stranger, I don’t take loss well.

    I think she would thank you if she could. You tried, you cared, you felt pain for someone you didn’t even know. That’s one of the most noble things anyone can do.

  68. Catharine says:

    Whether you were meant to be there or not, I’m glad you were — that she didn’t spend the last seconds of her life alone, but at least had some kind of contact with another soul.

    Let’s face it. We come in alone and we go out alone, no matter who’s beside us. Still, I’d like to believe that she was at least aware that someone was nearby, offering some kind of care and comfort to make her feel a little less lonely.

    Glad you’re okay.


  69. SurprisingWoman says:

    Oh my goodness. This was riveting. I am sorry that you had to go through this but I am glad you were there for her. I don’t believe it the “G” man that controls all, but I do think there is a consciousness that is aware, even when we are not.

    I would love to have someone there during my last moments.

    You not only affected her life, but through this blog you have made a whole lot more people think.

    Nicely done.

  70. revalani says:

    Others have said what I wanted to say. That one’s a keeper, Steve, piece-of-writing-wise.

  71. Margaret says:

    You didn’t hide. You didn’t run. You gave it your all. Well done.

  72. Sheila says:

    I don’t mean to be insensitive, but I don’t get it. Is there some kind of superstition around being the last face a dying person sees? You seem oddly fixated on that fact, which (forgive me) strikes me as a completely trivial aspect of what must have been a horrifying experience. Everybody seems some face last — as you say, it could be a relative or a doctor or a cop or a random stranger. And… so? What about it?

  73. Jennlm says:

    I’m so glad you’re ok! I bet her family is glad a concerned citizen was with her when she went.

  74. cass says:

    awesome post…you gave a shit thats all that counts

  75. Lori Anderson says:

    Oh gosh. I have no words. Other than you are an incredible writer, and awesome person.

  76. Chef Green says:

    Man, you sure do have an interesting life on your hands. A nursey friend told me once long ago, upon performing a similar service on the street for a man–that maybe all things are in time returned.

    In some way the two of you are connected now, perhaps her spirit will watch over you as you continue your time on earth.

    Good wishes to you–you are such a good guy.

  77. Michelle S. says:

    I don’t know how I would feel after such an experience, but I think this woman was lucky to have you by her side. She has crossed over and begun another adventure. You are still here and I’m sure she wouldn’t want you to suffer. You are a good person. You wouldn’t have been able to live with yourself had you not tried to comfort her. It’s a part of your calling, trust in it and find peace. Glad you’re okay!

  78. Jessie says:

    This is a really well-written post. I can understand how you would be upset about being the last face she saw. However, at least it was the face of someone who cared for her well-being. She’s lucky that way.

  79. John says:

    Hey Steve, hope you feel alright.

  80. Tracy says:

    The last face she saw was kind, compassionate, caring and helpful, telling her that help was on the way, and she wasn’t alone. When death is inevitable, what more could someone want?

  81. Melisa says:

    ((You need a hug.))

  82. Carmen says:

    Wow. that’s crazy

  83. Just a Girl says:

    I know this must have rattled you, and I’m sorry she had to die, but I feel she was lucky to have had you by her side when she did.

  84. CJW says:

    You know what?
    I bet that old lady’s last thoughts were
    “I’m sorry I hurt your car”

    She went peacefully, she didn’t suffer and she loves you.

  85. Anonymous says:
  86. Cassandra says:

    This is the best song I’ve ever heard about isolation and death; it might not be the most comforting thing in the world, but it’s haunting and true:

  87. morningstar says:

    Being present for another’s shuffling off this mortal coil is complicated, emotionally. It brings up our own fears of our lack of immortality, our feelings of inadequacy in being able to handle others’ pain, loneliness, sympathy/empathy, strength, love, joy of bring alive, and a deep urge to do more with the time we have. It may be even more difficult to witness a death than to die ourselves, depending on the circumstances.

  88. morningstar says:

    I wanted to add, the old lady was not “lucky” to have Steve by her side, she was “unlucky” to not have her loving family around her as she entered peacefully into that good night. As nice a guy as I’m sure Steve is, he didn’t know her, love her, and he won’t miss her. This doesn’t make him a bad guy, it just means she isn’t “lucky”.

  89. Alex from Sydney says:


    This is an amazing story. I have been reading your blog for a while now, and have noted your darker feelings lately. This has followed my own feelings of late. I have been in the industry for a long time, and although I love it, it can take alot from you, and leave you needing something. There are times where the world can become dark!

    This experience, and your reaction to it, has given me something to think about. The way you write, has allowed me to go through it with you. I am not a believer in “The Almighty” by whatever name you call him (or her), but, I am a firm believer in Karma. This one act will give you much joy and luck within time. The experience will only grow you more as a human.

    Good Luck with moving through this period.

  90. Cheryl S. says:

    You did all that you could for her. She knows that someone, even if it was a stranger, cared for her in her last moment. I’m so sorry. . .

  91. Laurie says:

    I’ve been reading for quite sometime, but have never commented. This story touched me though. Life is a mystery and sometimes we can’t know why these things happen to us. Maybe there is a reason, maybe not.

    I think lately your stories are reflecting a kind of sadness and lonliness. Just remember that the cure for that isn’t being with someone else necessarily. Being in the wrong relationship can leave the same sense of emptiness.

    I think you will find the right person when it is meant to be. You seem to trust in your faith and maybe you should relax a little and let God take care of it.


    P.S. I’ve personally been agnostic, borderline aethist at times during my life. Recently I started reading the bible and I would like to believe it all; however a good deal of the stuff in Genesis is extremely hard for an educated, rationale person to swallow. I’m also really confused as to where the “other people” came from – in Nod, where Cain went after he killed Abel…

  92. Debbie Gibson says:

    Hi Steve,
    This reminds me of how I love to read your writing.
    You made my eyes tear up.
    What an experience you had.
    I just looked at a picture of your nephew the other day. He is so cute.
    I love the way you tied him in and show us how close you are with your family.
    I wish for you the best.
    Loving us,

  93. Erin says:

    I am on a journey to medical school to become a doctor and this post really hit home with me because I realized I will be confronted with death over and over again. I wonder how I will handle it. Will I shove it deep down and pretend I am not affected? Will I bust into tears when talking to the families? Will I become so immune to death that it barely registers in my mind?

    You were the last face she saw and it is an honor to hold that responsibility for seeing someone out of this world. Your writing is beautiful as always, Steve. Thank you.

  94. Amanda says:

    Incredibly moving. Thanks for sharing this, Steve.

  95. Jo says:

    I so cried…Thank you.

  96. sadianne says:

    I’m tearing up reading this. It was so well written, and I’m sorry you had to go through it, but thankful you are OK.

    I’m sure you were supposed to be there, whatever the reason. Maybe sharing it will help your troubled soul.

    Prayers to you, Steve. Take care.

  97. Anonymous says:

    if you have endured a great despair,
    then you did it alone,
    getting a transfusion from the fire,
    picking the scabs off your heart,
    then wringing it out like a sock.
    Next, my kinsman, you powdered your sorrow,
    you gave it a back rub
    and then you covered it with a blanket
    and after it had slept a while
    it woke to the wings of the roses
    and was transformed.

    when you face old age and its natural conclusion
    your courage will still be shown in the little ways,
    each spring will be a sword you’ll sharpen,
    those you love will live in a fever of love,
    and you’ll bargain with the calendar
    and at the last moment
    when death opens the back door
    you’ll put on your carpet slippers
    and stride out.

  98. Kym says:

    This was such a powerful piece and moving as well. Thank you for consistently showing your readers the many facets of you and your life. I loved how you artfully (and masterfully) juxtapositioned life and death. Well done.

  99. Jocelyn says:

    I’m proud of you for having the faculties to go help that woman. AND to be concerned enough to follow up the next day.

    Glad you’re ok. I hope the insurance company doesn’t jack you around over repair/replacement.

  100. Peggy says:

    Steve, I’m so sorry, for the woman, and that you ended up involved. I hope you take care of yourself – I know you have professional training in the mental health area and know about PTSD, so you know that talking to a counselor is a must after a traumatic incident, which this certainly was. Good luck to you.

  101. Chris says:


    Are you thinking of attending the lady’s funeral? I think her family might appreciate meeting the person who was there for her in her last moments… Perhaps it would give you some closure as well.

  102. Suzanne says:

    I believe this experience was meant to teach you something. What a powerful post.

  103. MHA says:

    I’m glad hers wasn’t the last face you ever saw. No matter how careful we are, some car accidents just aren’t avoidable. I’m also glad you’ve got the outlet of this blog to help you process this tragic incident. Good luck with the next few days.

  104. Tanuki says:

    This is the sort of writing — gripping, introspective, intelligent, literate, philosophical — that drew me to your blog in the first place. The purely waitstaff-oriented material was interesting and informative, but this is where you truly shine.

    I hope your third book will give you more scope to go in this direction.

  105. A fan says:

    I echo the many comments for your continued well being, your courage in a difficult situation, and your exceptional writing skills.
    I hope you have success in all you do, you deserve it!

  106. janet says:

    Wow, what can happen to ordinary people on an ordinary day. You should be proud of yourself. Sometimes we need reminders to be grateful for what we have. You’re a good guy.

  107. John says:

    gdg… you’re a loser man

  108. onthegomom says:

    Wow, just wow! I am sorry you went through this but your writing is beautiful and I felt as if I were there watching it unfold.

  109. Suzanne says:

    gdg – shut the fuck up

  110. admin says:

    Ageist? Someone’s been drinking the PC Kool-Aid again.

  111. Olivia says:

    Oh my god waiter, thank goodness you’re alive. You always amaze me by being the one who takes charge and doesn’t shirk responsibility. I’m a medical student and soon to be doctor, but I just know that I’ll never be able to do what you just did, as well as how you took charge in medical emergencies in the past. It’s not just the training, it takes real courage. I’m glad you’re okay.

  112. admin says:

    gdj is right about one thing though. I didn’t do anything special. Any decent person would have done the same thing I did – which wasn’t much.

  113. not gdj says:

    when are you going to reveal gdj’s identity? b/c they really don’t like you…

    perhaps a topic for the next post?

  114. stephanie says:

    wow. this entry reads with the force of a punch in the gut – it’s so powerful, emotional, even heartbreaking. i’m really glad to hear you’re all right.

  115. The Bartender says:

    Great fiction! It reminded me of “I read the news today, oh boy…” and that Paul is dead.

  116. Molita says:

    Well, Steve… Shoot. I’m sorry you had to go through all that. My dad had a heart attack in the car he was driving with my younger sister, our friend and me when I was 12, and I know that I still can recount every detail. It’s not something you easily forget. And you know, NOT everyone will stop to help. I’m from a town of 400 people, and let me tell you, after I quit trying to give CPR to my dad, I went up to the top of the ditch where my sister and friend were standing with a caring bystander, but I can also tell you that LOTS of people drove right on by. Neighbors, friends, and church people drove right on by. Yes, a few people did stop, so maybe that’s what made the others keep going, but another part of it is that (I think), some people just can’t handle seeing that, and seeing the reaction of scared people.

    I always kick myself for not staying in the car longer than I did, but lately, I’ve begun to wonder if Dad’s last thoughts were, “Thank goodness my daughter put us into the ditch!” Or something along those lines. It’s a grief that is long-standing, but valid. So, I’m going to (perhaps arrogantly) say that your service to this woman is incredibly valuable. Your care for and desire to help the woman is appreciated, by more people than you know. That knowledge often doesn’t salve the pain immediately, but it’s there. And you are loved, regardless of how you feel. Peace to you.

  117. Aibi says:

    Wow. That was one hell of a reflection. I’m glad you’re okay. Giving her hope on the last minutes of her life was a nice thing to do. I’m sure she’d remember the face of a good Samaritan. May God bless you.

  118. John Slurm says:

    I’m surprised you didn’t get her wallet while you had the chance. Her last vision would still have been of you… robbing her.

  119. John says:

    There but for the grace of God go I. You did the right thing, something that many people would not or could not do. It is in the kindness of strangers that the human race finds hope for the future. Thank you for reminding me that my grandchildren still have hope of a future in which the world cares.

  120. Clay says:


    Glad you are alright. You did the right thing. What’s amazing is how calm and collected you seemed to be while in such a choatic event. Sorry about the lady – she probably had a better chance being out in public than being at home, but sometimes that isn’t enough.

  121. Noelle says:

    I had to fight back tears reading this. I’m glad you escaped physically unharmed, if not mentally. Take care.

  122. Russell says:

    God Bless You, Waiter.

    You were an angel for that woman, giving comfort in a time when she must have been afraid and in pain.

    I’m glad to hear you’re alright.

  123. John says:

    I just had to keep reading your post, you have a way with words that kept me intrigued as to the outcome of the whole situation. I wish you & the family involved comfort. You did good that day & hope the favor will be returned to you in some way.

  124. AIM=KALIKRNGUYX says:


  125. Evangeline says:

    Don’t forget to let yourself grieve for her.
    And,I’m glad you’re ok.

  126. amy says:

    So very sad… I am glad you are the one who was with her in her final moments and GOT IT.

    Hubby is a Firefighter often called to scenes like you described. No idea how he can deal with it frankly. Just too damned sad for me.

    But perhaps feel gratified that this woman got the help she might have needed as her time ran out. You did what you could and did it graciously. You did good…

  127. XKitchenstaff says:

    Nasty stuff man, be careful that the scotch doesn’t get it’s claws into you. Alcohol is insidious as hell like that, it waits ’til you’re vulnerable. Been there, done that.

    Have to echo the common theme that as someone who made an effort to help, puts you head and shoulders above the gawkers and indifferent. If we all could be so right thinking and level headed.

    Sadly, I must also agree *in part* with gdj’s lambast of your description of the victim as seemingly callous. I know you are reporting what you experienced, but “…Her blouse is open and a flaccid nipple slips out from underneath her bra. Her panties are showing and she has no shoes…” smacks of exploitative description. Perhaps you needed to purge the image from your memory, but it comes off as kind of creepy.

    If this experience continues to bother you, seek help from friends, clergy or professional.

    Be well.

  128. meglena says:

    what a sad, moving and well-written post, Waiter. I hope you are doing OK, it must have been an awful experience. I feel so sorry for the lady. That is a dreadful way to die, at least I hope she knew that she hadn’t hurt anyone.

  129. broed says:

    Powerful story, but your description of the dying woman’s nipples and panties and so forth was inappropriate and bizarre. Your abuse of alcohol is worrisome as well.

    Do you really require these aspects in your story in order to be considered a popular writer?

  130. Viki says:

    At least it’s not the worst way to go that I can think of… As for gdj, XKitchenstaff and broed, I completely disagree; the description of the dead woman was not inappropriate or callous, it was simply a telling of the truth, and I would not want any piece of any story watered down in an effort to protect my “sensibilities”. It is a greater service to the woman’s memory and her family to have the story told in its entirety.

  131. lauraly says:

    Steve–That lady wa lucky that you were the one she hit. A trained person in medicine, pschiatry, religion, and not to mention compassionate. You recognised she was in trouble and not just some crazy old lady driving erratically. You recognised a medical emergency regardless of the peril you were in. I would like to think she was also thinking: Please let me not hurt anyone now. If this is my end, please God, let me do no harm. Steve–she was lucky you were there. I am glad you were physically ok–emotionally something like this can be hard. But lets admit–if she was going to have a life-ending heart incident in her car–it is “good” she ran into someone like you.
    God bless.

  132. juliejulie says:

    This made me cry. This happened to me once, too. She was 75. She died before she hit the telephone pole, they think. My three babies were strapped securely in back seats, and I swerved out of her way just in time. But I saw her face before she hit. It was blank. I looked for obituary in the paper, clipped it out and taped it on my kitchen wall. I thought about her every day for a month. She had 8 grand children. I wanted to write to her kids, tell them I was the last person she probably saw, but I wasn’t brave enough to do it. Eventually, I threw out the the little 3″ obit which told the story of her life.

  133. broed says:


    I agree with you that it is not the worst way to die and that also that waiter has enormous talent as a writer.

    But look. There are undoubtedly thousands of details, or “pieces of the story”, which were left out of his truth telling (the color of the car, the smell, the blood which he likely got on himself, etc.) so there are clearly lots of pieces that waiter chose to put in or leave out.

    My opinion, which may well be a minority, is that the details mentioned above detracted from his otherwise excellent writing. Such opined comments are, I think, what the waiter’s comboxes are for, not merely adulation and “me too” lists.

    Instead of breasts, underwear and booze, I would have enjoyed having a brief description of, say, waiter looking at his own face for the first time after the accident in a mirror or shop window and seeing a spot of blood, and wiping it away. Or, say, his briefly seeing the look of old woman’s face in the face of a stranger on the street. Some tie-in to the “The Last Face” idea. But that’s just me.

    Your disagreement is likewise welcome.

  134. OnSomeGoodStuff says:


    Waiter’s details of breasts and such puts a pinch of realistic sense of death in his story. To me, it hints the cruel irrelevance death brings.

    Your suggested story line sounds good too, but somewhat too refined, too … Hollywood like, but it could very well be a good story. All depends on how it’s actually carried out in words, I guess.

  135. intransigentia says:

    Steve, I’m so glad you’re all right. I’ve got tears running down my cheeks for both you and the woman.

    This winter I was second or third on the scene of a homeless man who appeared to have frozen to death over night, and it still haunts me. By the time I got there, there was already someone calling 911 and another guy trying to find a pulse and all I could come up with to do was give them some blankets from my emergency kit.

    It’s weird what people do in those situations. Two of the men who had gotten there before me almost came to blows over whether the guy was dead or not, and they were pulling the too-small blanket up over his face, or back down over his feet.

    And it’s weird the things that stick in your mind afterwards. It was a one-way street so the easiest way to let the paramedics in was for me to drive away, and what I remember seeing in my rear view mirror is the man’s belly jiggling with the force of the compressions the EMT was doing on his chest. How we talk about “death with dignity” but the actual fact of dying just isn’t. How many people really get to lift their heads to bestow one last word of wisdom or love, and then close their eyes and leave. Or the Oscar-ploy scene of tidy CPR with tidy body and no ribs breaking and most of the trauma seems to be happening to the emotions of the responder.

    It never made the papers so I don’t know what happened to him – Man Freezes to Death or Man Almost Freezes to Death both seem like important headlines to me, especially when a similar near-miss had been reported the week before.

  136. TFLS says:

    It’s funny – the things you think about when you know you may die. I had an accident like that once. A woman with 4 screaming kids ran a stop sign going 45 mph. She hit so hard – the rear view mirror ended up in the trunk. They had to cut me out of the car. My legs were a mess. What was I thinking about? Why my friend who was driving refused to stop talking long enough to hear my warning. I knew it wasn’t my time – so I wasn’t afraid of death. But a lot can happen to a body in the betweens.

    Glad to hear you’re OK.

  137. Nightmare says:

    I LOVE that you interjected Hemmingway in this post! that is classic. Sorry that you had to be in the wrong place at the right time, but you were there, and that is what counts. If she hadn’t hit your car, could she have plowed into that busy pizzeria? Maybe, probably not but maybe. You being there unintentionally saved more lives then you will ever know….Sort of like the Butterfly Effect.

  138. Sara in PDX says:

    Hi Steve,

    We all leave at some point.You did everything possible.Glad your OK.

  139. jan in chesterfield says:

    After an experience like this it will take you some time to get back to normal. Well written post.

  140. GothamiteCount says:

    What a bunch of whining commenters on this blog. Some of you actually got upset that Waiter described a dead woman’s breasts or underwear? Then you said he was creepy? You judgmental talentless turds, Get a fucking grip. Death is very messy. He could have described her bowels letting go, the stench of urine, or the coppery odor of blood and some of you wimps would have also complained about that. Fuck you and your delicate sensibilities. in the words of Jack Nicholson – “You can’t handle the truth!”

    The mere fact that imagery the author used bothered you is just an example of what a good writer he is. You’re supposed to be bothered! He evoked an emotion out of you! He made you think!

    Some of you wouldn’t know good writing if it bit you on the ass.

    Waiter, if you ever turn off the comments, I’ll understand.

  141. Paige says:

    The important thing is that the woman didn’t die alone…she was aware that someone was there and concerned about her…that’s what you need to take away from the experience…

  142. Jim Carved says:

    I kept waiting for the “I woke up with a start….” but it never came. Brilliant writing

  143. jay says:

    vintage waiter. you should write like this more often.

  144. tom says:

    all bullshit and u know it

  145. Kacie says:

    I am glad to hear you’re shaken, but ok after the whole experience.

    Your compassion was a shining light for her at the time of her death, and she does know that, and appreciates it very much.

    To all of the negative commenter… Go fly a kite and learn to enjoy life, and not take it so seriously. It is what it is, sometimes gory, sometimes glorious… No point in negating any of it.

  146. Andrew Rossiter says:

    I am glad you are ok, as you said, the accident was not your fault in any way. Its still not nice to watch some one die. I am a freight train engineer and have had to see 5 people in various collisions die. I do know how you feel mate. Once again, glad you are ok.

  147. Anonymous says:


  148. Hannah says:

    Wow, what a thing to go through, Thankfully I’ve never been in that position (I’ve dealt with a medical emergency, but never had a person die in the process).

    I’m sure it’s pleasant for her family to know that a concerned someone was there when she died.

    I myself am not worried about dying alone, and I’m pretty confident that I won’t be lying there for so long that my stomach winds up exploding(for one thing, I plan to live in a multi-family dwelling).

    You’ve got friends and family, I’m pretty sure that when you go, somebody will be there.

  149. thriftypine says:

    Waiter…found your blog on a google search and just happened upon this particular post. You are an amazing writer and have a big heart. I too read this post with tears and am happy you are Ok. That lady was lucky to see you there…they say eyes are the window to the soul, and I am sure that what she saw in your eyes was compassion and kindness.

  150. Maui says:

    KALIKRNGUYX is a jackass. Post your stupid fake ad somewhere they will care. On a post about death you are vulgar and rude and unfeeling. I’m fucking glad not to be you and I feel sorry that Waiter/Steve has to put up with this. Shut up, dude. GO WAITER/STEVE!!!

  151. Jordan says:

    “Maybe his will be the last face I see.

    That wouldn’t be so bad.”

    Probably one of the best ways i’ve seen an entry end from you. Truly beautiful words. brought tears to my eyes.

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  154. Uhlouis says:

    I probably would have just panicked. You handle pressure much better than I do.

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