I Saw a Man Five Minutes Before He Was Killed & It Changed My Life

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Christie O'Sullivan of Average Moms Wear Capes is smart, down-to-earth, and completely irreverent. She is the kind of blogger you read and then think: I wish she were my best friend.

She shares her wise life observations with The Stir (lucky us!) as part of our "12 Days of Gratitude" series for the holidays. See her post below:

I can start this post with so many quips about how things can change in an instant and how you have to appreciate living, but when you put it that way, it seems so trite and so trivial. So overused. Anything can happen. There’s no guarantee for tomorrow. Carpe diem. 

At 2 in the afternoon yesterday, my friend Nicole and I were “carpe-diem-ing,” headed out for our last long run before the marathon this coming Saturday. Ten miles for me, 14 for her, at the Dunedin Causeway. It was really foggy, creepy foggy, really, I called it “creatures from the lagoon” foggy. As the boats would emerge from the fog, I pictured swamp-creatures emerging with them.

It was especially weird because the fog hung over the bridge only in certain places. From where we started running you could see it hanging over the causeway from a distance, but when you were in it, the visibility wasn’t as bad as it looked and the microscopic water droplets felt good in the heat.

It blocked out the sun and it was all just very gray. I’d never seen anything like it before there, how the fog hung thickly in certain places and not in others.

We weren’t going all that fast, but I knew because of Franken-nerve that I wasn’t going to go very fast. Still I knew that finishing 10 miles was going to be a pretty big deal for me, so I was excited for it. We were on our second loop of the 5-mile bridge and approaching a last turnaround when we saw a man sitting on a bench. Because of the fog, I could only see that there was a person sitting there and not who it was yet. Since I’m always cautious to the point of near-paranoia and because there wasn’t really anyone else around, I noted this and put myself on pseudo-alert as we approached him.

But as we passed, I took down my alert. He was an older man at least in 60s, with white hair, tall and skinny, and he was stopping for a break with his bike leaning up against the bench. He had on his white earbuds and was listening to music, eating a snack out of a Ziploc baggie. Totally harmless. I laughed at myself.

As we approached the turnaround point where he was sitting, we passed him again; this time we made eye contact as we passed.

He held up his snack baggie as if to offer us some of whatever it was he was eating and we laughed about it. I waved back saying, “No thanks,” chuckling to myself that he just offered us his snack. It was cute and it was nice and it made me laugh. 

We kept running on, we still had a lot of topics to discuss and about 2 1/2 miles left.

As we were going up the drawbridge and approaching the final mile of our run (we had made it 9 miles, hurrah!), the man we saw on the bench passed us on his bike going up the bridge. He said something to us but neither one of us heard what he said. I think we both assumed it was along the lines of what you say to people you keep recognizing when you keep passing each other when you’re out there running or biking in the same place.

A few feet later as we reached the top of the bridge, all the cars were stopped.

Some people were hunched over looking at something, some were milling around, and we slowed up a little because I was waiting to see the lights from the drawbridge to signal the drawbridge was about to go up.

It took a minute for it to sink in that there had been an accident on top of the bridge and that’s why everyone was stopped.

And there was the man.

He was on the ground, bleeding.

People were trying to help him and one man said he didn't have a pulse and did anyone know CPR? And I said to Nicole, “What should we do oh my God that’s the man!” And she ran down one side of the bridge yelling into cars if anyone knew CPR and I ran down the other side yelling into cars, “Does anyone know CPR!” and I kept passing cars with people saying “no” and noting to myself how many of us don’t know CPR and also noting that it’s amazing how your legs that were concrete just seconds ago in the ninth mile become amazing once adrenaline is running through them. I found a couple who knew CPR and they ran with me to the man.

There were a few people involved who knew CPR and it's amazing how helpful everyone is in someone’s time of need. There was teamwork, there was counting, one person was on the phone with 9-1-1, and there were others trying to fix him. Others, like me, were praying.

It took forever for paramedics to arrive, but when you’re watching people work to get someone to breathe again, every second feels like an eternity.

All I could do on the side was pray and cry and beg for him to begin breathing, sit up, and wave everyone off like everything was ok.

But paramedics arrived and they continued the work that the bystanders had begun.

We didn’t know quite what to do and a deputy asked us why we were still there and my first answer in my mind was, “He offered us a snack!” which sounded ridiculous in my head, I mean, doesn’t it? But it wasn’t the snack, it was the gesture, and there are so few moments of strangers being kind to strangers and I think that’s why it stuck with me. And I didn’t want to go before I knew he was ok.

I thought about who was going to be notified, does he have family, who would take his bike home for him, what was going to happen next, would he be ok?

The deputy yelled at everyone to leave and so we walked back to our cars without a resolution, but I thought that if he survived, I would find him and visit him because I felt oddly drawn to him. Perhaps it was just the snack and the laugh or the camaraderie we shared with him on the bridge on the way to the top, I don’t know.

So our walking turned to running back to our cars and have you ever run while crying? It feels as if you’re hyperventilating.

We got to the end of the run, and we hugged and parted ways because Nicole still had four to run and I asked her to find out what happened when she went back toward the drawbridge to finish them.

On the way home, I was numb and still shaking. I drove to my church where there was a service going on and I snuck around toward the side, still in my running gear. I knelt down and cried and prayed for him and I lit a candle for him and I left.

I found out later that he didn’t make it. He hit a branch at the top of the drawbridge and he was thrown over his handlebars.

The thing is, I still can’t get his face out of my mind. Sitting there on the bench offering us his snack, listening to his music, without a word.

How could any of us had known what was about to happen? Why, on this day, that moment? Why? If I think about it too hard, I could get angry. I could want to rewind time and maybe wish I’d have stopped, and if I had, would it have mattered?

But there is no “why.” I wrote about this just yesterday. I can’t answer why I can only rely on faith.

Earlier that morning, the homily at my church was about living the two most important principles: number one, loving God with everything in you, and number two, LOVING EACH OTHER as you love yourself. And when you live those two, you cannot go wrong. Even if you’re not the praying type, I still don’t know how you could go wrong by living the latter.

At the very least in life, we have kindness.

I know absolutely nothing about the man on the bridge, but I do know that in his last moments here on Earth, he was kind to strangers.

And that strangers were kind to him.

The news stories about the bicycle accident on the Dunedin Causeway don’t tell the story of the kindness I saw on the bridge, that we witnessed first-hand.

From the moment we saw him on the bench to the moment we left the causeway. I am grateful for those moments, and for the rest of my life, I will remember Henry Ellowitz.

We’ve learned over the past week especially that things can change in an instant.

I have no idea when my last moment will be, but if I could choose, wouldn’t I want them to be being kind to someone else?

Yes. I would.

And I will remember that he did.

Has anything this life changing ever happened to you?


Image via Moyan_Brenn/Flickr

exercise, spirituality


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kares... karesbears

I have been the person that was performing CPR when we knew the person was gone.  I had just spoken to the woman a second before, she had a massive heart attack and there was nothing we could do, though we tried.  It was heartbreaking, she was in her 30's, and was about to sit down to a nice dinner out with her husband.  I will never forget the look on his face, when the paramedics arrived and took over.  They knew she was gone, and I guess that he did too.  The next day, the man sent flowers to myself the other person who tried to help.  In his moments of grief, he thought to do something like that.  I encourage everyone that I know to learn CPR and basic first aid.  Hopefully you will never need to use it, but it can really mean the difference from life and death.  Blessings to Henry's family in this difficult time.

Bob192 Bob192

So sad!  We never know what is going to happen.

fleur... fleurdelys3110

Wow. Very sad. Also very well-written.

Blaze Hazen

Me and my husband were driving out to our land right before we moved out there intending to have a picnic on the way there a guy in a truck passed us going really fast. As he passed I looked in the truck and seen him smiling and digging around in front of him for a cd. I said to my husband that guys going to get himself hurt one day driving like that because we were in a very curvy area with no passing. We stopped at a gas station to grab so cold drinks and got back on the road around the next curve a guy stopped us in the road. The guy who had passed us hit the curve and wrecked right in front of his house. He'd been thrown through the window and the truck had rolled over him several times. There was nothing anyone could do. He was just a 20 year old kid. Please drive carefully people its not worth it. I now pass his cross on the side of the road almost everyday and  I can't help but wonder if there was something we could have done to stop him.

Miche... MichelleK41

No not right in front of us that I can remember. How very sad and upsetting for you. :(

tecsa... tecsabates

I worked as a hostess at a resteraunt in high school and had two scary experiences there. One evening, a woman jumped up at her table and started screaming for help - her toddler was choking on something.  One of the waitresses leapt into action, doing the Hiemlich, another waitress ran to get our one dishwasher (who was also a certified emt) to help and I called 911.  Thankfully, the little boy was ok and recovered quickly.  The second experience was the night we had an elderly woman collapse in the ladies room.  Despite cpr efforts by two of our staff and quick response from 911 the woman didn't make it.  Was so surreal to me, when they were wheeling her out, that not even half an hour before I had stood in the very same spot joking and chatting with that same lady.....

Ginny Flom Villers

My father in law lived with us for many years.  One day I was talking with him about what I was making for dinner.  He suddenly had a look like he was going to throw up, so I stepped away a bit, to give him some privacy.  The next thing I knew, he was collapsing in the hall right in front of me.  My 3 young kids were at the top of the stairs, watching the whole thing.  He died of a massive heart attack and there was nothing I could do.  The hall was too small, he was too big to turn over.  Seconds before, we had just been talking about fish sticks.  It was one of the hardest days of my life.  The ER doctor said that no amount of CPR would have made a difference. Funny how life can literally change in an instant.

Carrie Nickoli

I worked at Applebees in high school as a waitress.  All of us girls were pretty close.  One night we were all closing together and it must have been past 12 when we finally walked out the door.  That evening one of the girls was heading home and something happened.  She ran her car off the road and was thrown out the driver side window into the middle of I-44 freeway.  She was then ran over by a tractor trailer.  I found out the next day when I arrived at work and everyone was really upset.  I had just worked with her the entire evening...it was the weirdest feeling to know you had just seen that person alive and now they were gone.

nonmember avatar 2Shaye

Touching post! My daddy died just recently. It was unexpected and heartbreaking. One of the last things he did was to call our house to make sure we were okay (we'd been having terrible forest fires and were facing another evacuation). About an hour later he was found unconscious in the administrative area of the middle school where he was substituting that day. It's been over three months and the shock is still there. I don't know if you've already read Henry's obituary, but I thought I would post it here: http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/PoughkeepsieJournal/obituary.aspx?n=Henry-Ellowitz&pid=161057384#fbLoggedOut

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