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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
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. Sometimes you can turn around for the shortest time, or go to perform the most mundane errand and find that someone close to you has died in that time.
In most cases where this happens, a character is already near death for whatever reason. Maybe they've been seriously ill, wounded in battle, or are Secretly Dying, whatever. Someone else is taking care of them, and either briefly leaves or stops paying attention to them 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. When they get back to the character who was near death, 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.
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, but then he tries to wake Kimishima up...
- In Jeanie With The Light Brown Hair, Jeanie and her Ill Girl mother Angela are playing píano together - but Jeanie is so focused on her playing that she doesn't notice that Angela has suffered a fatal heart attack right by her side. Then she looks at her mom, right as she collapses dead. . .
- In Candy Candy, a Candy who's working as a nurse has an Intergenerational Friendship with one of her patients, the Cool Old Guy McDermott. At some point she's giving him a ride in a wheelchair, they stop under a cherry tree, and Candy goes talk to another nurse who's there. When she returns, McDermott has peacefully passed away, much to her distress.
- Madlax has this happen to her in the very first episode. She rescues a cute young man from La Resistance named Pete and they drive away from the battlefield; they kinda like one another, they agree to have a date in more peaceful days and after he recovers from some recent injuries he sustained... but then Madlax stops talking to Pete to focus on her driving. When she turns to speak to him again, she sees that poor Pete's wounds were fatal, and he's just passed away.
- 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.
- 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 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 3 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 his 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.
- 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.
- 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...
- 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.
- 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.
- Siuan Sanche gets this in the final book of Literature/TheWheelOfTime.
- One of the better known example happens in the second part of Little Women. Jo is taking care of her Ill Girl sister Elizabeth alias Beth, and at some point she gets up from the bedside to fix the curtains. When she comes back, Beth has passed away; Jo wonders if Beth's soul pretty much left with the wind
Live Action TV
- At the end of the rebooted Battlestar Galactica Reimagined, Adama takes the dying Roslin for a cruise in his Raptor over the surface of their new planet, and she dies while he's looking away.
- Also, 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 SG-1 rescue Teal'c. By the time he gets back, his friend is gone.
- In La Boheme, Rodolfo is the only person in the room not looking at Mimi when she dies, for no better reason than tragic cliche.
- 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.
- 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.
- One Halloween episode of The Simpsons, 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.
- 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.