A Witness to Death

Two hours into a 30 hour train journey from Chengdu to Lijiang China, my train stopped.  It was a usual stop at a multi track section to pause while another train passed.  I had been roaming the train, trying to escape cigarette smoke and find a little corner of peace – somewhere.

I have learned quickly in China there is no peace from others or private space.  There is always someone, everywhere, all the time.  Even when you think you are alone, wait a minute or less and someone will be close to your personal space.  I found myself at the end of the train, staring out of the back window and trying to be inconspicuous so I could feel as though I had a small bit of peace. I was simply enjoying watching the locals carry groceries and other provisions across the platform and some, across the tracks.

As I felt the rumble of an oncoming train begin to radiate through our car, I noticed an older woman, attempting to cross the tracks just to our left.  Next, the train blew its whistle.  She turned, saw the train and her body, frail from age, turned slowly to move away from the tracks, where she already had one foot over the first rail.

I stared in horror thinking that this woman is going to die.

The engine missed her.

Briefly, I felt a sense of relief.

The boxcars, just behind the engine – which are just a bit wider – they did not miss this woman.

As she was turing to safety, the edge of the boxcar whipped her violently to the ground.

Shock and sudden disbelief surged through my body as I tried to understand what I just witnessed.

The train, went from full speed to 0 in about 3 seconds.  The brakes screeching unlike anything I have ever heard and as soon as the train slowed, the conductor was running down the tracks towards the woman.

What had happened would be almost impossible for anyone to have survived and it was obvious her body was lifeless as it came to rest on the jagged rocks which separated the tracks.

The 50 or so people who had been filing by on the right did not seem to notice.  I assume this was because I had a height advantage from the train and they probably did not see anything do to the way the rocks are scattered amongst the rails.

Until that day, I had never seen a person die.  Whether it was a sudden accidental trauma as in this case or the observance of the end due to failing health, this is just not something I have seen.  While I have not avoided death from people who are close to me in my lifetime, I have avoided being a witness to the moment of the end of a human life – until the 30th of October.

This is one of those moments where most of us would say, well, just the wrong place at the wrong time.  I believe a little too strongly in fate to use that assessment in this case.  Fate in the sense that what occurs in our lives, happens for a reason, whether we understand that reason at the time or not.  In my mind, this was the time, way and place for this woman to proceed into death and for a reason I do not understand, there must be a reason I was a witness to her horrific end.

Surprisingly to many, my pontification will end with that.  No stories of impermanence, karma, smiling or happiness in the face of death, just a short story to share what I have witnessed.

The conductor reached the body and seemed to confirm she was dead.  A crowd formed and each seemed to confirm the same before walking off and going on their individual ways.  I was a good 100 – 200 feet from this scene in the safety of my own train car so I do not know what kind of conversations transpired.  All I know is a crowd gathered, most dispersed and as the majority of the crowd began to clear, our train pulled away.  Slowly.  The scene getting smaller and smaller.  What felt like hours was no more than 10 minutes and on a train of hundreds, I was the sole witness to the end of a woman’s life.

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7 Responses to “A Witness to Death”

  1. Jeanie Groves-Short
    November 2, 2012 at 2:55 pm #

    I emailed you about your witnessing this accident. I feel for you! God be with you on your journey!

  2. Charlotte Johnson
    November 2, 2012 at 10:01 pm #

    What a terrible, terrible experience! May the lady RIP.

  3. Zack CK
    November 4, 2012 at 5:24 am #

    I imagine this profound experience will bring growth, enlightenment, and wisdom into your life

    As usual – well written. Just to be clear, when I say it’s well written I don’t just mean that its written well; it’s a compliment to your perspective, understanding, interpretation, and outlook on your experiences.

    I apologize for being unable to follow your posts as of late. The last one I read was when you fell in a hole in Bhutan. I’m sure you’ve covered a lot of ground since then and when I find some time in between homework, work, and playing gigs I’ll try and catch up.

  4. Dad
    November 4, 2012 at 10:45 am #

    The experience you just had will impact every single person you share it with in more ways than one.

    A strong thought sprang forth through me as I read how you described what happened. For some odd reason, because the woman was older, my thoughts went immediately to how many hundreds of times that woman has undoubtedly crossed train tracks in her life without harm. And I thought to myself, I sure hope she was grateful for being safe all of those many years of her life.

    Of course, my heart really goes out for this woman, yet I can’t seem to quit thinking about how much I hope she was extremely grateful for the time she had in her life. For this reason, it seems the primary lesson I am taking from this is to be more grateful for everything!!! And to take nothing for granted…. nothing!! Life is NOW….. Enjoy NOW everybody!!!

    You know, they say when it’s our time to go…….. the forces of nature can’t be stopped. It was her time to go. You having witnessed her death might seem quite unfortunate at first, yet, because of your writing talents and your expanding reach, you are perhaps the best person to have witnessed it.

    There won’t be a reader that isn’t touched in several ways by your story. Through you, and only you, an additional layer of respect and honor is being added to this elderly woman’s life here. Thank you for this contribution Grant.

    As more and more people read what happened, they will glean a plethora of emotions from it as all of us that have read this post so far have obviously done.

    Thanks again Grant! Keep releasing, keep writing and keep on moving forward. Eyes open. No fear!

    I love you,


  5. Jeanie Groves-Short
    November 4, 2012 at 4:08 pm #

    Yout Dad was right, I was touched. Then I reflected on my experience with witnessing a death.

  6. Marcel Brown
    September 11, 2013 at 3:27 pm #

    Wow is all I can really say. Most people engulf themselves in the trauma of the experience, but you subtracted the given emotion and was able to convey it to people who need to read that. People need the things that you write Grant. PLEASE STAY DOING IT! I agree with your Dad 100%, wow.


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