Nurses Reveal What People Say When They’re Dying

As nurses and hospice workers can tell you, dying people often have a lot to say. Since death is shrouded in both sadness and mystery, those not long for this world may offer valuable wisdom and insight. Some express dying regrets, while others say things that may be interpreted as proof of an afterlife. On occasion, even a disturbing deathbed confession enters the fray.

Want to know what might be in your own mind when that time comes? Here we’ll look at 15 common things people say on their deathbeds, according to nurses and hospice workers.

1. They may talk to deceased relatives

Senior woman in hospital.

Nurses have reported this common thing among dying people. | Shironosov/iStock/Getty Images

Hospice nurses and caregivers say it’s common for dying people to have conversations with deceased loved ones. It’s part of what’s called Nearing Death Awareness. One woman described her terminal mother’s in-depth conversations with her own long-deceased mother. A 2014 study actually found such visions common, and as people “approached death, comforting dreams/visions of the deceased became more prevalent.”

Next: Some want to hold out for one more birthday.

2. Some plan to reach milestones

A hospital bed in a patient's room.

Their bodies seem to know when it is time to go. |

Some terminal patients say they want to remain alive for a milestone event, Nicki Morgan, a palliative caregiver, told BBC. “We’ve had people say, ‘I’m 80 in a couple of weeks … I’ll have my party, and then I’ll go.’ And very strangely we do see that that happens,” Morgan said.

Next: Evidence of an afterlife?

3. Some describe heaven

Blue and orange sunset sky.

Some dying patients have spoken about heaven before passing away. | Dovapi/iStock/Getty Images

Patients teetering on the brink of death may mention what’s on the other side, said nurse Louise Massey from England’s Royal Stoke University Hospital. “A patient many years ago who was dying and they were semi-conscious and they actually said they were happy to die because they’d had a glimpse of heaven and it was wonderful and they weren’t afraid to die,” Massey said.

Next: They’re joined by a ghostly crowd.

4. ‘Why are all these people here?’

A nurse comforting a patient.

Dying patients might have visions of people they know. | Mandygodbehear/iStock/Getty Images

In a 2015 TED talk, a clip was shown of a lucid, terminally ill patient discussing her deathbed visions. “My mom and dad, my uncle, everybody I know that was dead was there,” she said. “I remember seeing every piece of their face.” Other hospice nurses have related similar experiences with dying patients claiming to be surrounded by large groups of “ghosts.”

Next: They want their furry friends.

5. They ask for their pets

A patient holding a dog.

Pets can be very comforting in their last moments. | Monkeybusinessimages/iStock/Getty Images

Toward the end of their lives, patients often ask to be visited by their dogs. “To experience the joy on somebody’s face when they’re dying and their dog’s been in to see them is priceless,” said nurse Louise Massey from England’s Royal Stoke University Hospital.

Next: One of many major regrets

6. ‘I regret working so hard’

A nurse talks to a patient.

It is very common for dying patients to think back on their regrets. | Monkeybusinessimages/iStock/Getty Images

In her 2012 book “The Top Five Regrets of the Dying,” palliative Care nurse Bonnie Ware identified one regret that came from every male patient she cared for. “They missed their children’s youth and their partner’s companionship … the men I nursed deeply regretted spending so much of their lives on the treadmill of a work existence.” Women expressed this regret as well, Ware said, but as most were from an older generation, they had not been breadwinners.

Next: They regret losing touch.

7. ‘I wish I’d kept in touch with friends’

A man comforts an elderly patient.

Some reported missing their friends. | KatarzynaBialasiewicz/Getty Images

“Everyone misses their friends when they are dying,” said palliative care nurse Ware. Often, terminal patients wish to speak with old friends they’ve lost touch with, who can be difficult to track down in time, she said. “Many [dying people] had become so caught up in their own lives that they had let golden friendships slip by over the years.”

Next: Say what?!

8. Some say they see disturbing things

A dark hooded figure in a forest.

A frightening and scary thought. | Eldinhoid/iStock/Getty Images

While some dying people say they’ve seen heaven, others report seeing scary and inexplicable things. A nursing assistant reported being told by a dying woman, “The man in black is here.” The nurse didn’t see anything awry in the corner where the woman was looking. The patient described the man as dressed in black with a top hat and red eyes. She passed away the same night.

Next: A heavenly orchestra

9. Some say they hear music

A doctor treating an elderly man.

Hearing music before dying? This is not uncommon. | Ridofranz/iStock/Getty Images

“Lots of times [dying patients will] hear, you know, voices,” reported hospice nurse Mary Kay Buckley. “They’ll hear choir music.” Others who have been around dying people say they may hum along to or sing music not heard by anyone else in the room. Some patients report hearing familiar, popular tunes while others say it’s like nothing they’ve heard before.

Next: The death of a movie buff

10. Some quote favorite movies or TV shows

The cast of Star Trek in yellow, blue, and red shirts.

One doctor reported a patient talking about Star Trek before his death. | NBC

Some people maintain their personality and a sense of humor until the end. One dying older gentleman, surrounded by his children and grandchildren, asked the doctor, “Is the order given?” The doctor, also a Star Trek fan, responded, “The order is given.” The man soon passed away peacefully.

Next: They realize happiness was a choice after all.

11. ‘I wish I’d let myself be happier’

A patient lying in a bed.

A remorseful regret to have in your final moments of life. | Shironosov/iStock/Getty Images

Ware described this as a “surprisingly common” regret voiced by terminal patients, in her book “The Top Five Regrets of the Dying.” “Many did not realize until the end that happiness is a choice … Fear of change had them pretending to others, and to their selves, that they were content, when deep within, they longed to laugh properly and have silliness in their life again.”

Next: Their manner of speaking changes.

12. They may speak in metaphors

A woman holding hands with an elderly patient.

They might say things that don’t make much sense to others. | Zhenikeyev/iStock/Getty Images

Lisa Smartt, founder of the Final Words Project, has analyzed nearly 2,000 end-of-life phrases uttered by the dying. She noticed the dying often switch from everyday language to metaphoric language. “For example, someone might say, ‘I need my passport’ when there’s no trip planned,” Smartt said. “Or they might utter nonsensical phrases like… ‘Drape my legs across the fireplace.’”

Next: Hindsight is 20/20.

13. ‘I wish I’d been a better partner/parent’

A man waiting in a hospital lobby.

Many think back on how they treated family and friends. | Wavebreakmedia/iStock/Getty Images

Studies have found people with close family relationships are much happier with their lives as they come to a close. Those with little time left for this world commonly express regret about not spending more moments with loved ones like spouses, children, and grandchildren. Upon this realization, they may try to convey important feelings or messages that went unsaid for many years.

Next: The most common regret expressed by the dying

14. They wish they’d followed their dreams

An elderly patient being assisted on a walker.

A good reason to always follow your dreams. | KatarzynaBialasiewicz/iStock/Getty Images

This is the most common regret among the dying, wrote Ware in “The Top Five Regrets of the Dying.” “Most people had not honored even a half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made,” she said. “Health brings a freedom very few realize, until they no longer have it.”

Next: One of the more disturbing deathbed statements

15. ‘The body is buried near …’

A sad and confused woman.

Some people made shocking confessions before passing away. |

This one sounds a little strange (not to mention alarming), but there have surely been quite a few deathbed confessions of murder over the centuries. Most people want a clear conscience when they pass away. According to one story, a surgeon heard a man say repeatedly before he died, “The body is in the woods next to the oak tree.” He notified police, who searched woods near the man’s home, but a body was never found.

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