Your Doctor Will Never Tell You These Secrets Behind What Death Is Actually Like

Unless you’ve had a true near-death experience, you most likely have no idea what it’s like to die. You’ve certainly speculated about what happens to your body based on stories, however. Perhaps it’s like falling asleep and never waking up, which is what many of us hope for. On the other hand, maybe it’s not quite that simple.

You may be surprised to know your doctor knows a lot more about death than they let on. Here are the secrets about dying that they’ll never dare tell you, as well as what they tell patients when they know all hope is lost (page 9).

1. When you die, it’s in 2 stages

Senior man is seriously ill in hospital bed

Everything doesn’t happen at once. | seb_ra/Getty Images

Everyday Health explains when you die, you might think everything in your body stops working all at once. That’s not exactly the case, however. It turns out “clinical death” happens first, and that’s when the heart stops beating. After that, it can take between four and six minutes for brain cells to begin dying. That’s when biological death occurs.

Next: Yes, it is possible to be “brought back to life.”

2. If you can be brought back to life, it’s during the first stage of death, not the second

Nurse putting an oxygen mask

There is a short window of time. | Wavebreakmedia/Getty Images 

When you hear of some folks going “beyond and back,” they were brought back to life when they experienced clinical death. Everyday Health explains once biological death hits, resuscitation is no longer possible. But for the few minutes after the heart has stopped beating and before the second stage of death occurs, it’s possible to save your life.

Next: Hospice workers explain what death is like from their perspective. 

3. There’s no dramatic moment for hospice workers after you die

Old lady with nurse

They care, but they have family of their own. | Jacoblund/iStock/Getty Images

The movies make it seem like dying involves quite a bit of drama, but Dr. B.J. Miller explains that’s not the case. Miller tells The Independent that as a hospice worker, dying is actually quite mundane from the outsider’s perspective.

“I’ve been around folks who, I’ll be sitting there talking with their family and we’re having a conversation, and the person dies in the middle of the conversation. And it’s seamless. … It’s just, they were here and now they’re gone,” Miller explains.

Next:  Your body is smarter, and more systematic, than you think. 

4. Your body ‘knows’ how to die (kind of like how it knows how to be born)

human body

This fact may be strange to think about. | cosmin4000/Getty Images

Dying isn’t a random event — it’ll happen to all of us. Because of this, it’s important to realize that when the time comes, your body will do so as efficiently as possible. Death care professional Cole Imperi tells Quora that “when we are actively dying, our body is doing the things it is supposed to be doing.” Imperi also mentions that your body will release hormones and chemicals to help alleviate some of the discomfort.

Next: This one bodily function rapidly changes as you’re about to die. 

5. Breathing changes mean you’re about to die

Sick man with fever coughing

Your breath matter more than you think. |

When death is very near, significant changes in breathing are a good indicator. The Hospice Foundation of America explains is common for a dying person to take several rapid breaths at first, and then that’s followed with a period of no breathing at all when they’re just hours from death. It’s also common for the dying person to cough, as fluid accumulates in the throat during this time.

Next: Within the first 30 seconds of dying, this is the part of you that leaves first.

6. Your sense of self, humor, and ability to think are among the first things to go

Brain lobes in different colors

Your brain may change slightly. |

Vice talked to neurologist Dr. Cameron Shaw regarding what happens during the 30 seconds just before you die. According to Shaw, your most “human characteristics” are the first to go since the brain dies from the top down. “Our sense of self, our humor, our ability to think ahead — that stuff all goes within the first 10 to 20 seconds,” he explains.

Next: After your sense of self, this is what leaves next. 

7. Your memories and language are second to leave

A senior couple talking with loved ones

You may not be able to communicate like you used to. | bernardbodo/Getty Images

When Dr. Cameron Shaw spoke to Vice, he also explained what happens once your brain cells receive less and less blood. It turns out your memories and language are what go after your sense of self. After that, you’re just left with what’s known as your “core.” When you’re in this state, you’re technically alive, but you have no sense of your surroundings

Next: You’ll be shocked to know this may actually be the last sense to go. 

8. Your hearing may be the last lingering sense you have

Senior man talking

Hearing friends and family may be your last sense. | Monkeybusinessimages/iStock/Getty Images

Everyday Health explains this has yet to be scientifically proven, but most believe your hearing is the sense that outlasts the rest when you’re dying. Dr. Zachary Palace explains your hearing is “the most passive sense.” So even when sight and touch have faded, you’re likely to be able to hear what’s going on around you. For this reason, families are encouraged to share their thoughts and feelings verbally with their loved ones as their blood pressure is rapidly dropping.

Next: Doctors will rarely just come right out and say this. 

9. Even if you’re certainly dying, doctors won’t tell you

Visiting a doctor

They try to remain optimistic. | Nensuria/iStock/Getty Images

When you’re in critical condition, you may just want to know the truth. But doctors will do their best to beat around the bush as much as possible, the Los Angeles Times explains. The publication notes a study’s results showed only 11% of doctors who had dying patients personally spoke with them about death.

Instead, euphemisms like “treatment isn’t going our way,” “failing to thrive,” and “you may want to consider hospice” are more common.

Next: Everyone fears this part of death.

10. Death isn’t painful for everyone

Patient lying on bed

For some, it’s an easy transition. | Ridofranz/iStock/Getty Images 

If your biggest fear of dying (aside from not knowing what’s next) is the pain, death care professional Cole Imperi tells Quora you shouldn’t worry. It’s surely an uncomfortable process, but for most people, that’s as bad as it gets. This also depends on the cause of death, however. But Imperi notes that having loved ones around, music, and a comfortable space are all important factors in how easily someone dies.

Next: These areas of your body will turn a different color when you’re close to death.

11. Knees, feet, and hands change color before death

senior woman's hands

This changes quickly. | Zhenikeyev/iStock/Getty Images 

You’ve heard that lips change color from a lack of oxygen, but that’s not the only bodily change that occurs before death. The Hospice Foundation of America explains skin on the knees, feet, and hands can turn purple, gray, pale, or blotchy in color when death is imminent. Once someone completely dies, however, the skin turns pale and translucent.

Next: Surprisingly, doctors suggest you might feel this way during the last stage of death.

12. It’s common to feel a surge of energy just before you die

Senior women in hospice care

You may feel strong before death. | Katarzyna Bialasiewicz/iStock/Getty Images 

Midway through the dying process, it’s common to feel a lack of energy, an inability to eat, and a want for sleep. But doctors probably won’t tell you that when you’re even closer to death, you might feel a surge of energy.

Aging Care explains “rallying,” or becoming more talkative and energized, is quite common for those on the verge of death. Unfortunately, those close to someone who’s rallying may see this a great turnaround in their health. But this is usually not the case.

Next: Your brain will often play tricks on you, too.

13. Hallucinations typically occur about a week before death

family sitting on sofa

You may remember your family with clarity. | Wavebreakmedia/Getty Images

Verywell explains when you’re near death, your brain starts to function improperly. This is when hallucinations tend to occur, and you may also feel confused and disoriented.

The publication notes many people about a week or two away from dying may see or speak to people who aren’t there, which can be particularly alarming to loved ones. The dying person may also try to move more than usual, usually in a way that won’t make sense to those around them.

Next: Here’s one gross aspect of death you’ve never thought about.

14. Yes, there really is a death smell


And your medical team may know it well. | monkeybusinessimages/Getty Images

Here’s something doctors definitely don’t want you to know. Everyday Health explains when you first die, your body gets right to work on decomposing. And the bacteria living in your bowels play a huge role in the decomposition process. For this reason, death immediately has a distinct smell. As Dr. Zachary Palace says, “Even within a half hour, you can smell death in the room.”

Next: When your heart stops, you may still be conscious after all. 

15. After your heart stops, you might still be able to tell what’s going on around you

Anesthesia monitor

This fact is a creepy one. | amoklv/Getty Images

You know you can be brought back to life within the first few minutes of your heart stopping. But now, there’s a startling amount of evidence to suggest you can also tell what’s going on around you during this time.

Live Science explains many people who’ve had their hearts restarted can give accurate accounts of the scene around them that was taking place as they experienced the first stage of death. Dr. Sam Parnia notes these folks will “describe having awareness of full conversations, of visual things that were going on, that would otherwise not be known to them.”

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