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This is How Death Feels

A quick jolt of fear, pain — and then a mysterious process that sees the brain have an extra jolt of life just before it dies forever

Andrew Griffin
Tuesday 27 October 2015 13:39

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What does the Bible say about death?

2020-1-2 · Question: "What does the Bible say about death?" Answer: The Bible presents death as separation: physical death is the separation of the soul from the body, and spiritual death is the separation of the soul from God. Death is the result of sin. “For the wages of sin is death,” Romans 6:23a. The whole world is subject to death, because all have sinned.

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Spiritual and Existential Aspects

Religious and spiritual needs throughout the dying process will be highly individual, but even someone who has not engaged with religion or spirituality throughout their life may find themselves thinking about these concepts more deeply when they are confronted with death. 

When we talk about thinking about life on a bigger level, it’s referred to as existential thinking or, sometimes, an existential crisis. Any major change or trauma, including serious illness or injury, death, and bereavement, can bring up these thoughts and feelings.

The spiritual and existential aspects of the dying and grieving process are natural, but they can also be intense, exhausting, and distressing. A person may feel a sense of desperation or as though time is running out as they race to take stock of their lives and make plans for their death.

They may reflect back on decisions they made in their lives, question their choices, and wrestle with guilt about things that they said or did. They may ask “What if?” and try to imagine how their life might have played out differently. 

Depending on their spiritual and religious beliefs, a person may desire to feel closer to their higher power. They may want to attend religious services more often or have a spiritual leader visit them to provide guidance and comfort. 

On the other hand, if they are grappling with anger about their death, they may feel distanced from their spiritual center and may not wish to engage with their religious practice. If a person’s religion has traditions for the dying, they may wish to begin taking part in them.

They may also want to discuss how they would like their spiritual life to be reflected throughout the dying process and the period after. The spiritual and existential needs of people who are caring for loved ones who are dying must also be considered.

Just as a person who is dying might seek comfort from religious leaders or texts, those who are caring for them may benefit from reaching out to their spiritual or religious community.

Coping With Your Fear of Death

Physical Aspects

What death looks and feels like in the body will depend on the underlying cause. How long death takes, whether it causes pain or other symptoms, and even the appearance of the body throughout the process will vary.

Sometimes, the physical process of dying is quick and virtually painless—such as in a sudden accident that causes fatal injury. In other cases, such as with cancer, death may be a prolonged process that requires constant care for managing pain.

While the timeline and experience might be different from one person to the next, the steps in the physiological process of dying are fairly consistent. For death to happen, certain systems in the body need to stop working. 

If a person is in a fatal car accident, they may die right away from an injury to vital organs. For example, when if the spine and skull are involved, damage to the brain can cause the person to lose consciousness, cut off blood supply to the body, and interrupt communication between the brain and vital organs.

When someone is dying from a terminal illness, the organ systems of the body will shut down more slowly. They gradually become less aware of what’s happening around them and may start sleeping more.

A person who is dying may begin to eat and drink less or stop taking nourishment at all. The closer death is, the more shallow a person's breathing becomes, sometimes making a distinct “rattling” sound. 

Whether it happens gradually or suddenly, the World Health Organization (WHO) states that clinical death occurs when all vital functions of the body (including brain activity, blood flow, and breathing) have stopped. 

End-of-Life Care

Addressing physical pain and discomfort of death will be a priority. Although it can be difficult to have conversations about end-of-life care, it’s important that you and your loved ones discuss preferences before the time comes. 

Interventions like hospice or palliative care are designed to alleviate pain and help someone who is dying be as comfortable as possible during the process. Medicine used to treat pain, induce relaxation and sleep, and treat anxiety are often given, in addition to non-pharmaceutical methods to meet these needs.

Which interventions are chosen, when they are started, and how long they are used will depend on the preferences expressed by the person who is dying, as well as the recommendations of the physicians overseeing their end-of-life care. 

If you’re caring for someone who is dying, your experience of the physical part of the process will likely depend on your senses: the things you see, hear, smell, and can touch.

For example, if you are gently washing your loved one’s face, you may notice that they appear very pale and their skin feels clammy. If you were to move your loved one to change their bedding, you might notice the bottom side of their body appears discolored, almost like bruising, from where blood is pooling. 

A person who is dying sometimes loses control of their bowels and urinary system, which can produce sights, smells, and sounds that you may find it difficult to deal with. If the person is conscious when these accidents occur, the physical sensations will likely be uncomfortable or alarming to them. 

There are also other sights and smells associated with death that you may be experiencing for the first time. You should know that while these are a natural part of the dying process, it’s also normal for them to make you feel afraid, sad, and even repulsed.

If you are overwhelmed with providing physical care to a loved one who is dying, you may want to hire a compassionate and trained hospice care worker or private hospice nurse to assist your family.

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