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Part 1: What Is a Person Experiencing As They Die?

Maybe it’s taken you a moment or two to decide to read an article that has the word “die” in it. Death is still one of the taboo topics in our society. Having been a hospice, ICU and just a general nurse I have witnessed a lot of deaths. Some of you may never have had this privilege. Of course, many people wouldn’t see this as an opportunity for real intimacy and a life experience they would value. Because of this hesitation around death and discussing it, many of us have a lot of fear for ourselves and our loved ones at the time of this final transition.

 Fear of the unknown is common. Fortunately, there has been some recent research helping us to understand better about what really occurs when we are experiencing those last moments. This understanding can decrease the anxiety we feel. And help us to comfort our loved ones and support each other as we grieve.

Dr. Simran Malhotra, a specialist in the care for terminally ill patients, is quoted here.

“ After several similar patient and personal family experiences of these final moments, I have embraced the feeling of awe and wonder at the beauty and mystery of Life they all point to. A s one approaches death, it seems that the veil between this world and the next becomes thinner, and we are given a glimpse of the other side.”

As a person is dying, different biological systems begin to shut down, including brain functioning.  In one study the brain of a dying 87 year old man showed brain waves like when we are dreaming, memory recall and meditating. Dr. Malhotra explains: “ The study found evidence that their brain may stay active and coordinated after a person has passed away, while orchestrating vivid memories and flashbacks from the person’s life.”  This may clear up why people report near-death experiences of feelings of euphoria and peace as well as striking memories.

We really don’t know what’s occurring at the final time of our death. We may never really sort this out, but this study gives us some insight into what a dying person may be experiencing. Having this information can help caregivers to grieve in a way that is supported by the possibility that their loved one was reliving fond memories as they were dying.

I will continue this subject in the next blog, covering more about the experiences a dying person may be having.