Tell me, what are the signs of death?

We are getting to the end of this final journey by looking at signs of death through Emma's Story Part 6, describing how we know that someone actually has died.

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Death now is very close. All the signs of death are here. The moment we have awaited for so long. The moment we have dreaded for so long. The moment we feared so much. The moment we were ready for. So ready.

Emma's Story Part Part 6: At Death

It was early afternoon. Arthur and Jane had been sitting with Emma for the last couple hours. Arthur was holding Emma's hand on one side of the bed. Jane was holding her hand on the other side of the bed. They kept administering enough medication to keep Emma comfortable.

They were talking about Emma's memorial. It was going to be a British High Tea/ Brunch served in the park behind their home. With Eggs Benedict, small cakes, clotted cream and scones. And of course black tea. Lots of back tea.

Emma was laying quite still in her bed and dying. There was the beginning of a death rattle, mucus collecting at the back of her throat.

Father and daughter had gotten very close over these last few weeks and days. There were so many feelings they shared. The sense of relief that Emma's dying was coming to and end. The feeling of sadness that a wife was going to be gone. A mother was no more a phone call away.

Two of Emma's best friends showed up. As they had done faithfully every day for the last weeks. They also settled down close to Emma's bed. Willing to be there with her and her loved ones.

Within minutes Emma breathing changed. She was breathing slower. With longer intervals between her breaths.

The intervals got longer.

And even longer.

One more breath.

And another one.

That was the last.

All was still. So still.

Emma had died.


Some Signs of Death

Amongst the signs of death actually having occurred are things such as:

  • There is no response to either questions or touching.

  • No more breaths in or out.

  • The jaw is relaxed, the mouth slightly open.

  • No heartbeat is to be felt.

  • There might be a sudden release of bowel and/or bladder.

  • The eyes are staring fixedly on one spot.

  • Most likely, the eyelids are slightly open.

  • The pupils may be enlarged.

  • No more blinking for the eyes.

  • These signs of death are pretty simple and straight forward. The life force has left the body. The body is not functioning any more. The body is dead. There is death.

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    Emma's Story Part Part 6: At Death Continued

    Jane and Arthur and their friends took some time to be with Emma's dead body. Taking some time to let it sink in. Emma had died. Emma's body was dead.

    There was no more Emma to ask Arthur to dig the holes in the garden, so that Emma could plant all her lovely flowers. There was no Emma to call and ask about the secret ingredient for her delicious apple pie.

    Just sitting with Emma's dead body brought up some tears. Tears of sadness. Tears of loss. Also some tears of relief. Emma did not have to suffer anymore.

    Then Jane called hospice to inform them of Emma's death. The nurse came over within half an hour.

    Together they straightened out Emma's body by flattening out the hospital bed. They took out all the pillows that had been used to make Emma comfortable.

    They took Emma's pajamas off. They washed her body with lavender scented water. That part was not easy for Jane as her mother's body had become only skin and bones. But it felt good to be able to do one more loving thing for Emma. One last loving gesture.

    They anointed her body with some scented oils on her forehead, her heart, and on both her hands and her feet. They put on some fresh clothes. They brushed her hair one last time. They closed her eyes. They covered her body with a soft blanket.

    Jane went into Emma's garden and picked as many roses as she could find. Then she scattered the rose petals all over her mother's dead body. She put one beautiful rose blossom into her dead mother's hands folded over her chest.

    Emma looked so lovely and peaceful. One more time. One last time. So beautiful.

    leaf, burning Taking Our Time to Say Good Bye to the Dead Body

    It is so important to take the time to say good bye while the dead body is still there. It makes it real and final. Final in a physical way. In a good way.

    It especially helps to wash the body one more time. It is hard work to wash a dead body. It cannot support us in this last task. So we need to do all the moving and lifting for it.

    Washing the body is traditionally the task of the women. But anyone is welcome who would like to honor our loved one through this small ritual. A ritual for the final stages of death.

    Washing can bring out the tears quite easily. The physically strenuous work of washing the dead body can help to release our tears. It can have a cathartic effect.

    It is so good to let our tears run freely while still with the body of our loved one.

    The lavender oil has two effects: it freshens up the room and it feels soothing for the one crying while washing the body.

    A simple gesture like scattering the rose petals over Emma's body helps to bring closure. It also brings in something lovely to remember in all this heaviness around death. Something light and lovely. Soft and gentle.

    Emma's Story Part Part 6: At Death Continued

    They took some time to drink a cup of tea in Emma's honor. One more cup of black tea with milk and sugar.

    Jane and Arthur said good bye to the nurse. Expressing their gratitude or all the considerate and loving help she had provided was easy. They said good bye to their friends, who had shown up so appropriately just in time. As if Emma had waited for them.

    The next step was to call the mortuary. All the arrangements had been made a few weeks ago. Emma had wanted to be cremated. Her ashes would be put in an urn Jane had found and ordered on the internet. The urn would find its resting place in Jane's rose garden.

    It took about an hour for the mortuary employees to arrive. They wrapped Emma's body in a sheet. Then they transferred her body onto a black zippered bag on top of a gurney. They rolled the gurney outside and transferred the body bag into the waiting van.

    Now even Emma's body was gone. All that was left was a faint trace of lavender and rose petals.

    leaf, burning

    About these Last Steps

    The hospice services in the USA do not only provide our loved ones with skilled support. They also provide a death certificate through the hospice doctor. No coroner has to be called. No sheriff comes to the house to ask sometimes uncomfortable and harsh questions right after we have lost a love one to death. Right after the final signs of death.

    The primary condition for being admitted to hospice services is a diagnosis of less than six months to live by a medical doctor. Because of that diagnosis the hospice doctor fills out the death certificate. No questions asked. Everyone involved knew that this person was dying.

    You are going home

    You are going home
    once again going home
    leaving this earthbound
    existence behind
    ready to soar again
    outside of space and time

    You are going home
    riding on the wide wings
    of comforting sleep
    leaving your essence free
    to roam far away
    and yet so close

    You are going home
    to remember
    all that you are
    have always been
    and always will be

    You are going home
    once again home

    - Ulla Mentzel -

    rose, pink

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