The Dying Process - What Happens as You Approach Death

Updated on December 15, 2016
Infomum LM profile image

I work as a nurse in a busy public hospital in Melbourne, Australia. My greatest pleasures in life are writing, walking, and learning.

The Dying Process

Not all cultures see death as negative or frightening; it is, after all, a natural process we all go through at some stage after our birth. Let's investigate the dying process.

When a person is nearing death, the body begins the process of shutting down. Care professionals recognize the signs of approaching death, and the focus of care will transition from pursuing tests and treatments toward maintaining the person's comfort. The person's family and/or caregivers may also receive support services.

Hospice and palliative care nurses are experts in the dying process. They can provide much-needed information, reassurances, and comfort to the person who is dying, as well as to the family.

Contemplating your final hours is never pleasant, and thinking about what will happen to you physically may be overwhelming. Please be assured that health professionals see death and dying every day, and they are well prepared to provide care to ease your burden. You are likely to be unaware of most of your final hours as the body finally shuts down, so please read the following information with that in mind.

As your disease progresses, you will become weaker and less interested in participating in daily activities. Eventually you will be unable to get out of bed unaided. Your body will not recover from treatment easily, and at this stage your health professionals may stop challenging treatments such as radiation.

You will become sleepier, and your social interactions with visitors and family will decrease as you become weaker.

You will lose interest in food and fluid as your body shuts down; this is because your body can no longer use the nutrients. Slowly, the disease overwhelms your heart and body systems, and they begin to shut down. You are likely to be unconscious at this time and unaware of what is happening. You will begin to dehydrate, but unlike healthy people who dehydrate, it will not be distressing. It is simply a natural part of the dying process.

As Things Progress...

As things progress you may appear confused or restless to your family. If this is distressing for them, palliative care nurses can give you medication to help you to relax. Please note that you are unlikely to be aware of the confusion or restlessness yourself; they are a result of advanced systems shut-down, which is a normal part of the dying process. This typically happens only when you are semi-conscious or unconscious.

You may lose control of bowel and bladder functions, but since you will not be eating and taking fluids, this will be minimal, or not present at all. Again, this is a normal part of the dying process, and something you are unlikely to be aware of.

Your circulation may slow as the heart struggles under the burden of illness, so your body may feel cold, particularly the hands and feet. The skin coloring may become white, or a mottled color.

In the final hours your breathing may change. It will slow, and may become deeper, as if you are sighing. Most, but not all, people develop what is known as the Cheyne-Stokes breathing pattern. This is characterized by clusters of rapid breathing that start with shallow breaths, which gradually become deeper, then fade off again, with a pause where no breath is taken for a period of time. This will progress until breathing becomes irregular with longer and longer pauses between breaths.

You may take a few reflex breaths after the heart has stopped beating.

You May Become (Briefly) Clear-Headed

During the last week or two you may suddenly—but briefly—become clear-headed after being very weak and sleepy. This is a common phenomenon that doctors have not been able to explain adequately. The improvement will be temporary, but will give you a chance to say final goodbyes before you slipping into a semi-conscious or unconscious state.

Health professionals know from studies that people who are semi-conscious, and even unconscious, can still hear conversations and feel the presence of loved ones, so nursing staff if present will encourage them to keep in close physical contact with you and talk to you, even if you are not responding.

Of course, no one can really know what the last hours of life will be like for you. Your experience will be a complicated result of your hopes, fears, beliefs, and the physical changes you are undergoing.

Many believe that the dying person spends much time “outside of their body,” preparing for their death. Many report seeing and communicating with those who have died before, particularly loved ones (e.g., deceased parents or a spouse who has passed on).

There are theories that these are hallucinations brought on by lack of oxygen, dehydration, etc., while others believe that they are indeed the spirits of our relatives who have come to help us in our final days.

Those who have experienced a near-death often report the presence of deceased loved ones, and again the argument for lack of oxygen is offered as an explanation. We cannot truly know until we die.

I have had the great privilege to nurse many patients in their final hours. What I have observed is that in their final hours they find great peace. They slip away quietly, surrounded by loved ones.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

Questions & Answers

    Reader Feedback

      0 of 8192 characters used
      Post Comment
      • Lady Lorelei profile image

        Lorelei Cohen 

        7 years ago from Canada

        Excellent article once again. This article can benefit many individuals when they most need it. (Just watch your generic titles and change them to ones related to your article. Also be sure that you are making use of the related lenses tool found in the introduction module. When turned on you can place 3 related articles to the side of each of your also makes them visible on other people's posts.) Best wishes.


      This website uses cookies

      As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

      For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

      Show Details
      HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
      LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
      Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
      AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
      Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
      CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
      Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
      Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
      Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
      Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
      Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
      Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
      Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
      Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
      ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)