A Dying Persons Tear

Specialties Hospice Nursing Q/A

Specializes in Rehab/LTC, Post OH, Med/Surg, Hospice.
A Dying Persons Tear

Very curious about something. I'm new to inpatient hospice and have only had 4 deaths so far. Two of the patients had a single tear. One of those patients, the niece saw her previously unresponsive aunt open her eyes wide focusing on something in front of her (not looking at her niece) then took her last few breaths. That's when I arrived I saw her tear. The other nonresponsive patient that passed did not have anyone in the room at the time, so I don't know if he opened his eyes or not, but did have the same single tear. Is this common, and do you think they are seeing something so beautiful it causes a tear, or do you think it's caused by fear/pain? Thank you in advance for your responses. ?

31 Answers

In my experience, people commonly tear from one or both eyes when actively dying. This was always explain to me as a natural phenomena unconnected with psychological processes. But who knows? I think you can read into it whatever you like, however, I explain to my families that there is most likely not any emotional process behind it.

Specializes in Currently hospice.

I do home hospice, but I personally have not noticed this. I would think it is more a coincidence. But who knows what they see? We have had patients who see angels, I heard of one who immediately looked up to the sky and raised both of her arms just as she died. I personally would like to think they are seeing their loved ones and Jesus welcoming them home.

Perhaps what we have experienced is not the norm, but we have tear cloths for this very reason. If you google the term you will see that sometimes (not always or often) there is a single tear that we notice near the end of life. We keep small cloths (like beautiful handkerchiefs) in a special area of our comfort care home. When the nursing staff or volunteers are aware that there is a tear we make sure to have a cloth handy & give it to the family. They have all said how much they appreciate it and some have incorporated them into flower bouquets at a wedding or some such thing.

I think it must be the beauty of what we cannot see on this earth that causes such a thing to occur.


Specializes in Telemetry interested in hospice.

I have never heard of a tear cloth but what a beautiful symbolic token of remembrance. My mother was virtually blind at the time of her death but seemed to be seeing something beautiful the day before she passed. She looked at the blank wall as if she was watching a movie, eyes following ...something, she reached towards what ever it was and amazingly smiled. Mom had advanced Alzheimer's and had not shown facial expression in a year or more. She also spoke of my father (deceased 10 years), although she had long forgotten him. "Your dad is waiting for me to come home, I don't want to keep him waiting."

(goosebumps). She did not shed tears from what I remember. Only her family.

Hi, I've been searching for someone to talk about this. My Dad died on Easter Sunday of 2014. He had lung cancer. He was diagnosed 6 months before his death. My Loved my sister and I more than anything. The last week before his death he was in and out and sometimes very confused and sometimes not. On the Tues before his death we made a date ( Easter) to get together with him and bring our small children. He got worse as the week went on and stopped speaking. My sister arrived first and as soon as she started speaking a single tear ran down his face. She ask my stepmom if he had been crying prior to her arrival. She said no and looked confused. I arrived 1 hr later and my sister quietly let me know that he had let a single tear fall when she started speaking. I went and sat beside him, talking with him, telling him I loved him and we were all here. He let another tear fall. It broke my heart. He passed away a couple of hours later and it didn't happen again. It haunts me every day. I've cried about it all morning today. I wish he could've spoke to us that day. I feel he was trying to show us he understood and loved us. It was just too weird that it happened when my sister arrived and spoke and then I arrived and spoke.

I've been with home hospice for 9 years now and I remember the single tear happened fairly often the first couple of years. I either haven't noticed or it hasn't happened in recent years. I'm usually not with the patient when they die however.

My mother died the end of May. Two of my 4 siblings had not spoken to her in several months. She had repeatedly tried to reconcile, with no result. I spoke with her on Sunday and she was very depressed. My oldest sibling has MS and had come to visit. However, he "self medicates" and his sleep pattern is off. Mother said that she was sitting alone in front of the TV and he was in the guest bedroom in bed with that TV on. Then she said that she was still wondering why my siblings were still not speaking to her. I was leaving the next day to see her, however she was admitted to the hospital with Pancreatitus that next morning and I was not able to get to her until Tuesday night. I had already been asked to give permission as MPA to place her on a ventilator earlier prior to my arrival late Tuesday evening Multiple organ failure, internal bleeding and a high fever were all present Thursday morning. They were forcing fluids but her kidneys were not responding. I made the decision to take her off of life support Thursday morning. One of my siblings that had not spoken to her arrived as did my brother with MS and three nieces. I allowed them to have private time with her before the nurse came in to turn the respirator off. I was the closest to her and had been able to communicate with her through asking her to squeeze my hand if she loved me, and twice she did! At the end, I had my forhead on hers and just kept talking to her. Everyone else was holding her hands. After the nurse called the TOD, I straightened up and there was one tear coming from her left eye where I was standing. Dealing with how fast things went and wondering if I made the right decision has been bothering me. I wasn't sure if the tear was a non voluntary response or an emotional one. She had been able to hear (hopefully) some apologies from her family. I am not sure if she was aware at that time or not. I have wondered if she was relieved that each of them had said they were sorry or she was sad that she was being taken off of life support. We are not sure if she had any awareness at that time or not. As they were turning off the respirator, the nurse said "she is actively dying on her own". This did and does relieve some of my guilt, but I will never know if that was just something Intensive Care nurses say to help families deal with that kind of situation. I guess "the tear" will always be there for me, I will never know why it appeared...

My father passed away this afternoon. I have been trying to find information on tears and came across this post. I know it is old but I'm hoping that someone can please help me to understand. My father never wanted to be in a hospital or inpatient care. He was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer, and I brought him to my house until the medicine that was prescribed was no longer managing his illness. Hospice and I tried everything, even increasing his morphine to a point where typical patients would be sleeping and in complete comfort. My father was a fighter though, and was very afraid of dying. This morning we decided inpatient care was the only place to be as he was struggling to breathe and was conscious while doing so. I was very afraid, seeing him in this condition and I struggled so badly deciding transferring him to inpatient was the best thing to do. I was told he would be hooked to an IV where he would sleep and no longer feel the pain and pass on his own time.

While in the ambulance for transport I spoke to him and consistently rubbed his head (as this is what he liked). At one point I noticed a tear in his right eye. I'm struggling to understand if this is because he was sad and upset that he was being transported to hospice. He was completely out (with morphine). I wiped his tear and continued to speak to him. Later when we arrived I noticed another tear. I'm so upset about this. I want to think this tear is a good thing, but when I think of tears I think of sadness and I'm so overwhelmed of the thought that he was saddened just before he passed. My father passed away only 10 minutes after we came to the room he was admitted into. I'm experiencing all sorts of emotions. My main emotion is that he struggled for so many weeks and I can't get over how sad he must of been just before he passed. I'm hoping this is not a tear of sadness but just a normal reaction to dying but I'm not finding anything on this. His sadness and struggle is killing me and hurting me the most during this time.

I came across this blog as a result of my sister dying a few days of an agonizing and painful battle with bone cancer. A few seconds before she died she had tears in her eyes, starting on side and then the other. Her sudden change for the worst was unexpected and she was unprepared in many areas including family preparations. I know my sister had so many regrets including her treatment. She never caught a break in her life. She died young and suffered all through her life. This really was heartbreaking along with watching her in so much pain and horrific breathing during the day. Her moaning and struggling to breathe was very hard to take. I worry now that I may get PTSD.

I was searching for some answers and this blog popped up first. I have read the comments from "supposed" hospice employees who made comments like "haven't seen this" or "it's a "coincidence". After becoming even more heartbroken and becoming further depressed after reading such comments, I began to seek further information.

I have to say though, please forgive me in advance for being blunt and having a bit of an angry tone. Firstly, in my research, it is VERY COMMON when someone is moments from death who has been ill for a long time to have tears seconds before they pass. This is a natural response by the body. There is no emotional or cognitive association to this. It IS a physiological response.

I can only come to the following conclusions in regard to these comments where posters are writing that they never seen this before. My assumptions are that those who allegedly work in the field either haven't been in the industry very long, are on auto-pilot at work, are oblivious or lack any observation skills when dealing with the dying. If it's the latter, I really have to ask, "what are you really doing here"? Is this simply a job for you or are working here to help others? Are you blindly going on about your job without any care and attention and tuning everything out? That's not the kind of person I want to be assisting a loved one.

Secondly, to write "who really knows"? Well, is this comforting to the loved ones still alive? Science says tearing is a normal part of the dying process and the living should not read anything more into this. Regardless of your faith, if you have a faith, this kind of comment is not helpful whatsoever. The family is already in mourning and if they think in any way their loved one did not die in peace or has regrets, this may be one of the most traumatic events one can endure in their lives.

Thirdly, if someone dies in a hospice or who is receiving palliative care, the person has likely "left on their journey" soon after the heavy, heavy increase in narcotics to help the patient die more peacefully. The deep and struggling breaths is the body shutting down. The body becomes slowly colder and the the breathing between breaths become longer and longer until the both the heart and breathing stops.

Finally, based on some of the responses here, I am further disturbed by the lack of training given to palliative/hospice care employees in regards to the death process and what the loved ones may see. When we are told "hearing is the last to go". The real question I have is, "when is that"? Before the last breath? After a period of heavy sedation?

I truly hope my post helps others not feel guilty or sad about their loved one should they see them teary eyed moments before death.

My mom had the tears in both her eyes before she died. Her eyes were closed as she was comatose. I knew exactly what it meant. She didn't want to die. It's as simple as that. They were tears of pain.

I have worked hospice for several years and have noticed a tear on many of the patients. Usually just in the corner of the eye, not actually running down the face. I have always wondered about this, I know it's not a coincidence because it happens frequently, . Sometimes i am with them at the time of death holding their hand while they pass I know they went peacefully.

My second brother passed away 19 hours ago. He had a few tears in the last moments. It bothered me to wonder if he was sad. To my relief, I found the following information at Webmd.com. Hope it helps all of us who are grieving (What to Expect When Your Loved One Is Dying) :

Signs That Death Is Near continued...

When death is within days or hours, your loved one may:

  • Not want food or drink
  • Stop peeing and having bowel movements
  • Grimace, groan, or scowl from pain

You may notice their:

  • Eyes tear or glaze over
  • Pulse and heartbeat are irregular or hard to feel or hear
  • Body temperature drops
  • Skin on their knees, feet, and hands turns a mottled bluish-purple (often in the last 24 hours)
  • Breathing is interrupted by gasping and slows until it stops entirely

If they're not already unconscious, your loved one may drift in and out. But they probably can still hear and feel.

At the End

In the last days or hours, your loved one may become restless and confused and have hallucinations so upsetting they may cry out, strike out, or try to climb out of bed. Stay with them. Try to keep them calm with soothing music and gentle touch. Sometimes medication helps.

The room should be well lit, but not bright. Make it as quiet and peaceful as possible. Constantly assure them that you're there.

Ironically, a loved one may also become clear-headed in their final hours.

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