Questions about dying patients...

Nurses General Nursing


...Is it possible to tell when their soul is gone before they are officaly pronounced dead? What typically happens to a patient while they are dying? Do you think a patient knows that they have died? Can they still hear you even if they are in a coma? Do you believe that their is life after life?

I am asking these questions in memory of my wonderful mother who died last month from complications due to metastic breast cancer. (septis/pulmonary/metastisis) She had been put into a drug induced coma. So we had been by her side day and night..holding her, kissing her, rubbing her feet & hands, singing to her and praying. Even up to the day she died, we were talking to her.

Her ICU nurse had told us in passing that that her soul was gone hours before she actually died. I was curious to know any of your experiences. I have to say that when we did see her the day of her funeral,in the casket, she looked absolutely beautiful! I mean her face looked 20 years younger! (She was 64 when she passed). You could SEE that she had no more strain or anguish. It was glorious...



nursedawn67, LPN

1,046 Posts

Specializes in Geriatrics, LTC.

It's hard to say...but I believe that in the last few minutes/hours you can just sort of see that they are pulling away....It isn't anything specific that I can pinpoint you just sort of know that they are going and then they go and that is the point that they actually cease vital signs.


409 Posts

Specializes in Float Pool, ICU/CCU, Med/Surg, Onc, Tele.

When my grandma died, the hospice nurse took a step back and said with awe in her voice, "Do you FEEL that? She's gone. Feel how much COOLER it is in the room now?" I confess to feeling no such thing. A similar thing happened with grandpa, not regarding room temperature but that the nurse could 'see' or 'feel' him go.

*baffled* I like to think I have an open mind, and would have LOVED to feel such a thing, but I quite simply did not. I did feel at peace that they were no longer suffering, and I give the nurses credit for what they believe they saw/felt.

I guess maybe I'm too much of a skeptic to really believe woo-woo stuff like that, even though I'd really like to. My own soul yearns for that connection, so please no flaming. I use the term woo-woo endearingly and as I learned it from several friends & relations who use it to refer to spiritual/metaphysical events that they themselves have experienced.


30 Posts

As a hospice nurse, I can tell you that there usually is a "pulling back" days or hours before death. I believe in my heart that the immenently dying patient can hear and feel right up to the point of death. I have seen touch and voice calm a person's respirations and ease their pain. And even if this is false, what is the harm? It may only be a comfort to the loved ones. So be it. But for all the deaths I have witnessed, I truly believe in the theory that the patient is receptive until the end. As for the moment of passing, I have never seen or felt a soul leaving. But I have watched as a person dies and can see a change in their appearance at the moment of death. Hope this helps!


7 Posts

In my first clinical rotation I was asked by the head nurse to sit with a man who was dying. They figured it was only a matter of a few hours and unfortunatly his family were unable to be with him at that time. I can remember holding his hand and talking to him, telling him that I was sure his children wanted to be there with him. He was completely unresponsive but I guess for my own comfort i kept talking. After about 30 minutes I said to him "you know, its okay, you can don't need to stay here keeping ME company" and with that, he took a deep breath and passed away. It was an extremely touching moment for me, first time experiencing death. It was almost as though he were waiting for somone to let him know it was okay to let go. But i gotta tell ya, It made be beleive that no matter what state of consciousness a patient is in, they can hear you.

BadBird, BSN, RN

1,126 Posts

Specializes in Critical Care.

My husband and I were driving to the hospital to see his mother, all of a sudden my husband told me he had a vision of his father (who was dead for 5 years) pop into his head and tell him, don't worry she is with me now. When we got to the hospital it was her exact time of death. Freaky! but then again how wonderful to think that someone we love will be there to help us pass over.


992 Posts

I also believe that the dying person can hear everything up to the last moment. I know my MIL did. We were in the room, and we would be reminiscing about the past, telling stories and such and she would move her left foot whenever we said something she thought was funny or upset her. I know some people say it was just a unpurposeful movement but I know better...I can't say that I actually felt a person's soul leave before the VS cease. I do believe though in cases where the person is vented and being kept alive against their will, their eyes look void or at least to me they is like they don't care what happens to them, almost a sadness....

My condolences on your loss....



365 Posts

With all my heart, I believe hearing is the last sense that ceases. Even when doing post mortum care, I talk to my residents, telling them that they will be missed, that they are loved but I look forward to meeting them again in a better land. If I am not able to assist with post mortum care, I ask my CNA's to talk to the residents. I have found that this also makes it easier on those doing the care. It helps provide closure and is a more personal way of saying good bye.

I believe that people can hear up until they pass. My first experience with death at my job now was with a woman who was very sick, & it was just a matter of time. I'd go & sit with her & talk to her (she had no visitors, unfortunately). I just didn't want her to be alone when she did go.

She hung on for longer than we all thought she would, & one evening on my shift, I was in the room with her, & took her hand & told her it was ok, she could go.. there was no reason for her to continue suffering any longer. One of the nurses came in to help me clean her up & she passed. It was sad, but a relief.. it was hard to see her suffer alone. I was glad that I was there when she went, she looked so peaceful when she passed & even when I was doing the post mortum care, I kept talking to her. I kind of felt she was still listening, still hanging around, you could say.


646 Posts

My mom died of cancer. Before I had even THOUGHT about becoming an RN.She was just entering endstage when one afternoon my sister told me she thought she wouldn't last the night....just had a gut feeling. It was mom's first day of not getting out of bed and requiring assistance to go to the BR and personal care....still awake and lucid though. My heavens....she had the energy to cook dinner the night before. I didn't believe my sister. I told her hospice will be coming day after tomorrow and I thought she'd linger for a month at least. That's what the MD told me the day before...1-3 months. I had just witnessed mom signing the DNR papers the day before.Our conversation was gut wrenching...didn't want to believe it. Losing my mom so young at 54. I was only 23.

Very early the next morning I sat bolt upright in bed and had the most incredible urge to go to mom. It was almost like someone grabbing my shoulders and pushing me along. "I gotta go, I gotta go" I babbled to hubby. He was trying to convince me to go back to sleep...that I was exhausted with working FT, kids, taking care of mom and dad......I was almost hysterical......"I HAVE>>> TO LEAVE>>>>NOW!!!" when the phone rang. It was my sister telling me that mom had just died. I really feel like it was mom's spirit, soul, whatever you want to call it, contacting me when she was ready to leave this planet.

There are things that we will never understand until the moment we die.

I am so thankful that my sister sensed it coming...she stayed by mom's side all night long. She had a spontaneous hemmorhage and died quite abruptly.

And yet another interesting thread.......

Qwiigley, CRNA

564 Posts

Specializes in Nurse Anesthetist.

All of the above information is very acurate in my opinion. I was a PICU nurse. I would hold children when they died. Sometimes I would be the person to tell the child that they were dying. We would use age appropriate terms such as, "going to live with Jesus" or whatever was appropriate to their beliefs. I don't think I could have watched children die day in and day out from the horrible dz and abuse (teaching hosp in LosAngeles) if I didn't believe that they had gone on to be with God. Becoming a RN made me much more spiritual and believe much more.

The most honorable and hardest job in nursing is the Hospice nurse. It takes a special and dedicated person to help strangers leave Earth and their body to find freedom and love. It is hardest to help those left behind to find the joy in the passing and remember the joy of their loved ones life.

If you really want to read a short book that really helped me in the PICU, read, "On Life After Death" by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross. It contains 4 short speeches she made. There is some overlap, but a really great book. Only 82 pages long.

Specializes in Telemetry, Case Management.

My two most memorable episodes of a pt dying were these:

The first was a sweet elderly lady dying and several rowdy family members were actually standing over her bed arguing and acting very inappropriately. I threw all of them out and let one daughter who hadn't been acting stupid back in. We stood one on each side holding the lady and talking to her when suddenly the pt reached up towards the window with the most beautiful angelic smile and happy happy look on her face, opened her eyes, then shut them and passed right then, with the smile on her face. The daughter was just thrilled that she was there to witness it.

The second was another elderly lady, a widow. She had been ill off and on for several weeks. For a day and night, this lady, a prominent citizen in her town, and a member of the church, screamed "He's coming for me, he's coming for me. Please help me, the devil is coming for me." I was not there the actual shift she died but was told she was screaming for help to escape from Satan as she went. Scary!!!

I believe pts can hear til the moment of passing, and I believe these two patients were seeing things we could not and were aware of what was coming.

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