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What Do the Dying Hear? May 7, 2006

Posted by TimTheFoolMan in death, Family, Love.

Yesterday, I was reading “Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers,” and noted a factoid that had escaped me before. Apparently, the human brain typically may continue to function (at some level) for 6-10 minutes after the heart stops beating.

For some reason, this factoid stuck in my brain, and at first, I couldn’t figure out why. After some reflection, I realized it must have something to do with the circumstances surrounding my mother’s death.

Death Came Quickly
The night Mom died, I made it to the bathroom fairly quickly, and immediately knelt by her as she lay on the floor. Her eyes gave no indication of a response, but not knowing what else to do, I talked to her and held her hand. The women who had found her on the bathroom floor had been performing CPR prior to my arrival, but hadn’t been able to get a heartbeat.

From our subsequent discussions with her doctor, he surmized that she had a massive failure of the heart muscle (it most likely ruptured in mid-beat), and was “dead before she hit the floor.” I heard those words at the time, and never really thought more about it.

Until yesterday.

Questions… Questions
After reflecting upon the possibility that Mom’s brain may have still been functioning as I knelt and spoke to her, other thoughts came to mind such as “How long do the ears continue to register sound to the brain after the heart stops pumping?” and “Does ‘brain activity’ mean that she was able to understand what was happening, or was there an immediate loss of consciousness, from her point of view?”

It would be inaccurate to say that these things haunt me, because I knew, as I looked at Mom’s body and detected no pulse in her wrist (an acquired skill, when dealing with someone whose heart didn’t seem to ever repeat the same pattern on an EKG), her heart would not start beating again. Something had stopped the beating (“quivering” is how her cardiologist described it), and I recognized at that instant that I was saying goodbye to her.

The Flood of Memories
Even so, I find my thoughts returning now to that evening, to the meal our family had shared, and to those final moments I shared with her. I can hear her laughing. I can see her taking the red onion that I had cast aside, and dipping into some russian dressing telling me to let the boys have the dessert they were begging for. I can see her body on the floor of the bathroom. I can hear the one gasping breath that her body autonomously took.

Did she sense my presence? Did she know I was talking to her, and that I was calmly accepting the truth of the moment (something she would most definitely want)? Was she in pain, or did the pain she had experienced for so many years finally ebb away as this life ended?


1. ME - May 7, 2006

She still hears you…

2. timthefoolman - May 7, 2006

My Dad had an interesting perspective on the notion of those who are “dead in Christ” (Christians who have died) having any significant knowledge of those of us still here on earth. It goes like this.

Revelation 21:4 tells us “there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.”

After Mom’s death, Dad once said to me, “How could your Mom look down upon us and not feel pain and anguish for what we don’t know? She no longer has any pain. Why would God allow her the pain of seeing us in this condition?”

Scripture doesn’t give us any clear indication of our loved ones who have died being able to see or hear things spoken here. The Bible simply says that “heaven rejoices when sinners repent” (Tim’s paraphrase of Luke 15:7).

Regardless, thanks for taking the time to post your message. Whether she heard me then or hears me now, clearly, I still hear her.

3. ME - May 7, 2006

And I hear my mom as well..especially when I put on a certain pair of shoes that she would always laugh at.. 🙂

4. Bonnie - August 13, 2006

I am one of Tim’s sisters. I once told our father that I had a different idea about what the “dead in Christ” know about those of us they left behind. Because they are now outside of the time and space that limits our understanding, I wonder if they see the end of time as well as the present, and since they know the whole story, are not pained about our current condition. I seem to recall having some Scripture in mind that lent some credence to my belief, but I couldn’t remember it when I had the conversation with Daddy. Now, of course, he is one of the dead in Christ. And I miss them both.

I love you, Tim. Thanks for being there for Mom.

5. thel - June 15, 2008

when my husband was dying 11years ago he kept repeating the words “listen listen” over and over. tonite I have witnessed my mum repeating the same words over and over, she is in a nursing home and I think her time is not far off now. is this just coincidence or do the dying actually hear something ?

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