What Happens When We Die?

Despite all the scientific evidence, in a recent poll in Britain, more than half of us said we believe that at least some part of us lives on after death. Death is a subject that fascinates mankind. Some of us fear it, some of us long for it, most of us are at least curious as to what happens. From a purely scientific point of view, it is a process. Let’s take a look.

Stages of death – declaration

You are officially dead when your heart stops beating and there is no longer any electrical activity in your brain. At this point, you have “checked out”. You can be brain dead which is where the brain is no longer working but your heart is still pumping, usually due to a machine. Or you can be cardiac dead where the brain is still operating but your heart has stopped. It is during cardiac death that people report near-death experiences, more on that later. Once your heart and brain have stopped you can be “revived” but there is only a window of just over five minutes until you die.

Once you are dead gasses sometimes escape from your mouth it can sound like you are moaning and sometimes muscles can twitch after death. These are just muscle spasms and not a sign of life. However, it can be a little disconcerting for the hospital staff!

Livor Mortis

The first stage of death is pretty undignified. All of your muscles start to relax, including your sphincter muscles. This means that any nasty bodily fluids will escape from you. Your bladder and bowels will empty. Men sometimes ejaculate. And if a woman happened to be carrying a child she may give birth to it. This is extremely rare and it is called “coffin birth” the gasses that build in the abdomen force the baby out. All the blood will pool in certain areas leading to your skin having a purple hue.

Algor Mortis

Because we are warm-blooded animals our body heat comes from our blood. So as that pools and stops pumping around our body our temperature drops to that of the room we are in. This stage is called algor mortis but is sometimes known as the “death chill”.

Rigor Mortis

For some reason this is the stage people seem to be most familiar with. This is where the body becomes stiff. This happens between 2 to 6 hours after death. Calcium seeps into muscle cells causing them to go rigid. It can appear that your fingernails and hair are growing during this phase but that is just skin receding.


The lack of blood flow leads to bacteria growth and this is why the body starts to decompose. This is followed by putrefaction where bacteria and other microorganisms start to eat away at your body. All of your soft tissues become liquified. Only hard substances like bone, hair and cartilage stay immune to this part of the process. If left above ground animals and insects could aid the process and you would likely be decomposed in a month or two. Buried underground it can take more than a decade for you to be left as nothing more than a skeleton.

Near-death experiences

These happen when you are almost dead. People have reported seeing a fantastic light and a feeling that they can move towards it. People have also suggested that their spirit has risen out of the body and they have been able to see medical staff working on them. Some people believe these people are in the “ether” the realm between the spiritual and physical world. Others believe that the lack of oxygen to the brain causes hallucinations just before you die. So that’s what happens when you die. Please don’t have nightmares.

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