What are the signs of impending death a few hours before death?

What are the signs of impending death a few hours before death? Emma's Story Part 5 will take you there.

Months | Weeks | Days | Death

leaf, autumn

Death is getting close. Hours close. All the signs of impending death are there. This is the final stretch. We are nearly there. Nearly there. Let's follow Emma and her dying.

Emma's Story Part 5:
A Few Hours Before Death

By now Emma's daughter Jane had decided to spend the night in the spare bedroom. She had promised her mom that she would be there. Would be there to see her mother and best friend die.

Jane had the monitor to give Arthur a good night's sleep. A monitor to hear Emma while being in another room. All through the night Jane would wake up and listen. She would make sure that she still heard Emma breathing.

Ever so often she would get up and look. Emma's eyes were closed. No movement. She was unresponsive. As if in a deep sleep.

Early in the morning Emma's breathing changed. She would take a breath in and then stop. Stop for as long as 20 or 30 seconds. No breath.

Then slowly her body would start reaching for the next breath. Finally the next breath came. Then the breath stopped again. For another 20 to 30 seconds.

This went on for a few hours. It felt kind of eerie as it was so easy to think: "Oh, this is her last breath." But it wasn't yet. Not yet.


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leaf, water drop Some Signs of Impending Death

This close to death, as in hours away, our bodies are giving us more signs to look for. More symptoms of dying as mile markers on the final journey home. More ways to know that death is near. Very near.

Emma's breath, as described above, is called "Cheyne-Stokes" breathing. That kind of breathing consists of inbreaths followed by periods of no breath. Another inbreath. Another pause. Another inbreath. Another pause.

This kind of breathing can last for many hours. Or just for a short while.

Here is a list of your typical signs of impending death:

  • Our breathing is becoming more irregular and often slows down.

  • Our eyes might be closed. Or they might be open or half closed, but without actually focusing on anything.

  • Lips and nail beds can look purple or bluish.

  • Fluids may gather at the back of the throat, resulting in what sometimes is called the "death rattle". It does not appear to disturb us when we are dying. But it can sound awkward for those sitting close by.

  • Our hands and feet may look blotchy and purplish (mottled). This mottling can slowly move up the arms and legs.

  • Our hearing seems to be the last sense to go. So talk to us. Tell us that all is well. That we are going home. That you love us. That it is all right for us to die. That it is OK for us to finally go home.

And again a reminder: not all signs of impending death show up for all who are dying.

Emma's Story Part 5: A Few Hours Before Death Continued

By this time Emma was surrounded by her husband Arthur and her daughter Jane. One sitting on each side of the hospital bed. They took turns holding her hands.

They had lit a candle. There were flowers some good friends had brought over on a night stand. The curtains were closed to keep the bright summer sunshine out.

Every couple of hours one of them would get up to give Emma her next dose of liquid morphine. No need to swallow. The insides of Emma's mouth just absorbed it. Her face looked easy and relaxed under the circumstances.

There was a pillow under her knees. Her head was still on her favorite pillow and propped up with the help of the raised head piece of the hospital bed.

Emma was as comfortable as she could be in these last hours.



leaves, light, golden

The Gifts of These Last Hours

These last hours filled with signs of impending death can feel very special. They can be like a moment of hushed silence in the middle of a busy street. Like the sense of wonder just before a sunrise on the ocean. Like a holy moment in church full of imagined angels singing. Like a long prayer deeply soothing us.

They have a similar quality to the time right after a baby is born. That same feeling. That same sense of wonder.

As if they are like gateways. Gates to the other side. Gates to our souls.

As if the veils keeping us here on this earth get lifted around death. As if we can reach across to the other side together with our loved ones who are dying.

We only visit for a short time. They are the ones going there for good.




Can you sense the sounds
touching your heart?

Are you feeling the call
reaching for you?

Do you know the voices
singing your name in light?

You are so close
Dear One
You are so close

- Ulla Mentzel -



leaf, leaves, fall, falling



Click here to read Emma's Story Part 6: At Death

Months | Weeks | Days | Death

Return from Signs of Impending Death to Emma's Story Part 1

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