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A Smile At Death


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I am new to this website because I just lost my mother on Saturday, August 6, 2011. I am an only child and my father is gone, so I feel so alone. I am finding it hard to function, but I am a single mom of three children, so I need to pull myself together. My mother and I were closer than two people could ever possibly be. She gave birth to me after 13 years of trying, and dedicated herself to me 100%. We were together every single day. She helped me with my children ever since they were born, even when I was still married.

My mom had not been to a doctor in 30 years until she decided to do something about her cataracts on her eyes. The eye doctor would not remove them until she had a physical. The physical turned up two aneurysms, one near the heart, the other near her diaphragm. She decided to have them fixed so she could see her grandchildren graduate. She had the first surgery in November, and was home in 7 days, back to driving in a month. The second surgery was March 22. This surgery caused one complication after another. She stayed in the hospital for 11 days, came home for 4 days, had to go back to the hospital, was moved the an Acute Long Term Care Hospital, got septic, went back to the original hospital for 6 weeks, healed to the point that she was moved back to an ALTC, got septic again after a week and a half, was moved back to the original hospital, and passed away.

I am devastated beyond belief. I took care of her every single day after she got septic. When she was moved to the final hospital, she was unconscious. I stayed by her side until the nurse's said it was time. And the thing that I can't get off my mind is her smile. She was unconscious, but right before she passed, she smiled. I have searched everywhere to see if this is a normal process of death, but can find nothing. I just want to know if anyone has experienced this. I would really appreciate someone responding,I want to know what that smile meant. Everyone says "she was at peace", but that is not good enough. I need to know if she really was at peace and happy or if it was a muscle spasm that can be explained by Science. Thank you to anyone who will share their experience or knowledge.

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Dear One,

I shared your message with one of my colleagues at Hospice of the Valley, and this is her response. I hope it brings you some measure of peace and healing:

Dear Kandy:

 

Your experience breaks my heart, and you have my deepest condolences. You and your mother had such a close, unbreakable bond, it's hard to imagine living without her presence, I am sure. I don't think there is a definitive answer about her mysterious smile. There is evidence about seeing a sort of smile after someone has died that is caused by muscular changes. Your situation is not in that category. I was a bedside hospice social worker for several years and was present at many deaths. I never witnessed the kind of smile you described. What I did see, however, quite commonly, was that unconscious people close to death could have an amazing final mobilization of energy to express something physically to those near them. Frequently it was a faint squeeze of a hand, or a tear seeping out of an eye, or eyes opening for the first time in days or hours, from a person is an apparent deep coma. Believe it or not, people have emerged from that comatose state on rare occasions. What I have heard described is that it is like being muffled under a pile of heavy blankets which keep them from moving a muscle. However, they are aware of sounds, voices and often colors around them in the room. I think this explains how a person close to death can wait until a particular person comes, or sometimes, leaves the room before finally letting go. I can only share my experience with you, but I would caution you not to underestimate the profound mystery of the dying process. That includes an unexplainable ability of a dying person – at times - to choose the moment, and the way, they die, almost as if they are able to consent to the inevitable. When patients of mine did this, it was always in the context of deeply important human relationships. Given your extraordinary closeness with your mother, I would imagine that she – if she could – would have made that effort.

 

Kathy Kramer-Howe, LCSW

 

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And this comes from Barbara Karnes, RN, an award-winning hospice nurse and nationally prominent speaker on the dynamics of dying. She is the author of the three booklets on which many providers of end-of-life care rely: Gone From My Sight, My Friend I Care, and A Time to Live. Her book, The Final Act of Living, is "a hospice training manual with heart." It is used in universities, for hospice orientation of staff and volunteers, and in end-of-life related areas, yet it is also useful for any lay reader. She is a nationally recognized expert on death and the dying process. Read more about Barbara on her website, www.bkbooks.com:

Hi Marty, to answer your question about the smile before death and what is that--here goes:

Most people just before they die will have a facial expression change. Most of the time the look is one of a grimace, a frown, a movement of the face, head and even the arm and neck. Once in awhile I have seen a smile. I personally think that the facial movement and body movement is the actual moment that the soul leaves the body. As I said, this is my own personal belief. There is no scientific research or proof that that is what is happening. The belief for me stems from being at the bed side of so many people and seeing them all have the similar movements and then just a few breaths following the frown or smile.

The fact that Kandy's mom smiled instead of frowning has no particular significance for me. Her body was letting go and she was freed. There was a release and it was registered on the face and in the body.

I hope this offers some help: Don't get caught up in the little details of the moment of death. They are unimportant. What is important is to celebrate the life Mom lived, her relationships, her legacy and to wish her well on her new journey.

My blessings to you Marty and to this family.

Barbara

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I would choose to believe the smile was caused by seeing someone she loved who has died. I think at the moment we leave our bodies, our lost loved ones come to us and walk us through to the light. I am not what you would call "religious" but I truly believe in God. Having lost my mother 3 1/2 years ago made my belief in God even stronger because I pray to be with her again one day. More than likely your mom was met by her mother or father and she was happy to see them. Or perhaps it was the first time she actually "saw" God. I pray you find your answer.

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I'm so sorry to hear about you loosing your mother Kandy. I lost my mom about three months ago and I too was extremely close to her.

I didn't have a last moment smile like you are describing but I did have something a day or so before she passed. She slipped into what I think was a comma in her last days. Her eyes were open but no response from her when we tried to communicate with her. My sister at one point closed her eyelids. I was alone in the room with her, standing by her and holding her hand. All the sudden she moved and opened her eyes. She saw me and a big huge smile came to her face. I just said " Hi Mom" and she looked so happy that I was there. I bent down next to her ear to tell her that I was there and if there was anything she wanted to let me know. When I got back up she was back into the coma or wherever she was before. She had that blank look in her eyes. I kind of wish I hadn't bent down and had kept eye contact with her longer but I'll always remember that last smile. She never came too again.

Another thing that happened at the end is I actually told her that "She had fought hard enough and whenever she was ready to leave it would be ok" A couple hours later she passed away. When she passed my father and I were holding her hands. I all of the sudden felt a surge of energy that when from my arms all the way up through my head. I equated this to possibly my relief that she was not suffering anymore because it was similar to the sense of relief when something that was really bothering you is resolved. This was much more intense though! I went for one meeting with a grief counselor from hospice and she immediately said that what I felt was her energy leaving her body. Since I'm a skeptical person when it comes to these things I stuck with my first theory. Then I started to think about it and why couldn't it be what the counselor said? There is just as much a chance that this is the explanation as what I had told myself was the explanation. If this was what really happened than what an incredible thing it would be that I actually have felt my mothers energy as she left her body. It makes me feel even more closer to her than I already had been. So although I'll never be 100% sure if it was simply a sense of relief or actually feeling her energy I choose to believe it was her energy!

Unfortunately I don't think anybody has an answer for sure to your question. My thinking is that it's just as likely that your mother actually smiled at you as any other theory anybody will give you so why not go with that? What if it really was a smile for you and your searching for another reason. Go ahead and accept it as a smile and cherish it as a special memory.

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im so sorry for your loss.I just wanted to say that my dad died suddenly of a heart attack.he shed a single tear right before he went.while they were waiting for help they were yelling things like,"dont die!your family loves and needs you,dont go!"needless to say,that tear has kept me up many nights,and has caused many melt-downs.I have researched it,but no one has an answer of course.I really understand the NEED to know.I think that my dad was sad and didnt want to go.When I read your post,the first thing I thought was that your mom was finally comforted,and maybe even was seeing old loved ones coming to take her home.I know my thoughts dont help,and I wish I had the answer.For both of us.After a year and a half,I have finally come to terms with the fact that I wont truly know until its time.Good luck to you dear.

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Kandy, I'm so sorry to hear about your mom. I don't have an answer, but I'd like to think that your mom was at peace and maybe reconnecting with friends and loved ones who have already passed on. About two days before my mom passed, she woke up from the coma she was in (medically induced) and opened her eyes sooo wide. She was looking up towards the ceiling where it meets the wall, but it seemed like she was looking through it, if that makes sense. She raised her arm and pointed at something that none of us could see.

Years ago, my best friend's little sister passed away. She was in the hospital and right before she passed, she told her mom that it was time for her to go and that she would be ok because her angels had come to get her. She had been sick since she was born and talked about her angels frequently. Whenever I begin to question things, I think about that story and I feel some comfort.

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  • 3 months later...

Thank you for your question regarding smiling. My dear mother died 6 months ago. My story is a bit different in that her body was held in the morgue for about a week before her burial. I'm sorry to be so blunt, but our faith does not include embalming(this detail may be important to remember in our circumstances). So...on the day of her burial, her body was frozen. As my husband and I were viewing her for the last time and saying our goodbyes, my mother's mouth kind of popped-open a bit and formed a smile. My father was standing there with us, and my husband said what he saw. I didn't want to upset my father any further, so I made light of what had happened. In reality, for me and my husband, it was such a gift to see. We KNOW what we saw together, and my mother was the force behind our marriage. I guess her body adjusting to the warmer temperatures could explain the obvious popping-open and smiling of her sweet mouth. Because embalming is not done, I have always had a secret fear of being buried alive, and, honestly, her smiling really freaked me out a bit. Again, I am sorry to be so blunt. I must keep my thoughts positive and have Faith -- and remember the Blessing of seeing her smile. Wishing you comfort and strength.

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  • 8 years later...

Ive been reading all these comments as ive been trying to find out myself why my mum smiled as she passed 3weeks ago.  On the day she passed me and my 2 daughters when to the hospice to see her, we were there 30mins playing music to her and shed been in deep sleep for 3days, while i was sat at her side stroking her hair and holding her hand and telling her to stop fighting and go be pain free with her dad she opened her eyes looked at me and smiled and i can say it looked like was a relief sign of no more pain and she was saying good bye to us. I have been struggling these past few weeks without her but i keep thinking back to that and it brings me some comfort  

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I think she smiled because she was seeing what was to come and it was a relief to her from all she'd been through.  Sometimes I think we're given that glimpse so we know they're going to be fine, and that is a relief and comforting to us as we think about them.

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While I was there at the moment Mark passed, and don't remember any smile or other expression on his face, I do remember the distinct feeling that all the air had been sucked out of the hospital ICU room.  It was like a depressurized space where all the oxygen had escaped, like a wind in the doorway feels if you stand on the threshold.  I remember gasping for air as though I couldn't breathe.  Then the sensation was gone, as though a great, big door had slammed shut, restoring "space normal."  Without going into any great detail, I felt--and still feel--as though a great force, bigger than anything I can comprehend, came along and bore his spirit off, or else it was the departure of a huge force of nature from this dimension.  He was certainly larger than life in some ways.  🥰

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It's true that not everyone goes out the same.  My mom died (Stage 4 Dementia) and was in a coma the last day, but I remember when I saw her, she was smiling...perhaps she had a glimpse of what was to come as she was in that transition state.

I didn't get to see George die because they forced me out of there while they were working on him (heart attack) but the last time I saw him he was in acute distress, his eyes were bugged out from the pain and he was anything but smiling.  

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