Dear Barbara, I have two questions please, if you would help. 1. My Mother’s eyes turned color a few hours before she died. Do you know anything about this? 2. When my Mother was struggling (fighting) at the end the pulse oximeter displayed no numbers, the hospice nurse said, 'She's gone.' However, my Mother still 'breathed' these abrupt, jolted exhales for about 30 minutes and then these stopped. I want to know, please, did she die when the nurse said 'She's gone.' or when the last breath was exhaled?
To answer the first question, about your mom's eye color changing: I have not noticed this happening with others before. Most eyelids are at "half mast," or one eye will be partially open while the other is closed. So I didn't see a lot of really open eyes and no one asked me about a color change.
That said, it doesn't mean it hasn't happened to others. As the energy leaves the body, there are so many unexplained changes.
To address your second question about her continued breathing after the oximeter displayed no numbers: most often there will be no readings from the blood pressure cuff and you can't get a pulse reading by machine or by hand long before breathing stops altogether.
The heart is still beating even when our less sophisticated machines don’t register them. The breathing will get slower and slower and the time between breaths will get longer and longer – all the while there is no pulse reading. It is just too faint/weak to register.
Not getting a reading doesn't mean she was dead. It says she was very close but as long as she was taking occasional breaths, I personally think she had not finished her labor.
All that said, I have witnessed bodies of people who were presumed dead (no heartbeat, no breaths) make gurgling and even gasping sounds. It is just air or fluids releasing from the body. Life is gone, just the shell reacting to gravity and external movement.
Knowing the exact moment of death or what happens during the time of release is not what is important here. What is important is that we had the gift of being present at this sacred moment. We were able to say goodbye. In spite of the strangeness of something happening that we have never witnessed or even imaged —we were there.
Something More... about Continued Sporadic Breaths After Mom Was 'Gone'
If you are caring for a special person at end of life alone in your home, you may want to know what you can do for them during the dying process. GONE FROM MY SIGHT teaches you what to look for and expect, then THE ELEVENTH HOUR explains what you and DO for your person. They are both part of the bundle, End of Life Guideline Series. I encourage you to have everyone who visits or plans to help read these two booklets also. Then you are a team. Everyone knows what to expect and how to pitch in. Caregiving is hard. Equip yourself with tools that will support you.