The Silent Scream, Grimaces, and Scary Faces As We Die... Why?

Dear Barbara, I can’t get mom’s last minutes out of my head. Just before she died it was like nothing of this earth. It was like she was possessed, a silent scream, totally distorted facially. Have you seen this horror before?

What you described had to be scary for you. Yes, I have seen facial expression changes in the moments before death. Scary faces, grimaces, silent screams. What do I think it is? Here are my thoughts:

There is a labor to dying. It is hard work for us to get out of our body (some harder than others). Think of the little chick that works, struggles to get out of its shell. As we, humans, are dying we are working, struggling also to get out of our bodies. We, the watchers, see the hard work and don't know how to interpret it. As someone who has seen a lot of dying moments I see that struggle as often intense and unexplainable.

I don't think anything bad is happening. Those facial expressions and movements can be ugly and disconcerting but you were witnessing the final release, the final attachment to the physical being let go.

I don't want you to carry that image as something bad. I want you to understand it was optics we can't explain, distortions of the body as it was releasing its hold on this earth.

I can only say from having been at the bedside of hundreds of people that your mother's facial expression was not unusual. I describe it in my booklet Gone From My Sight or my book The Final Act of Living as a grimace or a frown. More detailed descriptions of faces I've seen could be a silent scream, or facial distortions that a Hollywood producer could use in a horror film.

The other side is I have seen smiles, beautiful, peaceful faces. What I learned from seeing all the various moments of death is it doesn't matter what they look like or why. What we are watching is a struggle to end this life connection, to get out of our physical shell. It's like childbirth in reverse. For some the baby just pops out, for other's, mom has to scream and push for hours.

I do not believe your mother would want you to be concentrating on her last moments and forgetting the good moments of her life. Here is an exercise for you: every day write down one good, beautiful, meaningful memory you have from the many years with your mom.

I don’t want that memory of your mom to overshadow all the good.

I assure you nothing bad or evil or even unusual was happening.

Something More... about The Silent Scream, Grimaces, and Scary Faces As We Die... Why?

I wish that more families were educated on what the dying process looks like and what to expect. More patients and families would experience a sacred death. Their grieving would be normal and not complicated. If you are not offered end of life education, ask for it.

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22 comments

Nancy P'Pool

Oh how my heart smiled after coming across this page . My Mom died 14 years ago on Nov1 with a long term illness . I was holding her hand and telling her I would be ok.. she had the scariest face and I knew she was saved and scared she did not cross over to heaven but I now know her expression was sadness at leaving us ! Thank you with a grateful ❤️ for helping!!!
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BK Books replied:
Hi Nancy, the final grimace upsets so many watchers. I’m glad you were able to find out what was really happening. Knowledge helps us with our grieving when we know, “Yes, that was normal. Nothing bad was happening”. Blessings! Barbara

Nye

I am so glad to read this. I lost a Friend recently and was pained to see her looking angry almost like she had been deeply sad or crying,yet I’d been told she just died peacefully. I couldn’t cope with that. If she died peacefully why would she have this look in death? I think from people’s experiences given here, there is a person sent to receive us at the last moment,and because we are in the door between both worlds, some of the messengers are people we fully know to be dead, and maybe some as they were in life, simply want to take us forcibly,while others are gentle. I can’t get any other reason for people seeing someone or something we don’t at death, yet some smiling and welcoming it/them, and others being reluctant or terrified.in all, we can only hope and pray for a peaceful “leaving”.
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BK Books replied:
Nye, thank you for your comments. I just look at all the different facial expressions as part of the labor to get out of the body, some have an easier time than others (just like the labor to get here). Guess we won’t know for sure until it’s our turn. Blessings! Barbara

Ryan

Thank you for this answer. I just experienced this earlier today and am having trouble processing. This helped.
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BK Books replied:
Hi Ryan, I’m so glad this information helped you. Our role models don’t show us the not so pretty part of dying. Blessings! Barbara

Lesley

Hi Barbara, I’m so grateful to have come across this page as I’ve been searching for answers since my mom passed. My mom was 91, had recently been transferred to a long-term care home and we knew she didn’t have much time left in this world. She had told me a couple of months ago when in the hospital that she was being visited by family that had passed away a long time ago as well as by children that she didn’t know. She said they all just smiled at her but didn’t speak and she said the children would poke her in the back and then run away giggling. I knew these were the visions or dreams that I’d read people who are dying often have. Her nurse called me on Tuesday to let me know that they felt she didn’t have very much time left so I drove up to spend what time she had left with her and my sister joined me. This was not the first time I’d experienced this as I was with both my ex-father-in-law and my dad when they passed but each time has been very different. My mom went fairly quickly in comparison but she did some very unusual things. She woke up and stared intensely at the ceiling like something was there that frightened her which was unnerving as she had had a stroke about two months ago and had struggled to keep her eyes open since. She eventually relaxed and then she looked at me and started mouthing things I couldn’t hear. Soon after her breathing slowed way down and then stopped but not long after she made this awful gasping and moaning sound like she was in terrible pain, her eyes were wide open again and she looked at me like she was terrified and then she died. I’ve been traumatized since. I can’t get the look that was on her face out of my mind. All I could think was that she had just seen something terrifying. She was a strong Christian woman, with great faith in God, so this has left me quite unsettled. I’ve been searching for answers since and what you wrote here is the first thing I’ve come across that’s discussed this sort of experience. I appreciate your talking openly about this as it’s quite a horrible experience to go through.
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BK Books replied:
Lesley, I am so sorry you were frightened by your mother’s last minutes. What you describe I have seen many times. I don’t think it is fear or seeing something scary. I think it is part of the struggle to release from this heavy body. The little chick breaking free of its shell. Let go of the scary part and remember her life and your relationship. Know you had a gift of being with her, to say goodbye as she began her new journey. Blessings Barbara

Angela Hudson

It has been 7 months since the passing of my Husband from Pancreatic Cancer Stage 4 and Prostate Cancer. We were only married for 2 years. Before he died my baby had a frown. I felt that although he was so tired, and fought a good fight, he was upset about having to leave me. Your article puts it all into perspective. Thank you & God Bless You!

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BK Books replied:
Hi Angela, so glad you found reassurance for the meaning of your husband’s frown. My blessings are with you. Barbara

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