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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Thank you for this answer. I just experienced this earlier today and am having trouble processing. This helped.
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


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.
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!

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

Bridget McGowan

My husband passed away April 3, 2022
Eight days ago. He suffered for 3 years after diagnosis. Congestive Heart Failure, Pulmonary Fibrosis. I was his caregiver. He had been on hospice 6 days. Was in and out of the hospital Feb. and March. Came home March 28 to be put on hospice. Our adult daughter came to help me Wednesday before he passed. That morning his breathing was different. He was on high flow oxygen 24/7. But that morning it was different. I told him I was going to check his blood sugar, which I did and he did not need a shot. I told him no shot honey. He wasn’t very responsive. He did say he needed to pee with urgency in his voice. I put the urinal there but he couldn’t I asked his daughter to help me, she couldn’t get him to go either. I called the nurse and told of his urgency and the breathing when I hear our daughter yell for me. I ran into the room seeing him raising his head with that grimace face that you speak of. Then all of a sudden a calmness came over his face he laid it back on the pillow. I whispered in his ear, my darling it’s ok you can go, go with it. I put my head to his chest to hear heart beat I heard one beat then silence. It all stopped. Everything stopped.
I take comfort in your words up there and I thank you. 💔

BK Books replied:
Hi Bridget, thank you for sharing your husband’s experience with us. Once we know that a facial expression of some sort is what most people do just before they take their last breath, then we can let go of the idea that something pathological happened. Blessings! Barbara

Penny Hope

Hello Barbara – thank you for this space. I have been looking through the internet for answers and finally found you. Thank goodness for you sharing this information. My dad just died last night after a long struggle with Alzheimer’s disease. My mom and I were there when he finally, finally was able to go. He had a very bizarre, lower jaw snap up into a strange grinning grimace, took another breath, had another grimace and was gone. He had a slow, very long journey and for him to have died was a relief for him I am sure. Thank you for sharing that this is all about the struggle to leave the body/shell behind. Thank you so very much.
BK Books replied:
Penny, thank you for sharing your father’s last moments with me. It sounds
like he did just what he needed to do to get out of his body. You might
write him a letter and put everything your heart and tears want to tell
him, burn the letter and scatter the ashes to the wind. Blessings to you
and your family. Barbara

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