At first, I wasn’t sure what was meant by the term “death rally.” While I haven’t heard that particular expression used before, I have often witnessed what could be described as a "rally" just before death. I am going to address the question using this definition of “death rally” - a person who has been actively dying (with everyone thinking it will be in days to hours), “rallies” or appears to get better, only to quickly revert back to actively dying.
I have seen this "rally" occur many, many times. The person, over a period of several months, has gradually withdrawn. Now, they are sleeping all the time, and are not eating or drinking. All of the signs tell us that death is rapidly approaching. Then one morning they wake up and seem to have gotten better over night. They are less confused, they want to eat, they want to get up. They may even begin interacting with us. They no longer look like they are actively dying and we, the family, get excited and think our prayers have been answered. Dad is getting better. All will be well. Then 24 or 48 hours later dad dies. This is what I consider a “death rally”.
What has just happened? I really don’t know the physiological reasons, but I have seen it many times and, yes, it can happen more than once.
It is like a person gets to death’s door and says, “Wait! I’m not quite ready yet. I have something left undone. Give me just a little while longer” and the Universe does.
I see this “rally” as a gift, an opportunity to be in a person’s presence a bit longer. An opportunity to hug some more, to say what might not have already been said.
Something More... about What Happens In A Death Rally...
Families need to know what to expect when their loved one is dying of disease or old age. I have a complete set of booklets that supports patients and families called The End of Life Guideline Series. It covers what to expect from diagnosis to grief.