What Happens In A Death Rally?

Dear Barbara, Can a person have more than one death rally?

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 The person, over a period of several months, has gradually withdrawn.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.

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Joyce Petrosky

I’ve been a nurse for 50 years, mostly in the critical care areas. I have witnessed this rallying so many times and I believe it is the bodies response where it gives its one last shove to try and reverse the process that causes people to wake and act normally and the pass away soon after.

It seems like there is that final boost of adrenaline that some part of the body signals it needs that causes it. It’s conjecture on my part and for many families, it gives them hope that is soon dashed. I’ve explained this phenomenon to many and it has helped them have more closure.

A good friend of mine was dying of cancer and the family was called to come in as they were sure she would die that day. Instead, she sat up and said to her family: “What the hell am I supposed to do today, I was supposed to die yesterday!” It was my friend to a tee…..

Tammy Graves

Hi, we often use Gone From My sight with our families at our IPU. It is an integral part of our end of life teaching and so helpful. We would love to look at “The Eleventh Hour”. Is it possible to receive a sample for us to review and decide if this is something we want to incorporate into our teaching/support of our families?


Tammy Graves RN BSN CHPH
Director of Columbus Hospice House

Valeria Morahan

That feeling I get when another of Barbara’s blogs comes out and I scramble to read it, print and save it as though it is a precious jewel :)

Michael Duffy

We see this a lot. We call it a Rally Day. They can be rather elaborate.


My mother’s “rally” or “surge of energy” was one of the greatest gifts of my life. She was able to tell me some very precious things. I will never forget that time we had together.

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