Question: Is it possible to recognize the signs of approaching death in the months before a person who has no apparent illness dies. Can you look back after a death and see that yes, they were dying and no one knew it?
That is an interesting question. There are so many variables, as each death has its own individuality, that there is no one answer to this question. However, here are some ideas to consider: first a bit of information: there are just two ways to die, fast or gradual. Fast being accidents, heart attack, blood clots, whatever causes death to be instantaneous. Gradual death being old age or disease. Gradual death has a process. It doesn’t just happen so there are signs to look for that point to the process and the progress.
Here are some variables to approaching death: some people, who appear healthy with no evidence of disease, begin the dying process and go through the stages of dying without ever being diagnosed with a life threatening disease. They die and everyone is surprised. If you had asked them "are you sick", some might have said yes, others may have said no. Some may just have been in denial while others may have known how serious it was and just chose to do nothing.
In situations like these in hindsight we can see that indeed the person did show signs of approaching death months before actual death occurred. Eating decreased, sleeping increased; they withdrew from those around them. That would tell us the body had a disease long before it was ever, if ever, diagnosed.
Another possibility is a person is healthy and well, gets an illness and even though they aren’t “suppose" to die from the illness, they do. In that case they probably have not entered the dying process before actual death occurs. This would be considered a fast death.
While individual differences may be seen in the time of months, weeks, and days before death, everyone who is dying will have the signs of approaching death that occur hours to minutes before death. Even a person dying a fast death will show the signs of hours to minutes before death. In the last moments of life we all die similarly.
In our personal situations we may never have an answer to the question did he know or had the process started months earlier. What I suspect is that at some time before we die we know that the moment has come. That knowledge may become real to us weeks, days, hours, or minutes before death. What ever the time frame there is a moment when without a doubt we know –this is what dying is like....I am dying.
Something More About... Will I Know I'm Dying?
My booklet, Gone From My Sight, is a guideline to what approaching death looks like. Typically the signs are seen six months before a person dies. The book details what to look for and what will happen from six months to hours and minutes before death. It is an invaluable guideline for families with a loved one in hospice, palliative care, or has been told that they have an illness that is unfixable.