I know death isn't the liveliest topic of conversation, but it's a part of life (ha ha) that everyone has to deal with. Personally, when I think of death, I immediately think of logistics: Planning a funeral, for example, or writing a will. What is admittedly more interesting (albeit slightly more grotesque) is to think about all of the weird things that happen to your body when you die — by which I mean, what the processes are that your body goes through when it reaches death. An average of two people die per second, so death is something that's always occurring, even if it's not affecting us directly.
I think a lot of people feel uncomfortable talking about death because it's so heavy and emotional. If you've ever lost an important person in your life (or even a beloved pet) you know the depths of grief and the heavy impacts of loss. When you're grieving, you can go through serious depression, anxiety, and more. All of that said, I still think it's important to talk about death, because it's something we'll all have to face eventually. Furthermore, approaching death from a medical, scientific standpoint might be a good pathway for people who are otherwise emotional or uncomfortable around the death discussion.
AsapSCIENCE recently released an informative, digestible video on the weird things that happen to your body when you die, which I think covers the basics pretty well. I pulled some highlights below, and you can scroll down to check out the full video below. Head on over to the AsapSCIENCE YouTube channel for more fascinating tidbits about the human body.
1. So... What Happens First?
Immediately after death, your oxygen is depleted. This actually causes your brain activity to go into hyper activity mode. In this time, your body stops releasing hormones that regulate your bodily functions. So yes, some of your bodily functions, like urination and defecation, may continue after your death.
2. OK, Nothing Too New. Then What?
About 15 to 25 minutes after death, the paleness sets in, as a result of the lack of blood flow through the capillaries. Remember, because your heart is no longer running, blood isn't moving through your body. This leads your blood to essentially "pool" together in your body.
3. Is This When People Examine The Body?
Typically, yes! So within about 12 hours of death, after the blood has "pooled" together because of gravity, a red or purple tint will appear on the skin. Coroners use this change in skin color to determine roughly how long it's been since the time of death. They can also look at the blood pooling to determine the position the body was in when it died.
4. What About Rigor Mortis? When Does That Happen?
Ah, yes. Rigor mortis. This concept has scared me since I was a kid, and I still think it feels more like fiction than actual reality, but science has proven it's a real thing. Basically, between three and six hours after death, rigor mortis sets in. Your cells begin to deteriorate and leak calcium into your muscle cells. The calcium binds to proteins which are ordinarily responsible for your muscles tensing (like when you're working out, you're stressed, etc). But because you're dead, the reaction causes a lot of tension and stiffening, so your body is basically "stuck" in that position for up to 48 hours.
5. Don't Forget: You're Also Decomposing By This Point
If your body isn't embalmed or preserved in some other way, your body will decompose. I know this isn't a pleasant thought, but scientifically speaking, it makes sense. Without proper blood flow, your cells accumulate and combine with CO2 gas, causing the PH levels in your tissue to rise. Eventually, this causes your cells to burst and release proteins and enzymes which further break down your tissue.
A lot more happens to your body after you die, especially if your body is (for some reason) left exposed in nature. I know this isn't the lightest subject in the world, but I think knowledge is power and educating ourselves on the realities of death is important, if not a little neaseating. The folks at AsapSCIENCE go more in depth with what else happens to your body after you die in the rest of the video, which you can check out below.
Images: Pexels; AsapScience/YouTube (5)