“People often look like they are sleeping just after dying, having a neutral facial expression. But one of my relatives, who had intense pain the hours leading up to his death and lacked access to medical care, had a radiant, ecstatic expression. For decades, I have wondered whether the last minutes of life can be euphoric. Could dying perhaps trigger a flood of endorphins, in particular in the absence of painkillers?”, Göran, 77, Helsingborg, Sweden.
The poet Dylan Thomas had some interesting things to say about death, not least in one of his most famous poems:
And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
It is often assumed that life wages a battle to the last against death. But is it possible, as you suggest, to come to terms with death?
As an expert on palliative care, I think there is a process to dying that happens two weeks before we pass. During this time, people tend to become less well. They typically struggle to walk and become sleepier – managing to stay awake for shorter and shorter periods. Towards the last days of life, the ability to swallow tablets or consume food and drinks eludes them.
It is around this time that we say people are “actively dying”, and we usually think this means they have two to three days to live. A number of people, however, will go through this entire phase within a day. And some people can actually stay at the cusp of death for nearly a week before they die, something which usually is extremely distressing for families. So there are different things going on with different people and we cannot predict them.
The actual moment of death is tricky to decipher. But a yet unpublished study suggests that, as people get closer to death, there is an increase in the body’s stress chemicals. For people with cancer, and maybe others, too, inflammatory markers go up. These are the chemicals that increase when the body is fighting an infection.
You suggest that there may also be an endorphin rush just before someone dies. But we just don’t know as nobody has yet explored this possibility. A study from 2011, however, showed that the levels of serotonin, another brain chemical that is also thought to contribute to feelings of happiness, tripled in the brains of six rats as they died. We can’t rule out the possibility that something similar could happen in humans.
The technology to look at endorphin and serotonin levels in humans does exist. Nevertheless, getting repeated samples, especially blood, in the last hours of someone’s life is logistically challenging. Getting the funding to do this research is hard, too. In the UK, cancer research in 2015-2016 was awarded £580m whereas palliative care research was awarded less than £2 million.
There is no evidence suggesting that painkillers such as morphine would prevent endorphins from being produced, however. Pain isn’t even always an issue when people die. My own observations and discussions with colleagues suggest that if pain has not really been an issue for a person earlier, it is unusual for it to become a problem during the dying process. In general, it seems like people’s pain declines during the dying process. We don’t know why that is – it could be related to endorphins. Again, no research has yet been done on this.
There are a number of processes in the brain that can help us overcome severe pain. This is why soldiers on the battlefield often don’t feel pain when their attention is diverted. Work by Irene Tracy at the University of Oxford demonstrates the fascinating power of placebo, suggestion and religious beliefs in overcoming pain. Meditation can also help.
But what could cause a euphoric experience during death, other than endorphins or alternative neurotransmitters? As the body shuts down, the brain is affected. It is possible that the way in which this happens somehow influences the experiences we have at the moment of death.
The American neuroanatomist Jill Bolte-Taylor has described in a TED talk how she experienced euphoria and even “nirvana” during a near-death experience in which her left brain hemisphere, which is the centre of many rational abilities such as language, shut down following a stroke.
Interestingly, even though Bolte-Taylor’s injury was to the left side of her brain, an injury to the right side of the brain can also increase your feelings of being close to a higher power.
I think there is a chance that your relative had a deep spiritual experience or realisation. I know that when my grandfather died he raised his hand and finger as if he was pointing at someone. My father, a devout catholic, believes that my grandfather saw his mother and my grandmother. He died with a smile on his face, which brought profound reassurance to my father.
The dying process is sacred to Buddhists, who believe that the moment of death provides great potential for the mind. They see the transition from living to dying as the most important event of your life – that point when you carry Karma from this life into other lives.
That doesn’t mean that religious people generally have more joyful death experiences. I have witnessed priests and nuns become extremely anxious as they approach death, perhaps consumed by concerns about their moral record and the fear of judgement.
Ultimately, every death is different – and you can’t predict who is going to have a peaceful death. I think some of those I have seen die didn’t benefit from a rush of feel-good chemicals. I can think of a number of younger people in my care, for example, who found it difficult to accept that they were dying. They had young families and never settled during the dying process.
Those I have seen who may have had an ecstatic experience towards the end of their lives were generally those who somehow embraced death and were at peace with the inevitability of it. Care may be important here – a study of lung cancer patients who received early palliative care were found to be happier and lived longer.
I remember one woman who was getting nutrition through her veins. She had ovarian cancer and was not able to eat. People fed like this are at risk of serious infections. After her second or third life-threatening infection, she changed. The sense of peace emanating from her was palpable. She managed to get home from hospital for short periods and I still remember her talking about the beauty of sunsets. These people always stick in my mind and they always make me reflect on my own life.
Ultimately, we know very little about what happens when someone is dying. After 5,000 years of medicine, we can tell you how you die from drowning or a heart attack, but we don’t know how you die from cancer or pneumonia. The best we can do is describe it.
My research is focused on trying to demystify the dying process, understand the basic biology and develop models predicting the last weeks and days of life. In time, we may also get to research the role endorphins play in the last hours of life and actually get to answer your question definitively.
It is possible that we experience our most profound moment in the murky hinterland between life and death. But that doesn’t mean we should stop raging against the dying of the light. As the Swedish diplomat Dag Hammarskjöld put it:
“Do not seek death. Death will find you. But seek the road which makes death a fulfilment.”
Seamus Coyle, Honorary Clinical Research Fellow, University of Liverpool
“Cursed charity shop painting ruined my life”, says British woman
A British woman purchased a portrait of a young girl from a charity shop and now asserts that the picture is cursed, reports mirror.co.uk.
Elliot-Brown, aged 36, spotted an artwork by an unfamiliar artist at
the Hastings Advice Representation Center in St Leonards-on-Sea, East
Sussex, a month ago.
Simultaneously, the seller cautioned Zoe
about the painting possibly being cursed, revealing that a prior
purchaser of the same artwork had returned it to the store with the
statement “it ruined my life.”
Out of curiosity, Zoe captured an
image of the painting on her smartphone and shared the photo with her
68-year-old mother, Jane Elliot-Brown. Her mother seemed to be entranced
by the painting.
she began urging Zoe to acquire the painting. Yielding to her mother’s
persuasion, Zoe paid £20 for the artwork. However, as soon as she
introduced it into her home, strange occurrences commenced taking place.
Zoe entered her home and positioned the painting in the living room,
their dog named Cilla leaped up and started growling at the artwork.
Cilla deliberately kept her distance, refraining from approaching the
picture. Subsequently, Zoe’s mother’s health took a sharp decline. She
began experiencing alternating spells of fever and chills, requiring her
to wear four sweaters to keep warm.
Concurrently, Zoe’s mother
seemed to be captivated by the painting. She continuously gazed at it
and even caressed the painted girl’s cheek. During the night, she heard
peculiar knocks emanating from the room where the picture hung, despite
the room being unoccupied.
Zoe managed to persuade her mother that
the painting held negative energy and was cursed. However, Jane
staunchly defended the painting, reluctant to part with it.
never seen my mother yearn for something so intensely. She was
entranced by it, but not in a positive manner. She guarded it. She
frequently gazed at it. She ran her fingers over the painted girl’s
cheeks and polished the surface, although the painting didn’t require
“Each time I mentioned disposing of the painting, she
became exceedingly irritable. It transformed into a sort of family
heirloom for her, something she began cherishing.”
flatly refused to get rid of the painting. I think it’s a bit like the
magic power of the Lord of the Rings ring. It definitely works in an
attractive and charming way, it seems to pull you towards it.
“My mother became a bit like Gollum from The Lord of the Rings,” says Zoe.
herself says that it seems to her that the painted girl is very unhappy
and she stroked her to comfort her. She also does not attribute the
deterioration of her health to the purchase of the painting.
the same time, she admits that there were several cases when someone
seemed to knock on the door, and when she opened it, there was no one on
One day, Jane became so ill that she fainted right
in the bathroom. Zoe called 911, but her mother refused to go to the
hospital and was eventually left at home.
One morning, Zoe entered
the living room and saw her mother standing and stroking the painted
girl on her cheeks. And the mother could not remember how she ended up
in the living room and what she did at night.
was strange behavior, especially for my mom. She couldn’t remember
anything from what happened last night. My mom is still very weird and
distracted and doesn’t want to discuss it.”
And then something
even more frightening happened. Zoe and her friend Ben went for a walk
on a hill during a thunderstorm and suddenly saw a “creepy black figure”
that suddenly appeared in front of them.
They do not know if this
is related to the painting, but they immediately ran back in fear.
Deciding to get rid of the cursed painting, Zoey eventually took it and
took it to the same shop where she bought it.
And when she drove
up to the store, she saw that in one of the tires of the car, brand new,
someone stuck a screw. She gave the painting to the seller, but then
changed her mind and took it back.
didn’t want someone else to buy the painting and get hurt because of
it. Now Zoe wants to give the picture only to someone who understands
Now the painting is kept in Zoya’s house in a box filled with sage (it is believed that sage helps against evil spirits).
She also hung sage in every corner of the house, although Zoya’s mother was very unhappy with this.
thought knowing my luck some idiot will go and get it and try and burn
it and I don’t really want to be left with the remainder of whatever the
hell has been going on. Technically I was the last owner. [I want it]
dealt with properly. […]”
Wild man with a spear in his hand was spotted in the forests of Germany
A mysterious wild man, nicknamed by the locals “the wolf man”, was
photographed in the forested mountains of the Harz, in the center of
Germany. The man was completely naked and held a spear in his hand.
savage was accidentally noticed by two tourists who were walking
through the forest, not far from the city of Blankenburg in
Saxony-Anhalt, and examined the ruins of an old castle.
reached the caves in the sands, we saw this wolf-man. He stood high in
one of the caves and held in his hand a long wooden stick that looked
like a spear.
“He didn’t take his eyes off us, but he didn’t say
anything. He looked dirty and looked like a prehistoric man from the
Stone Age, like pictures in a history book,” Gina Weiss, 31, told Bild
to Weiss and her friend Toby, they observed this man for about ten
minutes. The naked man appeared to be in his forties and reportedly
these tourists were not the first to have seen him in the area.
It is assumed that he has been living in the forests near Blankenburg for about five years.
Authorities say they have received numerous reports of a person wearing a wolf’s skin or wolf costume over the past five years.
March 2023, a frightened eyewitness even called the police because he
thought that a wolfman running next to him wanted to attack him. In
other cases, people have seen how a savage is trying to make a fire or
building a hut out of branches for himself.
At the same time, it
is quite cold in this area in winter and it is not clear how this person
managed to survive here for several years.
According to Alexander
Beck, head of the local fire brigade, this savage clearly has the
skills to live in the wild and adapt to the changing seasons of the
Where this man came from is unknown. There are many theories, from the hermit to more mystical versions such as time portals.
However, there are those who believe that all this is just some kind of prank to scare tourists or some other purpose.
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