In many ways, death is the great leveler. No matter what course we’ve taken during life, when any of us die, the same biological processes kick in. Like many people, you may shy away from thinking about death. Also like many people, you may nonetheless have a desire to gain an understanding of what happens to your body when your life ends. 

Before reading further, you need to understand that a candid discussion of what happens to your body after you die necessarily is going to be graphic. Nature can be brutal, and in many ways that is demonstrated most clearly when we depart life and leave behind our mortal remains.

Moment of Death

At the moment of death, a major surge of brain activity occurs. Some researchers have concluded that a human still has some level of awareness when this brain surge occurs. Individuals who’ve technically been declared dead but were later brought back have reported a bright light and other visual experiences. Some experts who research the dying and death process have come to conclude that the final burst described a moment ago is the reason people who’ve been brought back saw a bright light and other visuals after technically being declared dead. 

At the moment of death, blood stops flowing throughout the body. When this occurs, oxygen and vital nutrients no longer flow throughout the body. The human body is filled with what oftentimes is referred to as “good bacteria.” At the moment of death, good bacteria lose their nourishment.

Minutes After Death

Within minutes of death, cells throughout the body die and break down. As they breakdown, the cells begin to leak. Cellular breakdown happens rapidly when the blood supply ends. Coupled with the activity of bacteria that will be discussed in greater detail in a moment, the breakdown of cells throughout the body begins the process of what technically is called putrefaction. In very basic terms, putrefaction is the body rotting. 

Hours After Death

Body temperature begins to drop at the time of death. Body temperature will fall at the rate of approximately 1.6 degrees Fahrenheit per hour. Gravity causes blood to be drawn downward to that part of the body nearest the ground. This pooling of blood downward makes the part of the body where it was pulled by gravity appear pale. 

Calcium builds up in the muscles of the body. Within about 6 to 12 hours following death, what technically is known as rigor mortis sets in. This is exhibited as a stiffening of the body. Rigor mortis isn’t a permanent condition; it lasts for about 36 hours. When rigor mortis fades, if there is any urine or feces left in the body, the relaxation process may cause the release of this waste. 

Days After Death

In short speed, these bacteria turn to the body itself to survive. Initially, bacteria “consume” the pancreas and intestines. Within a couple of days, these organs are completely decimated by bacteria and burst open. This sends bacteria flowing throughout a dead body, bacteria that then attacks other organs located throughout the remains. 

The body becomes dehydrated as the days progress. The skin shrinks as it dries out. This leaves the appearance that hair as well as fingernails and toenails are growing. In fact, none of these features grow after death.

Weeks After Death

As the decomposition process moves apace and becomes very evident a couple of days after death, a truly foul stench is released from the body. In addition, the body begins to turn greenish color and the skin breaks down. The skin breaks apart as well. As the decomposition process carries forth, the body turns purplish and then black. Bugs begin to attack the remains as well. 

Months After Death

After a month passes, the decomposition process continues. Depending on the ambient temperature where the body is located, soft tissue will be gone within about four months. If the temperature is higher, this process is accelerated. On the other hand, if it is colder, the decomposition process slows. At about the four-month mark, the skeleton is all that remains. 

Embalming and Your Body 

In this day and age, most bodies are not left to decompose in an unattended manner. In a majority of instances, a body is embalmed in the United States. Following embalming and usually a memorial service a body is buried or placed in a mausoleum. In the alternative, about half of the remains of deceased people in the country are cremated, with or without embalming in advance. 

The embalming process does not fully stop the decomposition process. Rather, embalming slows it down rather significantly. Nonetheless, over time an embalmed body will decompose and end up following the same general course described previously here, albeit at a notably slower pace. 

Author

Emily Kil

Co-Owner of Eco Bear Biohazard Cleaning Company

Together with her husband, Emily Kil is co-owner of Eco Bear, a leading biohazard remediation company in Southern California. An experienced entrepreneur, Emily assisted in founding Eco Bear as a means of combining her business experience with her desire to provide assistance to people facing challenging circumstances. Emily regularly writes about her first-hand experiences providing services such as biohazard cleanup, suicide cleanup, crime scene cleanup, unattended death cleanup, infectious disease disinfection and other types of difficult remediations in homes and businesses.