It’s a familiar scene on the screen – to preserve the dignity of the deceased, often a healthcare worker or a family member closes a patient’s eyelids after death. So, why do some eyes remain open, and what other phases do the eyes go through when someone dies?
The eyes experience a series of changes before, during and after death. From colour changes to glassy appearances, many phases can occur during this final transitory phase – from this life, to whatever you believe happens next.
Why eyes open before death
As a person nears death, their eyes may open – even if only slightly. This happens because of a decrease in muscle tone. The relaxation of facial muscles (as well as medications) can also impact whether or not a person opens their eyes (and starts to move other parts of their body).
This may also explain why some people’s eyes remain open after death. Researchers have also noted that eyes that remain open at the time of death could be due to certain illnesses (like ones that impact the central nervous system, for example).
Eye changes that occur after death
The phases are:
This is believed to assist in working out the time of death, as corneal opacity typically increases the longer someone has been deceased.
Eye colour changes
Some people notice their loved one’s eye colour change after death, likening it to a dark blue colour. This is because a hazy film covers the eyeball, giving the eyes a blue or grey-like appearance due to corneal opacity.
Kevorkian sign and debris
The Kevorkian sign can appear minutes to hours after someone passes. This is where blood vessels fragment and the eye may appear bloody. There can also be a build-up of dust fragments in the white of the eye, which can give the corners of the eye a yellow-like appearance.
After death, the pupils enlarge as the body relaxes and loses oxygen. They will also appear fixed and will not be reactive to light.
Other cultural or spiritual explanations about eyes opening near death
Different cultures have their explanations as to why someone might pass away with their eyes open. While some call these myths, others strongly agree with them.
One belief or theory is that a dying person may open their eyes because they are perhaps nervous or unsure about moving into the next world. Another is that the dying person may be looking for angels to retrieve them. Ancient civilisations even placed coins on the eyes post-death, as a way to pay for soul retrieval. Medically, spiritually and culturally – the bottom line is there are many different reasons why eyes may open near death, or even remain open after death.
While not everyone will have the same experience, recognising eye changes can help families to process death. If you are with a loved one when they are about to pass, it can be helpful to know when they are in their final moments, so you can say your goodbyes and be present with them as they leave physical form.
Now could be a good time to get your documents and plans in order, so your loved ones don’t have to later on. Start or update your Will online today.