Dying generally tends to signal the end and while there is some debate as to exactly when a person should be classified as dead (currently you can be legally dead in one state but alive again if you get taken to another), it’s generally agreed that once you’ve stopped showing brain or cardiac activity for a fair while… you’re a goner.
But just because your heart and brain have stopped working and your cells have started dying, don’t think that means that your body has completely given up the ghost. Actually there are a fair number of ways your body lives on after you’ve gone and there are a number of different bodily functions that persist when you’re underground. Read on for some rather creepy examples of just how resilient your body really is…
Before you continue though, bear in mind that some of this is a little unsettling and disturbing. If you’re the squeamish type then this might be a good time to go and find a different article. Maybe something about bunnies…?
Hair and Nails
It’s generally well known that once you’re dead your hair and nails will continue to grow for a while. Actually, this particular example isn’t all that accurate. While your hair and nails do get longer you see, it’s actually not because you produce new hair or nail tissue. Rather the stuff you’ve already got will continue to get longer as the skin loses moisture and pulls back. So really they’re not actually ‘growing’, but rather more is just being exposed over time.
Something that does actually continue to grow though is your skin. Your brain will die off pretty quickly when your heart stops you see because you won’t be getting enough oxygen to the cells. On the other hand though, skin cells have a much lower requirement when it comes to oxygen and can survive with relatively little input from the rest of your body. And because they’re situated right on the outskirts of your body, they can actually take in some oxygen through osmosis. Your skin can thus remain ‘alive’ for days.
Normally a part of your brain will work constantly to keep your urinary sphincter closed. When you die however that part of the brain gets shut off and the muscles relax causing post-life urination. A similar effect happens the other end too, but this is further compounded by a build-up of gas inside the body.
Perhaps even more disturbing is the fact that some people ejaculate after death. This is due to the contraction of muscles – rigor mortis – which is triggered by calcium ions entering muscle cells. And as though that wasn’t horrific enough, pregnant women have even been known to expel foetuses after death in a phenomenon coined ‘coffin birth’.
Your body is not just your home. Rather it’s also home to a host of bacteria that live on your skin, in your stomach and everywhere else you can imagine. Some of these bacteria are rather inert as far as we’re concerned, while others can be malicious or helpful – even serving important roles in our body. The bacteria in your gut falls into this category and is responsible in part for digestion – meaning that you will continue to digest food after you’re dead.
We’ve already seen how rigor mortis occurs and causes muscle contraction among other unpleasant side-effects. Meanwhile, muscles will also retain certain reflexes which don’t involve the brain. This can cause twitching, spasming and even quite ‘alive’ looking movements.
One of the best examples of this is what’s known as the ‘Lazarus sign’. This is a spinal reflex that causes the arms to rise up from the body then close across the body, sometimes crossing over as they do. This whole motion can last several seconds and be rather upsetting for relatives and friends of the recently deceased. Some believe this is why the Egyptian sarcophagi always showed people in this position.
While it is known that the Lazarus sign is a ‘knee jerk’ reaction, it is not understood why this motion in particular is common, or why it is noticeably different from others. It most often happens after the removal of life-support systems (specifically ventilators) and can occur up to a few minutes after brain death in some cases.
Imagine how terrifying it would be to think someone was dead, only to hear them let out a long sigh. While that might sound like the stuff of horror films, it’s actually pretty common due to the build-up of gas and contraction of muscle all of which can result in the lungs being compressed and having the last bits of air squeezed out.
As you can see then, the death of your brain does not always necessarily result in the complete cessation of bodily functions. Your body has many different systems that are effectively able to continue in your absence, and while this is often horrific, it is also yet another reminder of just how incredible your body is while it’s alive.