My 92 year old mom passed away at home this Wednesday early am after a long battle with dementia. She had lost significant weight in the last year. The last 36 hours she was asleep. Fifteen minutes before she died she opened her eyes. Luckily the night aide woke me and her other beloved aide up and we gave her morphine and comforted her as she passed. She just looked so scared which really broke my heart. Eyes open no words.
Does anyone know if when someone’s eyes open like this if it is the body shutting down or if they are aware?
I know she’s at peace now but it’s so painful thinking she might have been scared.

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It seems like a very peaceful way to go to me. I'm sure you being there helped her immensely.
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Reply to ZippyZee

I can't imagine how hard it was for you to witness this. I put my mom to bed on a Thursday evening after what I suspected was "her last hurrah" after a great day and she never woke up. She passed Sunday morning. I'm grateful we didn't have to witness her eyes opening.

I agree with the others that this is a physiological action. In Mom's case, I knew she would pass at any moment from watching her oximeter. At one point, my sister cried out, "Look at her face!"

Mom's head slightly tilted back, chin forward, as if she were reaching to someone. Her face glowed--GLOWED! I've never witnessed nor heard of such a thing. I believe she was seeing the White Light and could see her beloved family members. The glow passed and her head moved back to its original position. Fifteen minutes later, it happened again. I believe that's when her soul departed and it took her body within a half hour to catch up.

At the moment we knew her body had passed, we girls had a crescendo of emotion, of course. About 30 seconds later, Mom gave this massive and noisy inhalation. Scared us all to death. It was horrible. Then no breathing. A few moments later, it happened again. Then, that was all.

The body shutting down will do all sorts of things that can be traumatic to witness. I have no doubt your mother's eyes opening is one of them.

For another thought, have you ever tried to nap or mediate with your eyes closed? It takes effort to keep them closed. Gave me a small headache. Now, I use a slumber mask to meditate so I let my eyelids rest. They don't close; they lift. I have no doubt as the body relaxes it's quite possible the lids will lift. There's no need to put the energy in keeping them closed.

My condolences on your loss. Peace to you, Jabnyc.
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Reply to MountainMoose

Not to in any way belittle the experiences people have had with loved ones dying with eyes open, or with other disturbing other facial expressions, but I agree that it's likely a physiological, not psychological response. But it can be disturbing to those who are present at the time of death. Apparently it takes effort to close the eyes, so dying with eyes open is very common in the animal kingdom. We've been with several kitties when they passed away (2 at home, 2 assisted at the vet) and they all died with eyes open and pupils dilated. In the old days people used to close the eyes of the deceased and put coins on to keep them closed.
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Reply to newbiewife

My granddad did the exact same thing. About 25 minutes before he died he woke up opened his eyes and for about 2 minutes he was lucid, aware and hungry. He asked for breakfast and the nurses went to go get his food. He put his head back on the pillow with his eyes wide open and then passed. My grandmother had been talking to him for about 10 minutes and then the heart monitor went flatline. This is somewhat common to die with your eyes open and it does not mean that the person is aware or knows what is happening.
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Reply to Jhalldenton

Eyes open is not uncommon. Even if the eyes see the brain doesn't process the image. Please do not feel guilty or worried about her being scared, expressions and physical reactions at EOL are not consious or Taarna says emotional, they are just reflexes. My condolences on your loss, but she is at peace now, and now is the time for you to process your loss without stressing yourself with maybees. You do not need to feel pain over the body's reflex actions. Peace be with you too.
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Reply to TaylorUK

I have known of people who are sleeping even while their eyes are open. Please consider that this was more a physiological response and not an emotional one.
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Reply to Taarna

I'm sorry for your loss.
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Reply to Cover99

As a hospice nurse, I experienced patients whose eyes were wide open...but not focusing on anything close to them...or further away. Other times the eyelids seem to drop about halfway, and stay there. sometimes the upper and lower eyelids are touching each other...and you may or may not see eye movement under the eyelids.
Or a person may appear very peaceful...or seem to smile....
What we may see as frightened may be merely the neurochemistry of the body failing, with resultant muscle changes including twitches or grimaces.

It's human to wish you could know for certain...but so much of the dying process (physiologically) is still a mystery to the medical world. Can't really be monitored intensely or use a clinical trial to test a treatment...thought experienced hospice programs usually have a vast collective knowledge of the usual and the unusual.

If this really bothers you, perhaps you could call the hospice office and ask to speak to the social worker or chaplain who was on the team. Those team members can talk to MD/nurse/etc. and get some answers to your questions, or determine who on the team feels most able to call you to talk about your mom's passing. Often done, for an out of town family. member, or a sudden hospice death. Take care.
Helpful Answer (6)
Reply to Clairesmum

Here is an article on the subject of eyes closed or open at the time of death:

I personally feel that a person's soul has already transitioned to heaven/the other side BEFORE their body takes its last breath. What happens to the physical body during the death process is just an organic thing; it's the human vessel shutting down and we witness that distressing process while the soul of the person we love is at perfect peace already, afraid of nothing, bathed in the light of pure love.

Don't remember your dear mom 'looking afraid' with her eyes open during her final moment of life, but of her laughing and enjoying life BEFORE the dementia set in. My mother is 95 in Jan and riddled with advanced dementia herself. I try to remember her NOW as she was before the horrors of it set in, and not as the hollow shell that's left.

Your mother is whole again, thankfully, without dementia or fear or pain or anything bad anymore! Try to focus on that if you can. My condolences on your loss. Sending you a hug and a prayer for peace.
Helpful Answer (9)
Reply to lealonnie1
Maple3044 Dec 12, 2021
What a sweet, lovely response.
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