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Hospice nurse reveals the three most shocking things she has learned about death

A hospice nurse has revealed the three things that shocked her the most about death when she first started her career – from people being able to hear even when they’re unconscious to dehydration actually making the process less painful.

Julie McFadden, 41 – a registered nurse based in Los Angeles, California, who specializes in end of life care – has racked up hundreds of thousands of followers while sharing insights into people’s final moments in the hopes of destigmatizing death.

Most recently, she uploaded a video to her YouTube channel in which she detailed the three most surprising things that she has learned about what happens to the body before someone passes away.

‘Here are the most surprising things I’ve learned about the end of life,’ she began in the clip, which has been viewed more than 23,000 times.

Julie explained that the first thing about death that astonished her was that it’s believed that people on the brink of passing away can still hear – even when they’re unconscious.

‘When someone is unconscious and not responding to us we do believe they can hear us,’ she explained.

‘There have been studies done where people were dying and they had EKGS on their brains which showed that the hearing sensor was the last to shut down.’

She suggested that you always ‘talk to your loved one like they are there,’ rather than speaking about them like they’ve already passed away.

‘Say the things you need and want to say,’ she added. ‘And don’t talk about your loved one like they aren’t there.

‘As a hospice nurse, I always try to speak to the patient like they could answer me back.

‘And I’ll talk to the loved ones around the bedside like the person is still there because studies have shown that they could or have the ability to still hear.’

Julie, who previously worked as an ICU nurse, added that she witnessed many people who came out of comas who told her that they ‘could sense’ what was going on while they were asleep.

‘They would tell us that they could hear certain things, they could sense people in the room,’ she said.

‘They knew somewhat what was going on. We do think that is the same for the dying person.

‘So really, at the end of life it’s just about being present, it’s about creating an atmosphere and an environment that’s comforting to them.’

The second thing that took her by surprise when she began working as a hospice nurse was ‘deathbed phenomena.’

The term is used to describe a series of experiences that occur to someone moments before they pass away.

Sometimes patients describe seeing dead relatives, or will tell their caregivers that they’re about to embark on a trip.

Julie said she’s witnessed some people getting a ‘surge of energy’ right before dying, while she’s seen others ‘waiting’ to cross over until their loved ones get ‘into the room.’

‘[These things] were mind-blowing to me as a new hospice nurse and it still is mind-blowing to me when I see it now, eight years later,’ Julie dished.

While she described the phenomena as ‘shocking’ and ‘unbelievable,’ she also said it was ‘comforting.’

‘Hence why I always educate about it,’ she continued. ‘I feel like it’s important for me as a hospice nurse to educate the general public that these are things that actually happen. We don’t know why but they do.’

Last but not least, the third and final thing that stunned her about death was that dehydration ‘helps people have a more peaceful death.’

‘Dehydration at the end of life will help you die more peaceful. Why? Because a dying body cannot handle the hydration that like a living well-body can,’ she shared.

‘If we try to hydrate a dying body at the end of life they’ll become overloaded with fluid.

‘The body can’t handle the fluid, it won’t stay in the person’s veins or arteries, it’ll seep out and cause swelling and then eventually cause respiratory distress.

‘The more I saw that as a new hospice nurse the more I was amazed about how our bodies really help us die.

‘Our bodies will start helping us be more dehydrated because the body knows that the more dehydrated you are the better you’re going to feel.

‘You’re going to go into ketosis [if you’re dehydrated] and your body will release endorphins that actually will give you a euphoric feeling and help start dulling pain and make you actually feel good.’

Julie explained that being honest about her experiences would help people feel less ‘afraid’ about death.

‘There are a lot of unknowns about the end of life which I think is what makes people feel afraid,’ she concluded.

‘But the more I’ve been around people at the end of their life the less afraid I’ve become because I’ve seen with my own eyes the way our body helps us prepare for that and the different things that are comforting to us that happen at the end of life.

‘Witnessing death on a regular basis has made me fear it less. Which is why I bring this information to you. Hopefully this will also decrease your fear.’

Julie, who used her expertise to write a book, called Nothing to Fear, previously posted a video detailing something known as the ‘death stare’ – a blank look that comes across someone’s face that usually signals they are close to passing away.

‘It’s when someone gets really fixated on a certain part of the room, and no matter what you do – you can snap your finger right in front of their face – an they will not move their gaze,’ she said.

‘Sometimes they just stare. Sometimes they will talk to someone who you don’t see. Sometimes they’ll have a big smile on their face, like they’re seeing something that’s obviously making them very happy. So that’s called the “death stare.”‘

She added that the ‘death stare’ is frequently accompanied by ‘end-of-life visioning,’ which is when the dying person claims to see someone that they ‘love and know’ who has ‘already’ moved on.

‘They will sometimes have conversations right in front of us with these people that we don’t see,’ she added of the eerie occurrence.

Julie has also posted a video about how the body is ‘built to die,’ explaining that everyone has built-in mechanisms that ‘shut off’ when you’re close to death to make passing away feel more ‘natural’ and ‘peaceful.’

She explained that’s why a person nearing death often starts ‘eating and drinking less, while sleeping more.’

‘Why is that happening? Because calcium levels in the body are going up and because calcium levels are going up the person is getting sleepier,’ Julie said.

‘Our brains have built in mechanisms to make us hungry and thirsty. Biologically, when the body knows it’s getting towards the end of life those mechanisms shut off, so the person does not usually feel hungry and does not usually feel thirsty, which is helping the body slowly shut down.’

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