Have you thought about some of the things that happen to you after you die? Unless you are a Turritopsis dohrnii (aka, biologically immortal jellyfish) you’re gonna die. The people you love are gonna die, your dog is gonna die, and that one super annoying co-worker you kind of not so secretly hate? They’re gonna die too.
As with everything else, it’s best to face unavoidable yet unpleasant things with knowledge and if at all possible, a sense of humor. To help you with the knowledge portion, here are 25 things that happen (or could happen) to you after you die.
Everyone does it
There's a tax for that
The Government still taxes you. Yeah, estate tax, it’s a thing. Quick recap – The government gets a cut when you earn the money via income tax, the government gets a cut when you spend money via sales tax, the government gets a payment yearly for allowing you to own property via property tax, and the government gets a cut of the money and valuables you leave behind to your family when you die via estate tax. Up to 40%. Taxes are more assured than death.
The best skin care routine
Lather and rinse
You twitch. Look, death isn’t an instant thing. It’s a process of a complex biological machine shutting down for the last time. And your brain dies before the rest of your nervous system and body do, so without the brain to control said nervous system, some random twitching and spamming may occur up until rigor mortis sets in.
There’s a party in your bowels. Specifically, the bacteria that live there go crazy, since the immune system is no longer functioning to keep things in check. There’s all sorts of gross stuff in our poop factories that could make us sick if the good bacteria in our gut and our immunize system didn’t run interference. Without the immune system, bad bacteria go crazy, multiply, spread to other organs and start breaking down your meat suit.
Death is a such a drag
You may not believe this, but after you die, you moan. Like audibly moan. After you die, air and other gases escape your body. Some of this air passes your vocal chords which can cause a moaning or even a grunting sound. Can you imagine examining a dead body when out of nowhere it goes “uuuuuhg”….yeah, no thank you.
When you're at your lowest
When you die your heart stops pumping blood. The blood then settles at the lowest point in your body. If you’re a man, and face down when you die, that would usually be your penis. So you can get a postmortem erection. It may even leak fluids. It’s not ejaculate, it’s just…gross dead body fluid. It’s also pretty common (was pretty common) when people were hanged as the blood pooled in the legs and then..yeah. This awkward phenomenon is called “priapism” or more colloquially, “Angel Lust”.
If a pregnant woman dies, her body may go through something called a "coffin birth" in which the body will actually give birth to a child. Though extremely rare, if the right set of factors are in place the build-up of intra-abdominal gases can push a fetus out through the relaxed vaginal opening.
Your cause of death will be listed on your Death Certificate (yep, even dying has paperwork and certificates) but it will not be listed as “Old Age”. Because people don’t actually die of that. They die of common ailments that plague our bodies as they get really old, but “old age” itself isn’t actually a thing that could kill you.
You could be dissected in a room full of bright eyed medical students and used to further the knowledge of future healers. After your remains have served their purpose, they are usually cremated and your next of kin notified that they can come pick them up. Some schools have a Ceremony of Appreciation or similar at the end of the school year to honor donors and thank them and their families.
The most important part
Most people think that your flesh all goes bye-bye but bones are forever unless they’re crushed. Not so, they do decay, just very very slowly. Taphonomy is the study of what happens to remains after the death of a living creature (it’s also a shiny new word for you to know, now) and it’s really important for archaeologists and anthropologists.
To the grave
Speaking of bone decaying, decades after bacteria, fungi, and other organisms begin breaking our bodies down, protein in bones eventually break down, leaving hydroxyapatite, a bone mineral which turns into dust. (Some cemeteries, such as the Cementerio de Cristóbal Colón in Havana, will take bodies out of their graves after a few years and put the boxed-up remains into a storage building.)
Sometimes, however, our bones do not decay. Rather, they become fossilized. There are several different kinds of fossilization, but the one most people think of (an intact skeleton) happens when all the squishy parts rot away after death, and water gets to the remaining bones. Slowly, the dissolved minerals in the water create crystals in the bones, causing them to harden along with the rest of the rock around them. This is the most common form of fossilization, and it’s called permineralisation or petrification. And that’s another new word for (most of) you. While we tend to think of Dinosaurs as fossils, according to the Smithsonian Institution, the fossilized remains of more than 6,000 humans have been found.
That's a myth
Refer to step 1
You experience three stages of death: Clinical Death, where your heartbeat stops and you stop breathing. You can be “brought back” from this stage of…dead. Biological Death, where electrical activity in your brain stops. There’s no coming back from this. This is when you’re “Brain dead” and you go through all the Mortis’ Pallor Mortis (paleness) Rigor Mortis (stiffness) and Algor Mortis (being cold). The factory is well and shut down. Then there’s Molecular Death when your body starts to rot. Bacteria start breaking the fresh corpse of you down, starting, as previously stated, with a bacteria party in the bowels.
Put on display
You could end up on display! Not only do museums proudly display people who died a very long time ago but the Mütter Museum at the College of Physicians of Philadelphia will happily take your interesting anatomical anomalies and put them on display after you’ve passed on. The Mütter Museum has a collection of antique medical implements, anatomical abnormalities and pathological specimens.
You’ll still have another examination. A post-mortem examination is more commonly known as an autopsy, and this happens whenever the cause of death is not known. Not only is a thorough examination done to the outside of the body, and blood (and other various fluids, possibly) drawn and tested, the body is cut open and the internal organs are taken out and examined. They saw a hole in the back of your head to take your brain out and inspect it for trauma and blood clots, perhaps signs of dementia. Before you’re shipped off to the funeral home to be spiffied up for the most awkward of family gatherings, everything is put back in and you’re sewn up nice and neat.
A love everlasting
If you aren’t donating your body to the body farm, a Medical College or opting for a Tibetan Sky Burial, you’ll be cremated, mummified or buried. Unless you die as a baby in some parts of Indonesia. There babies are “buried” in trees and every three years their family members exhume them and change their clothes. This ritual is called Ma’nene, and along with the tree burials, it’s only practiced in the regency of Tana Toraja, which is a bit…remote. The clothes changing ritual is way for families to show their love for the deceased, even if they only lived a short time and died many years ago. It’s beautiful. And creepy.
Can you hear me now?
The last sense to shut off when you die is possibly your sense of hearing. It’s kind of hard to prove, since you can’t ask dead people, but it’s widely believed to be the last sense to go. So when people tell you to talk to your loved ones while they’re passing on, it may actually be giving them comfort.
All in your head
It wasn't me, it was the enzymes
It's what's on the inside that counts
Near, far, wherever you are I believe that the heart does go on. Or you lungs, kidneys, liver, parts of your eyes, pieces of skin, bones, etc. Organ donation, it’s a thing. Look, you’re not going to use it anymore, so you might as well leave it to someone who will. And unlike all the other things you leave behind, the government doesn’t penalize you or your family or sharing your organs.
Photo Credits: 25. Shutterstock, 24-22. Public Domain, 21. OpenStax via commons.wikimedia.org CC BY 4.0, 20. NIAID via commons.wikimedia.org CC BY 2.0, 19-15. Shutterstock, 14. Public Domain, 13-11. Shutterstock, 10-7. Public Domain, 6. mattjlc via commons.wikimedia.org CC BY 2.0, 5-4. Public Domain, 3-2. Shutterstock, 1. Magnus D via Flickr CC BY 2.0.