Can the Dying Hear?

Can the Dying Hear?
A member of our Bereavement community asks: “Can the dying hear?” The answer is yes, and no.

First, some basics. If, in life, the person was hard of hearing, or deaf, the answer is no. If the person has had recent head trauma, brain disease or stroke, maybe not. But there are many forms of communication other than oral/auditory.

Touch can relay as much, if not more, than words. You can throw your body across theirs, gripping with your hands, pounding a fist, shaking your head. This definitely gives a message, while also causing physical discomfort. You may also gently touch their hand, stroke their face and hair, and moisten their mouth. This may convey a positive message to your loved one. This may also offer great comfort to a perfect stranger, who at least knows they are not alone. By all means, speak to the Dying while doing this. If words get through, they will strengthen your physical message. Can you talk without using your hands? Few can. Your hands reinforce your words, and vice versa. Gentle, loving thoughts that are vocalized will be affirmed by your touching.

The speaking also helps the speaker. Getting your deepest feelings out is always a good thing. Even a stranger will welcome words of comfort, permission to go, an affirmation of generic faith tenets, and the knowledge that people will be there for them as they transition.

If the Dying has suffered dementia or some other psychological disorder, they may hear you, but not be able to grasp the concept of what you are saying. In this case, your tone and voice level will communicate more than your words. A strong, high pitched voice will give a negative message. A strong, low pitched voice, speaking slowly, is comforting, even if you’re reciting the Preamble to the Constitution.

If none of those conditions existed prior to the dying, then yes, they can hear you. Research indicates that the sense of hearing is the last to go. In fact, the brain functions six to ten minutes after the heart stops. Say good bye, express your love, assure the Dying that you’ll be cared for and not to worry, tell them it’s okay to go, that their work here is done.

If the person is in a coma, or otherwise non-responsive, keep talking anyway. Brainwaves have shown response to noises in the room. Also be mindful of your conversations with others nearby. You are being overheard! And don’t have the TV blaring in a room where someone can’t ask for it to be turned off.

If you are far away from the Dying, and agonizing over not saying good bye, or whatever else you need to say, absolutely make use of modern technology. Call the hospital room. Remember cell phones don’t work well in hospitals, and may pose danger. So call the phone in the room, and have someone hold it to the ear of the Dying. If no one is in the room, call the nursing station. It helps both of you a great deal.

Things brings us to a very, VERY important issue.


In reality, tomorrow is promised to no one. We should live every day as though it were our last, because one of these days we’ll be right. Never hesitate to express love and friendship. Never leave a problem between you and someone else unsolved overnight. Never leave a hurt to fester. Never wait to apologize. Never, for one minute, think this is easy to do! It certainly is not. But the payoff is amazing.

Today, resolve to get, and stay, in touch with older relatives and friends. Reminisce. Listen to stories. Ask questions. Listen to stories. Talk about your perception of life events. Listen to stories. Most importantly, listen to stories.

Researching this answer was no easy task. Thank you for asking. Now, all of you, share what you know!


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