DEATH

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DEATH, in common language, is opposed to life, and considered as the cessation of it. It is only, however, the organic life of the individual which becomes extinct; for neither the mind nor the matter which constituted that individual can perish. That view of nature which considers the whole as pervaded throughout by the breath of life, admits only of changes from one mode of existence to another. This change, which is called death, does not take place so quickly as is generally believed. It is usually preceded and caused by disease or the natural decay of old age. The state called death takes place suddenly only when the heart or the brain is injured in certain parts. Probably the brain and the heart are the parts from which, properly speaking, death proceeds ; but, as the cessation of their functions is not so obvious as the cessation of the breath, which depends on them, the latter event is generally considered as indicating the moment when death takes place. In the organs of sense and motion, the consequences of death first become apparent; the muscles become 12* stiff; coldness and paleness spread ovei the whole body; the eye loses its brightness, the flesh its elasticity; yet it is not perfectly safe to conclude, from these circumstances, that death has taken place, in any given case, because experience shows that there may be a state, of the body in which all these circumstances may concur, without the extinction of life. This state is called asphyxia, (q. v.) The commenegment of putrefaction, in ordinary cases, affords the first certain evidence of death. This begins in the bowels and genitals, which swell, become soft and loose, and change color; the skin, also, begins to change, and becomes red in various places; blisters show themselves; the blood becomes more fluid, and discharges itself from the mouth, nose, eyes, ears and anus. By degrees, also, the other parts are decomposed, and, last of all, the teeth and bones. In the beginning of decomposition, azote and ammonia are produced: in the progress of it, hydrogen, compounded with carbon, sulphur and phosphorus, is the prevailing product, which causes an offensive smell, and the light which is sometimes observed about putrefying bodies. At last, only carbonic acid gas is produced, and the putrefying body then smells like earth newly dug. A fat, greasy earth remains, and a slimy, soaplike substance, which mixes with the ground, and contributes, with the preceding decompositions, to the fertility of it. Even in these remains of organized existence, organic life is not entirely extinct; and they contribute to produce new vegetable and animal structures. Putrefaction is much influenced by external circumstances, particularly air, heat, and water. When the body is protected from the action of such agents, it changes into adipocire (q. v.); but this process requires a much longer time man common putrefaction. In very dry situations, the body is converted intoa mummy, in which state bodies are found in the arid deserts of Africa, and on the mountains in Peru. Some vaults are remarkable for preserving corpses from putrefaction. It is well known to every reader, that particular substances counteract pu* trefaction ; for instance, those used in tanning, and in embalming mummies. Death, Agony of, is the state which immediately precedes death, and in which life and death are considered as struggling with each other. This state differs according to the cause , producing it Sometimes it is a complete exhaustion f sometimes a violent struggle, and very iiv tegular activity, which, at last, after a short pause, terminates in death. In sdme cases, consciousness is extinguished long before death arrives; in other cases, it continues during the whole period* and terminates only with life. The person in this condition has already somewhat the appearance of a corpse ; the face is pale and sallow, the eyes are sunken, the skin of the forehead is tense, the nose pointed and white, the ears are relaxed, anjl the temples fallen in; a clammy sweat covers the forehead and the extremities, the alvine discharges and that of the urine take place involuntarily, the respiration becomes rattling, interrupted, and, at length, ceases entirely. At this moment, death is considered to. take place. This state is of very different length; sometimes continuing for minutes only, sometimes for days. When the patient is in this condition, nothing should be attempted but to comfort and soothe him by prayer, by consoling assurances, by directing his attention to his speedy union with departed friends, by presenting him the crucifix, if he be a Catholic, or allowing him to put on the gown of a religious order, if he thinks it will contribute to his salvation; but a dying fellow creature should not be disturbed in relation to his particular mode of belief, at a moment when he has hardly sufficient strength to collect all the ideas which have been long familiar to him. The writer once saw a dying Mohammedan (an Albanian) suffering from the mistimed zeal of a Greek priest, who was near him, holding a crucifix to his mouth, and conjuring him to kiss it. The Mohammedan was evidently tormented, particularly as he was unable to resist. The writer begged the priest to leave him, and then tried to comfort the dying man, by presenting ideas and conceptions with which he was familiar, and a smile from his* pale lips showed that the words were not entirely in vain. Remarkable statements are sometimes made by dying persons, in the intervals of the final struggle, that they have heard heavenly music, or seen departed friends, 'and can now die quietly. As long as the dying person is able to swallow, wine or other cordials may be given from time to time. It is a grateful duty to minister to the sufferings of those we love ; and, where there is no hope, these offices have the adtlitional interest that they are the latest We can pay. We have described how the violent struggle preceding death manifests itself, particularly on the human face, that tablet of all expression. After death, however, it not unfrequently happens that the countenance regains its most natural expression, and the saying is common" How natural, how like himself!" The mind seems for a moment to have regained its influence over what it has so long informed, and to shed over the countenance its most beautiful light, to cheer the hearts of the friends who have witnessed the distortion of death, and afford an earnest of its own immortality.