What happens when we die? While we can’t pretend to have all the answers, we can address the physical aspects of the question, especially when it comes to human decomposition. If you are uncomfortable about reading some details of the physical process of human decomposition, we would suggest you move your attention elsewhere. This article contains some graphic descriptions. If however, you want to know what happens to a human body if it is not attended to in the days and weeks following a death, feel free to read on.
What is Human Decomposition?
Human decomposition is a natural, organic process of the breakdown of the human body following death. Decomposition is impacted by a number of factors including air moisture and temperature, pH and oxygen levels and the cause of death. Bodies, for example, will decompose in heat at a faster rate than in colder temps, which is why bodies in a morgue are kept refrigerated.
Four Stages of Human Decomposition
While outside factors will impact the rate of decomposition, all human bodies go through four distinct stages of human decomposition.
Stage One: Self-Digestion
As soon as breathing and blood circulation ceases, decomposition begins. An acidic environment is created which begins to rupture and destroy cells. Internal organs begin to decompose and muscles begin to stiffen after three to six hours. Muscles stiffen to their peak at about 12 hours. At this point blisters appear on internal organs an on the skin, sometimes providing a sheen on the skin. By three days, internal organs have decomposed.
Stage Two: Bloating
From three to five days after death, the body will begin to bloat from gasses produced from internal decomposition. The body could actually double in size and turn a greenish color. Extremely unpleasant and long-lasting odors called putrification begins. Blood and foam will begin to seep from the mouth. Insects often contribute to decomposition in this stage.
Stage Three: Decay
Active decay begins in the period between a week to 10 days following death. Fluids evacuate from the body’s orifices and muscles and other soft tissues begin to liquefy. Teeth and nails will fall out in the coming weeks and as the body liquefies, it will lead to a reduction in insect activity. The body will turn from green to red.
Stage Four: Skeletonization
In the period from about a month to a year after death, skeletonization occurs, in which ultimately, only the dry skeletal remains will be left behind.
Preparing a body for viewing and delaying human composition is a critical part of being a funeral director. It is just a part of the important services we provide at Fares J. Radel Funeral Homes & Crematory. It is understandable that not everyone wants to know all the details involving a death. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact us.
A corpse generally progresses through five stages of decomposition—fresh, bloat (autolysis), active decay (putrefaction), advanced decay and skeletonisation.How long does it take for a body to decompose in a funeral home? ›
However, on average, a body buried within a typical coffin usually starts to break down within a year, but takes up to a decade to fully decompose, leaving only the skeleton, Daniel Wescott (opens in new tab), director of the Forensic Anthropology Center at Texas State University, told Live Science.What does a dead body look like after 4 weeks? ›
After four weeks the body has begun to liquefy, with everything breaking down. Nails and teeth fall out.How long does it take a human body to completely decompose? ›
In a temperate climate, it usually requires three weeks to several years for a body to completely decompose into a skeleton, depending on factors such as temperature, humidity, presence of insects, and submergence in a substrate such as water.How long does it take for a body to decompose and start to smell? ›
Putrefaction (4-10 days after death) – Autolysis occurs and gases (odor) and discoloration starts.Where does the body decompose first? ›
This usually begins in the liver, which is rich in enzymes, and in the brain, which has high water content. Eventually, though, all other tissues and organs begin to break down in this way.What happens to a body after it goes to the funeral home? ›
Once a funeral home has picked up the body and brought it to their facility, they will then clean and dress and/or shroud the body. Afterward, the body will be placed in refrigeration to keep it cool until the day of burial, at which point the body will be transported to the burial site.Why do they cover the legs in a casket? ›
It is always easier to light up the upper half of the body and present the face under the best light. By covering the legs, funeral directors save time by spending lesser time lighting the lower portion of the body.Which part of the body does not burn during cremation? ›
What's returned to you is the person's skeleton. Once you burn off all the water, soft tissues, and cremation container/casket, etc., all that's left is bone. The bone is ground up and given to you as “ashes.”Does dying feel like going to sleep? ›
Most people who are dying feel tired. They may want to sleep more often, or for longer periods. They may want to talk less, although some may want to talk more. They may want to eat less or eat different foods since their stomach and digestive system are slowing down.
From three to five days after death, the body will begin to bloat from gasses produced from internal decomposition. The body could actually double in size and turn a greenish color. Extremely unpleasant and long-lasting odors called putrification begins. Blood and foam will begin to seep from the mouth.What happens few minutes before death? ›
They might close their eyes frequently or they might be half-open. Facial muscles may relax and the jaw can drop. Skin can become very pale. Breathing can alternate between loud rasping breaths and quiet breathing.What is the fastest a body can decompose? ›
If insects can be excluded, a body will decompose quite slowly, because maggots are the most voracious flesh feeders. Although an exposed human body in optimum conditions can be reduced to bone in 10 days, a body that is buried 1.2 m under the ground retains most of its tissue for a year.How long does a casket last in the ground? ›
How long does a coffin last? There is no coffin or casket that will last forever. Bronze or copper caskets will tend to last longer but they will also break down over time, bronze will last the longest though. On average, the casket will last to about as little as 5 to 20 years or as long as 80 till 125 years.How long does it take for a body to turn into a skeleton in a coffin? ›
If the coffin is sealed in a very wet, heavy clay ground, the body tends to last longer because the air is not getting to the deceased. If the ground is light, dry soil, decomposition is quicker. Generally speaking, a body takes 10 or 15 years to decompose to a skeleton.What does a badly decomposed body smell like? ›
A decomposing body will typically have a smell of rotting meat with fruity undertones. Exactly what the smell will be like depends on a multitude of factors: The makeup of different bacteria present in the body. Bacterial interactions as the body decomposes.How far away can you smell a rotting body? ›
In real life, the smell of decomposition isn't an easy odor to handle that is for sure. It can often surround the property for 50 feet or more. As a Biohazard specialist we at Exit Cleanup have come across many levels of decomposition on a cleanup site.At what stage of life does body odor begin? ›
Kids start to have body odor around the time puberty starts and hormones change. Usually, this happens when females are 8–13 years old, and males are 9–14.What is the last organ to decay? ›
These results provide insight into the observation that the uterus and prostate are the last internal organs to decay during human decomposition.Do dead bodies move during decomposition? ›
A study carried out by researchers at Australia's first 'body farm' also found that corpses can move during the decay process. And it's more than just a twitch. They found that movement occurred in all limbs after death, including in the advanced decomposition stages.
As the blood pools, patches appear on the skin within 30 minutes of death. About two to four hours postmortem, these patches join up, creating large dark purplish areas towards the bottom of the body and lightening the skin elsewhere. This may be less apparent on darker skin. This process is called livor mortis.What happens when they close the casket? ›
In a closed casket funeral, the casket remains closed during the viewing and the funeral service. Family members and guests are not able to see the body, and some prefer this option for a variety of reasons.Do funeral homes remove organs before burial? ›
One of the most common questions people have about embalming is whether or not organs are removed. The answer is no; all of the organs remain in the body during the embalming process. Instead, the Embalmer makes small incisions in the abdomen and inserts tubes into the body cavity.When a person dies at home who removes the body? ›
Arrangements should be made to pick up the body as soon as the family is ready and according to local laws. This can be done by a funeral home or by the family themselves in most states. The hospital or nursing facility, if that is where the death took place, may help with these arrangements.Is it OK to touch a body in a casket? ›
While some people find comfort in seeing their loved ones as they remember them, it may also be uncomfortable to others. If they have an open casket viewing, make sure you follow proper funeral etiquette: DON'T touch the body under any circumstances. Sometimes the casket has a glass to prevent this from happening.Why are arms crossed in casket? ›
Burials may be placed in a number of different positions. Bodies with the arms crossed date back to ancient cultures such as Chaldea in the 10th century BC, where the "X" symbolized their sky god.Why do caskets have pillows? ›
A rather large overstuffed pillow is included in the interior package of a finished casket. This pillow helps to hold the decedent in an inclined position. This position helps present a naturally comforting presentation to the survivors.What is removed from a body before cremation? ›
The only parts of the body that are removed before cremation are artificial ones like a medical device or implant with a battery, silicone, pins, radiation pressurization, pacemakers, and large hip, knee, and shoulder replacements along with any external jewelry.What is the last thing to burn during cremation? ›
The bones, which are the last to go, become calcified as they are exposed to the heat and begin to flake or crumble [source: Pope]. An average human body takes from two to three hours to burn completely and will produce an average of 3 to 9 pounds (1.4 to 4.1 kilograms) of ash.Can you feel anything during cremation? ›
The body does not feel pain during cremation because the person is no longer alive. When a person dies, their brain stops sending signals to the body. This means that the person cannot feel pain or any other sensation. In fact, a dead person feels nothing at all.
Visions and Hallucinations
Visual or auditory hallucinations are often part of the dying experience. The appearance of family members or loved ones who have died is common. These visions are considered normal. The dying may turn their focus to “another world” and talk to people or see things that others do not see.
As organs begin to shut down, most people experience drowsiness and may gradually lose consciousness. Eventually the heart and lungs will stop working and the body dies. Breathing patterns change. A person may breathe more slowly or more quickly.What are end of life hallucinations? ›
Hallucinations – They may hear voices that you cannot hear, see things that you cannot see, or feel things that you are unable to touch or feel. These hallucinations may be frightening or comforting to the dying person depending on their content.Do dead bodies smell right away? ›
When someone dies, the body immediately begins the decomposition process and the smell of death can begin. The body will begin to smell due to various gases created by microorganisms during the stages of decomposition.What do you look like 3 days after death? ›
3-5 days after death — the body starts to bloat and blood-containing foam leaks from the mouth and nose. 8-10 days after death — the body turns from green to red as the blood decomposes and the organs in the abdomen accumulate gas. Several weeks after death — nails and teeth fall out.What happens to a corpse after 8 hours? ›
Phase 3: Rigor Mortis
For approximately the first 3 hours after death the body will be flaccid (soft) and warm. After about 3-8 hours is starts to stiffen, and from approximately 8-36 hours it will be stiff and cold. The body becomes stiff because of a range of chemical changes in the muscle fibres after death.
The researchers monitored brain responses to tones and found that the auditory systems of the dying patients responded similarly to the young, healthy control groups just hours from the end of life.What happens to the body 1 hour after death? ›
Within one hour: Primary flaccidity (relaxation of muscles) will occur almost immediately followed by pallor mortis (paling of the skin). At two to six hours: Rigor mortis (stiffening of muscles) will begin. At seven to 12 hours: Rigor mortis is complete.Does a person know when they are dying suddenly? ›
A conscious dying person can know if they are on the verge of dying. Some feel immense pain for hours before dying, while others die in seconds. This awareness of approaching death is most pronounced in people with terminal conditions such as cancer.Can a body fully decompose in 2 weeks? ›
After death, the human body decomposes through four stages. The final, skeleton stage may be reached as quickly as two weeks or as slowly as two years, depending on temperature, humidity and other environmental conditions where the body lies.
Situations indoor involved exposure to central heating, hot water, saunas and electric blankets. Deaths within motor vehicles were also characterized by enhanced decomposition. Failure to quickly or adequately refrigerate bodies may also lead to early decomposition.What does a body look like after being in the morgue for 3 weeks? ›
8-10 days postmortem: the body turns from green to red as blood decomposes and gases accumulate. 2+ weeks postmortem: teeth and nails fall out. 1+ month postmortem: the corpse begins to liquefy into a dark sludge.Do caskets keep water out? ›
Caskets, be they of metal or wood, are sealed so that they protect the body. The sealing will keep the elements, air, and moisture from getting inside the coffin.What is the difference between a coffin and a casket? ›
a coffin and a casket? The difference is basically one of design. Coffins are tapered at the head and foot and are wide at the shoulders. Caskets are rectangular in shape and are usually constructed of better quality timbers and feature higher standards of workmanship.What type of casket lasts the longest? ›
Bronze, a semi-precious material alloy, is the strongest and longest-lasting of any casket construction material. Bronze is resistant to corrosive elements, and makes an elegant, exquisite remembrance.What does a dead body look like after 2 weeks in a coffin? ›
What Does a Dead Body Look Like After Two Weeks? After two weeks the body will be bloated from gas. It will also appear red-colored as the blood decomposes.Do bodies scream during cremation? ›
We've witnessed many cremations and never heard a scream. But then again, cremation retorts aren't silent either. Now, bodies do make all kinds of gnarly noises.What type of body will decompose the fastest? ›
A body that is exposed to the elements such as air and water will decompose faster and have more insect activity than a body buried or confined in a sealed space. In similar fashion, a body decomposing in warm temperatures will break down faster than if it is left in a cold environment.How does a body completely decompose in 3 days? ›
By three days, internal organs have decomposed. From three to five days after death, the body will begin to bloat from gasses produced from internal decomposition. The body could actually double in size and turn a greenish color. Extremely unpleasant and long-lasting odors called putrification begins.Can a body fully decompose in 30 days? ›
From around 25 to 50 days after death, the maggots and other insects complete the breaking down of soft tissues, skin and hair, as well as muscles and connective tissue inside the body. Body cohesion breaks down, exposing bones to the environment and possibly allowing them to roll away and scatter.
Cooler temperatures will slow the rate of decomposition. Sunlight availability will also influence the temperature and, as a result, influence decomposition. When there is more sunlight available this will facilitate decomposition whereas shaded areas can slow down decomposition.How long will an embalmed body last? ›
How Long Does an Embalmed Body Last? Some people think that embalming completely stops the decay of the body, but this isn't true. If you plan on having an open-casket funeral, then you should not leave the embalmed body out for more than a week. Otherwise, the embalmed body can last two more weeks.What happens to a dead body in 3 hours? ›
For approximately the first 3 hours after death the body will be flaccid (soft) and warm. After about 3-8 hours is starts to stiffen, and from approximately 8-36 hours it will be stiff and cold. The body becomes stiff because of a range of chemical changes in the muscle fibres after death.What does a decomposing body look like after 10 days? ›
8-10 days after death — the body turns from green to red as the blood decomposes and the organs in the abdomen accumulate gas. Several weeks after death — nails and teeth fall out. 1 month after death — the body starts to liquify.What does a decaying body smell like? ›
A decomposing body will typically have a smell of rotting meat with fruity undertones. Exactly what the smell will be like depends on a multitude of factors: The makeup of different bacteria present in the body. Bacterial interactions as the body decomposes.