When does the soul actually leave the body

I am a reserve firefighter and deal with death on a regular basis. Most of the time I can brush it off but there are some calls that make you think or hit close to home. The other day I was in an engine with the captain on the way back to the station after a call where I was in a car with a patient for about half an hour while the rest of the crew worked to extricate him. He was alert and talking to me the whole time. We had no way of knowing that he had a severed leg and the crushed dash was stopping the bleeding. When the dash was lifted, he bled out quickly; losing consciousness in about a minute and the medic called him in about five.

On the engine, the captain and I started talking about when the soul actually leaves the body. Is it when the person looses consciousness for the last time? When they flatline? When there is no fibrillation or electrical impulses in the body? I have worked on people and held people as the died many times and wondered this but never talked about it with anyone. Does anyone have any thoughts on this one or know of any church teachings on it?

We just don’t know.

It is not with the loss of consciousness, because people have come back from that.

It is not with the stoppage of breathing (ditto).

It happens when the body, and specifically the brain, are too damaged to hold life any more. But this can’t be determined through the skin, initially.

So IIUC, the Church will allow the anointing even if vital signs have just stopped, as the soul (life) may not yet be gone.


Ive heard many nurses and other hospital workers claim when they are in the room when someone dies, they can sense the soul of the person in the room, Some have said this sense remains there for quite awhile, Im not sure about this, but it would be interesting to know the logistics of this.

I am sure that the human mind, or psyche, or Neshamah (take your pick) finds it enormously confusing to have undergone the disruption of biological life, and yet remain conscious, as this is at odds with everything we know about the human being.

They may feel “lost” for what seems like time to us, or even struggle in vain to get back inside the body.

This may be in part what is involved in Purgatory.


I have heard, and witnessed once, of a flash/pop of light at the moment a person dies. In the case I saw it, it was at the exhale of the last breath, but when the nurse listened for the heart, there was still a “flutter” for another minute or so.

There’s at least one Nurses web site with “ghost stories”. As they often deal with dead and dying patients, they have their fair share of spooky experiences. I didn’t put this reference in for “spookiness”, but to illustrate the spiritual world is alive and well.


I don’t think any of us can say with certainty that we know just when the soul leaves the body.

I do remember when my sister died, I had this fairly strong urge to look at the clock. I was at home at the time, and I’d been to see her in hospital earlier that evening. Anyway this voice seemed to say “Look at the clock! Look at the clock!” I had a look and it was 10.23pm.

A few minutes later her husband rang from the hospital. She’d just died.

Incidentally her husband is in the Queensland Fire Brigade over here so he’d have had similar experiences to the OP. But he’s in fire forensics now - he’d see the remains rather than the living I assume these days. I know he’s had a fair bit of stress from time to time doing his job.

But then I had the experience of my own father turning up in my room the night he died, so I’ve got no illusions about the reality of the soul. We even had a conversation, and in his case, the episode ended with one almighty scream, and he just vanished.

But I have no idea when his soul left his body. Just a few minutes before probably. If I’d had the presence of mind to note the time, I think I could have given the coroner a pretty good estimate of the time of death. As it was his body wasn’t found for four days, so by that time an estimate would have been more difficult. It was a bit like Lazarus I suppose - dead for four days - except he didn’t come back to life.

But from what I heard about the state of decay (fortunately a cousin-in-law did the identification), Christ would have had a lot of restoration to do in Lazarus’ case, before he came out of the tomb. It would have been quite remarkable.

Why not just ask “when do people irreversibly lose their life” … its clearer than going down the “soul” path which is really a tangent when all said and done.

It seems nobody knows for sure. - a lot depends on circumstances.
I think if someone is known with certainty to have stopped breathing then the brain will be irreversibly damaged after 3 or 4 minutes - though under very cold conditions it can apparently be much longer.

This is interesting, so did he know he had died? Did he say how he got around, or was able to come to you, Im curious about the conversation, did he explain what it felt like to him, being in this ‘state’? When you saw him, did he appear like a ghost, or did he look the same as seeing any other person?

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