what happens to your eyes when you die?

having a disagreement with my boyfriend. he says if you die while asleep your eyes will “pop” open because you lose all muscle control. is this true? if it is, then in the movies why do they close a dead persons eyes with their hand. wouldn’t the eyes just spring open again? (and wouldn’t that make a funny bit in a movie, or am i just morbid?)
Thanks, Brigitte

It takes muscle work to hold your eyes open. If they’re already closed, they will stay closed. If they’re already open, they’ll probably droop a bit (although not close all the way, necessarily). I mean, you don’t have to squint your eyes hard shut while you sleep, do you?

The eyes on a corpse are usually half-open. IIRC, it requires muscle tension to keep eyes open or closed. If you know someone who sleeps “with their eyes open”, their eyes are open about the same amount as a corpse’s.


I heard that there are little “Velcro-like” inserts that undertakers put into the eyes to keep them closed. True?

The eyes on a corpse are usually half-open. IIRC, it requires muscle tension to keep eyes open or closed.

I’ve seen DPs with their eyes open, closed and anything in between. Most fall into the half open category.

I once took a tour of a mortuary in highschool. Yes, they use inserts (although I don’t know if it’s velcro). We saw (from a distance) one body “on display” and took a look through the basement where the bodies are prepared (we didn’t see a body down there).

Very cool. If you’ve seen CSI exam room (the original one) that’s pretty much what we saw minus the fancy computers.

From here (a fascinating site, especially the FAQ’s)

I was in the room when my father in law died. At death his eyes open. After the doctor pronounced him dead my wife gently closed his eyes with her fingers and they stayed shut. It was over an hour before the funeral home came for his body.

The old timers use pennies to hold the eyelids down!

The coins were to pay Charon.

When I die my eyes will be cut up into as many pieces as can be used. Same with everything else I’m not going to be needing anymore.

I usually only see freshly dead people and so far they’ve all had closed eyes. I have seen one body after it spent the night in the morgue freezer and the face had relaxed into a strange looking sneer with open eyes.

We processed about 220 customers when I worked at a funeral home and I saw a lot of open eyes. I can’t recall specifically if all thier eyes were open naturally, but I suspect not. They used Super Glue to glue the eyes shut because as time goes by the eyes will open. IIRC, it had something to do with the eyes drying out and that causes the lids to retract, or something like that. Not sure how long that takes to take effect.

FTR, some of the nursing homes used to prop up a towel to shut the mouth, since that will open as well. If rigormortis (sp?) sets in, it may be tricky getting the mouth shut. Mouths are wired shut at the funeral home.

One of my more memorable customer was a guy I had to drive about an hour to pick up at the hospital. He died of liver failure, or something, and was completely jaundiced. The hospital morgue staff had him in a gurney (sp?) with a four-post shroud. I had never seen one before and it took me a minute to figure out how to get it off. Because my concentration was elsewhere, I was totally unprepared when I pulled the shroud up and saw his eyes. His eyes were wide open and the whites of the eyes were as bright yellow as crayons. It was a bit of a shock to say the least.