Death is called the great unknown for a reason: Much of what happens after we kick the bucket remains a mystery.
But forensic experts at least know a few things that will happen to your body when you go belly-up. And they’re pretty damn weird.
(Plus, check out more Cool Things Your Body Can Do. You don’t need to be dead to do them!)
- You turn purple.
If we’ve learned anything from watching CSI all these years, it’s that dead people’s faces are eerily pale. But if you were to look at the underside of a dead guy’s body—like the shoulder blades or curves of the back—those areas would be purple and splotchy.
How come? Once your heart stops pumping, gravity immediately forces your blood to pool up in your vessels, in a process called livor mortis. This gives the skin covering the areas where blood is pooled a deep purple tinge, says Joye M. Carter, M.D., chief forensic pathologist at the Indiana University School of Medicine.
Of course, livor mortis doesn’t have to occur on your backside. If you croaked while lying on your side or your face, those are the spots that would take on the purple hue.
- You (sort of) get an erection.
If you die face-down, your blood could also conceivably settle in your penis—which creates the appearance of a boner. But the chances of going out with a bang are pretty slim, says Judy Melinek, M.D., forensic pathologist and coauthor of Working Stiff: Two Years, 262 Bodies, and the Making of a Medical Examiner.
It’s actually more possible that your penis will look like it’s ejaculated after you’ve died. “Sometimes we’ll find discharge near the penis on a corpse, but this comes from the passive seeping of fluid from the prostate gland,” Dr. Melinek says. “It’s leakage—not ejaculate.”
Related: The Men’s Health Guide To Erectile Dysfunction—Everything You Need to Know to Keep Your Erection Hard For Life
- You fart through your mouth.
Not surprisingly, your immune cells stop working when you die. After a few days, that allows bacteria from your gut and upper respiratory tract to invade your bloodstream and start feasting on your blood and tissues in a process called decomposition, explains Dr. Melinek.
While the bugs eat, they let out a lot of foul-smelling gas that gets trapped in your intestines and stomach. If someone puts pressure on your body or moves it, that pent-up gas can waft out through your mouth or your butt. And it reeks.
“The smell is like flatulence or vomit mixed with decomposition,” Dr. Melinek says.
Related: What You Didn’t Know about Your Farts
- You twitch.
Ever hear the one about a corpse popping up from its coffin? (Un)fortunately, that’s just a myth. But your body can make sudden spastic movements as it transitions into complete shutdown mode—even if you seem totally dead, says Dr. Carter.
That’s because you can still fire off random, jerk-like movements as long as you’ve got some last-minute, lingering brain activity. “You can certainly have a gunshot wound to the head that doesn’t completely damage the brain stem or spinal cord, so there could be some twitches while the death process is occurring,” Dr. Carter says.
- You moan and groan.
When doctors try to resuscitate a person, they pump extra air into the patient’s lungs and stomach. But after you’ve died, that air can still escape—especially if someone applies pressure to your chest or stomach while moving your body, says Dr. Melinek.
And since that air is flowing past your vocal chords, it can cause a legit grunting sound. Which is obviously terrifying.
Related: Why You Feel the Need to Grunt When You Lift Weights
“It’s been known to scare some medical students and first-year residents in the morgue,” Dr. Melinek says.