From my experience as a chaplain I see a lot of evidence that the ears of the dying are open till the last seconds. They may not be conscious. Maybe they’re like dreaming. But certainly they hear us and it makes a lot of difference what we say to them.
I remember being at the dying bed of a man. All the members of his family were assembled: His wife, his children and children in law, his brothers and sisters and grandchildren. Some of them were crying strongly. The man was breathing in short, quick, strong inhalations with long pauses between each breath and the next. I was wondering what he could understand of what was going on. He looked as if he were sleeping. Probably he was under a high dose of Morphine. I couldn’t detect any reaction in his face. When I prayed for him at the side of the dying bed I included a prayer that God may give both him and his family the ability of letting go while being aware of all the good that would rest with them. After the prayer there was a little silence. Then his daughter said: “Letting go is so hard. But I have heard that only when you let go of what you love it will really belong to you.” Then she looked over to her father and said: “He’s not breathing any more.” (Stefan Hammel, Loslassen und leben. Impress, Mainz 2016)