What Happens To Your Body After One Year In A Coffin

Humans often cope with death by disguising it as life. Corpses rest in peace and take dirt naps. Many people believe in an afterlife, a concept that not only denies the finality of death but literally describes it as a different form of life. Perhaps the most glaring example is the open-casket funeral, when humans go through the effort of dressing up a dead person in nice attire and laying them in a giant jewelry box with plush lining, almost creating the impression that they're sleeping in a claustrophobic bed. As time passes, that eternally sleeping beauty will undergo some drastic changes, and one day it will change into a corpse. Here's how your body might change after a year of eternal beauty sleep.

A different kind of brain drain

Death waits for no one, and it certainly won't wait for a corpse to get gussied up before your body starts to break down. The first organ to go is your brain. After spending its whole life trying to keep the rest of you alive, in death your brain does the same thing in much more dramatic fashion. As detailed in What We Leave Behind, after four minutes of oxygen deprivation, your brain cells will break themselves down in a process called autolysis. Per Scientific American, that breakdown results from one of the very processes that once kept your cells alive: breathing. Breathing produces carbon dioxide, which is acidic. During autolysis, that carbon dioxide ruptures your cells, which in turn release nutrients that other cells can use. 

Part of the timing is temperature-dependent. Cold temperatures delay the onset of autolysis, which is the reason that people who have drowned in freezing water can sometimes be resuscitated after an hour. What We Leave Behind observes that in this scenario, your brain goes into a hibernal state instead of outright dying. So, theoretically, if your brain thought of doing this in warmer temperatures, it could stay alive longer, giving the rest of you a chance to survive, too, and skip the coffin altogether. Instead it thoughtlessly sacrifices itself for the greater good. Meanwhile, things get gooey in the coffin. As Business Insider describes, the fluid in your brain cells, which are about 70 percent water, leak onto the floor of your final resting box. 

Your body becomes a smorgasbord for bacteria

After your brain juice drips your from skull, the bacteria that typically aid in digesting food start feasting on you. Hours into the process, they will eventually chow down on your gallbladder, unleashing a yellow-green bile through your body, altering its hue. As hours turn into days, your body turns into a gory advertisement for postmortem Gas-X, swelling and expelling reeking substances. According to Scientific American, your corpse will emit a "bewildering array of more than 400 chemicals and gases." Among them are carbon tetrachloride, a "highly toxic" chemical formerly used in fire extinguishers. You'll also release freon, which you may recognize as refrigerator coolant, and benzene, a crucial component of gasoline. 

About three or four months into the process, your blood cells start hemorrhaging iron, turning your body brownish black. Soon your cells lose their structure, causing your tissues to become "a watery mush." After a little more than a year, your clothes will decompose because of exposure to the various chemicals your corpse produced. And like that, you've gone from being a sleeping beauty to naked mush.

Your corpse might go out with a bang

No matter how peaceful your death is, you'll never rest in one piece, thanks to the magic of decomposition. But under certain circumstances — particularly, if your coffin is kept above ground in a mausoleum — the rest of your pieces could be flung everywhere as your coffin explodes in a blaze of, well, not glory, but gory. Josh Slocum, executive director of Funeral Consumers Alliance, explained to Vice that "the casket becomes a literal pressure cooker. It reduces the body to a disgusting chunky brown slurry." And when that pressure reaches the coffin's tipping point, then you have corpse goo spilling out over the place. Slocum noted that in some cases the pressure has been powerful enough "to blow that little square front off the front of the crypt."

Slocum likened it to leaving a tupperware container full of meat in your fridge for too long. And since your corpse produces refrigerator coolant, that comparison is even more apt than it sounds on the surface. After all, at the end of the day and the end of your life, you're sentient meat waiting for your biological clock to stop ticking, at which point mealtime begins for microbes that eat you.