The body thus left to the rioting of the countless lives—previously held in constraint by Prana, acting through its vehicle the etheric double—begins to decay, that is to break up, and with the disintegration of its cells and molecules, its particles pass away into other combinations.
On our return to Earth we may meet again some of those same countless lives that in a previous incarnation made of our then body their passing dwelling; but all that we are just now concerned with is the breaking up of the body whose life-span is over, and its fate is complete disintegration. To the dense body, then, Death means dissolution as an organism, the loosing of the bonds that united the many into one.
The etheric double is the ethereal counterpart of the gross body of man. It is the double that is sometimes seen during life in the neighbourhood of the body, and its absence from the body is generally marked by the heaviness or semi-lethargy of the latter. Acting as the reservoir, or vehicle, of the life-principle during earth-life, its withdrawal from the body is naturally marked by the lowering of all vital functions, even while the cord which unites the two is still unbroken. As has been already said, the snapping of the cord means the death of the body.
When the etheric double finally quits the body, it does not travel to any distance from it. Normally it remains floating over the body, the state of consciousness being dreamy and peaceful, unless tumultuous distress and violent emotion surround the corpse from which it has just issued. And here it may be well to say that during the slow process of dying, while the etheric double is withdrawing from the body, taking with it the higher principles, as after it has withdrawn, extreme quiet and self-control should be observed in the chamber of Death. For during this time the whole life passes swiftly in review before the Ego, the individual, as those have related who have passed in drowning into this unconscious and pulseless state. A Master has written:
At the last moment the whole life is reflected in our memory, and emerges from all the forgotten nooks and corners, picture after picture, one event after another.... The man may often appear dead, yet from the last pulsation, from and between the last throbbing of his heart and the moment when the last spark of animal heat leaves the body, the brain thinks, and the Ego lives over in those few brief seconds his whole life. Speak in whispers, ye who assist at a deathbed, and find yourselves in the solemn presence of death. Especially have ye to keep quiet just after death has laid her clammy hand upon the body. Speak in whispers, I say, lest ye disturb the quiet ripple of thought, and hinder the busy work of the past, casting its reflection upon the veil of the future.