Every now and then I read a notice in the newspaper about an elderly widow or widower dying shortly after the death of their long-time spouse. Relatives often believe that their grieving parent or grandparent died of a broken heart.
Is this really possible? Can people die of a broken heart? According to Dr. Holly S. Andersen of wowOwow, "The answer is yes. A traumatic breakup, an extreme argument or experiencing the death of a loved one can elicit the release of stress hormones that can trigger a heart attack in people prone to them, induce a life-threatening arrhythmia or cause a syndrome that mimics a heart attack in otherwise healthy hearts."
Here's the "real story" behind stress cardiomyopathy which is sometimes referred to as the Broken Heart syndrome. Another name for the syndrome is Takotsubo Cardiomyopathy. Read more about how you can actually die of a broken heart.
I've received numerous emails and comments from folks who are experiencing extreme pain after the loss of a loved one. If you know emotionally that you have a broken heart, don't ignore any physical symptoms related to your heart. This could be serious. Talk to your doctor about your symptoms.
"Besides experiencing the strain of stress, of emotional overload, and of not taking care of oneself properly, it is also possible for grievers to be at higher risk for health problems. Various studies have shown that surviving spouses may have increased odds of suffering heart disease, cancer, depression, alcoholism, and suicide, says Dan Leviton ... He notes, though, that not everyone has higher risk for disease because they may cope well with loss."
Source: Dulce Zamora. "Death from a Broken Heart." Medicinenet.com. 11/24/2003.
Shauna Springer: "One hallmark of couples who have passed into the 'soul mate' phase of their marriage is that they continually bless and inspire others through the way they treat each other and those around them. Another hallmark is the 'widower' effect - when two people become one, it is often the case that the death of one is closely followed by the death of the other. This isn't merely romantic nonsense propagated by Hollywood movie-makers - this actually happens with notable frequency for closely-bonded pairs."
Source: Shauna Springer, Ph.D. "Soul Mates Do Exist - Just not in the way we usually think..." PsychologyToday.com. 7/28/2012.
If you are coping with the death of your spouse, one of the most important things to remember is that you must take care of yourself, both emotionally and physically. That means getting regular sleep, consuming a healthy diet, drinking enough water, exercising, and having some fun and laughter in your life. It also means you should know the symptoms of a heart attack and don't wait to call 911 in an emergency.
Additional advice from Vice President Joe Biden: "Just remember two things," he said. "Keep thinking what your husband or wife would want you to do. Keep thinking what it is, and keep remembering those kids of yours, or him or her the rest of their life, blood of my blood, bone of my bone, because, folks, it can and will get better," he said. "There will come a day, I promise you, and your parents, as well, when the thought of your son or daughter or your husband or wife brings a smile to your lips before it brings a tear to your eye," he said. "It will happen. My prayer for you is that day will come sooner or later. But the only thing I have more experience than you in is this: I'm telling you it will come."
Source: Devin Dwyer. "Joe Biden Reflects on Immense Grief After Loss of Wife, Daughter." ABCNews.go.com. 5/25/2012.
Note: Vice President Joe Biden lost his wife and daughter in an automobile accident in 1972. Five years later he married Jill Jacobs.
To all of you who have lost a loved one, those who posted your stories of heartache here and those of you who grieve privately, please know my heart is with you.