Sunday, April 06, 2008

dying from a broken heart

It's always the end of a beautiful story, a powerful love affair. The old and grey couple, together for decades, yearly celebrations of their affirmations and vows, marching through traditional gifts: coral, ruby, sapphires, gold. Surrounded by a field of family, generations stemming out from their love, she passes on, peacefully in the night, and he follows a few days later, his will to live gone without her. The perfect end to the perfect story.

Like most perfect stories, we dismiss it as fantasy. Fewer people these days stay married so long, have so many kids, have so much happiness. And of course, the myth of dying from a broken heart is just that: a myth.

Except, in "news I didn't really want to hear", a study by the Case Business School in London have found people really do die from broken hearts. Men are six times more likely to die in the year after their partner's death, while women are twice as likely to die in that same time. This study is different than those which have come before; a n older study in the American Journal of Public Health shows men more likely to die after their wife, but more from life issues (malnutrition, etc) than grief, while a different Johns Hopkins study published just before Valentine's Day 2005 shows that a rapid increase of stress hormones in highly emotional situations can essentially stun the heart and mimic a heart attack. Instead, this new study, sponsored by the Actuarial Profession, statistically proves people can die of a broken heart in the early stages of bereavement.

Thankfully, there is a bit of positive in this cloud of gloomy news: if the widow or widower survives the first year of mourning, the chances of dying (at least from the broken heart - ie, no clear medical reasons) decrease.

Now the question is: why are men more susceptible to dying from a broken heart, while women are more likely to suffer from immediate emotional shock, and how do we minimize both?


Anonymous said...

My mother died on April 24, 2008. My father died at her wake on April 28, 2008 of a broken heart. He told his neighbors in Florida that he wouldn't be back from Indiana when he buried Mom. He said his heart was broken and he couldn't live without her.

Linda MacDonald Glenn said...

I'm so sorry for your loss -- a double loss -- how hard it must have been to lose both parents in such a short time.