Many have said, “She died of a broken heart.” Seriously, is it possible to die from a broken heart?
Grief creates a mountain of stress and sorrow. Once we have lost a significant loved one, our world is suddenly no longer, as it was, and never will be again. The happiness, security and love we enjoyed yesterday have slipped away, and we are left to reconstruct our existence without the assistance and companionship of our loved one.
Studies show that, after one year of bereavement, 13% of survivors suffer from panic disorders and 39% suffer from anxiety. Of those suffering anxiety disorders, 55% also suffer from depression. Once a survivor enters into a state of depression, an open door invites other debilitating stressors to take root.
Grief should not be taken lightly. Some people might think, after a period of time, we should return to our normal selves. One hopes this is the case; however, not everyone passes through grief so smoothly. In fact, you may pass through one grief experience quite smoothly, yet suffer greatly from another.
When we think of grief, we associate depression as the culprit that interferes with our recovery. We should not, however, discredit the ravages of loneliness on one’s ability to return to a healthy state of mind and physical health. Loneliness severely attacks the functionality of our immune system. If one already suffers from autoimmune disease, precautionary measures should be explored with their physician.
Persons suffering loneliness are more susceptible to increased inflammation in the body, atherosclerosis, learning and memory problems, higher rates of cancer, high blood pressure, heart attacks, strokes and viral invaders. (Biological Effects of Loneliness, Cacioppo) Typical loneliness is experienced when one is temporarily isolated from what is normal and comfortable. An example of typical loneliness might be experienced when one begins a new job, starts college or moves to a new town. Typically, feelings of loneliness subside by themselves within six months or less. Loneliness associated with death is not typical. Death is not a temporary reality; it is a permanent one. When loneliness becomes chronic, it moves into isolation. Isolation negatively affects humans psychologically and physiologically. This affect can be severe, yet has a rather simple remedy.
In his study “Biological Effects of Loneliness,” Cacioppo discovered that there are two profound methods for recovery from loneliness. The first is to retrain the survivor’s social abilities and skills, and the second is to reintroduce them into social activities. It seems the less social we are, the more socially inept we become. Bringing people together to share good times should be familiar and comforting to the survivor. Small gatherings of close friends might be the best method of social reintroduction. As the survivor rediscovers the benefits of socialization and becomes stronger and more comfortable, small social gatherings will eventually graduate into social events.
If you find that someone you care for has become isolated after suffering the loss of a loved one, earnestly seek him or her out. A visit once each week will not kill you, but it might very well be the beginning of their recovery from life threatening isolation, and debilitating loneliness.
Is it possible to die from a broken heart? I believe it might be.
My name is Tracy Renee Lee. I am a funeral director, author and freelance writer. I write books, weekly bereavement articles, and mid-week grief briefs related to understanding and coping with grief. It is my life's work to comfort the bereaved and help them live on.