Dying of a broken heart

Today being Valentine’s Day has made me reflect on the wonderfulness of love and the pain of losing a loved one.  Loss can take many forms – it can be through death but also through a relationship breakup, a child leaving home or your closest friend emigrating to Australia. The very special aspect of having love in your life is what makes it so devastating when it goes. If someone has died you may have to accept that it is irredeemable whereas a husband saying he is leaving may allow some hope of reconciliation.  Both of these experiences have pros and cons in terms of accepting what has happened.  It is not unusual for ex-spouses to say that “I almost wish he{her} had died” because it feels that it would be clearer.  But for those whose partners have died I’m sure they would give anything to know they were still alive even if they had found a new love.

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We all know of examples where elderly couples have died within days of each other and people will say that s/he died of a broken heart.  In December 2016 Debbie Reynolds died a mere one day after her daughter Carrie Fisher.  Whilst Reynolds was 84 and not in the best of health it was said that she had died of a broken heart over the death of her child with whom she’d had a tumultuous but close relationship.

Personally, like most people, I’ve had my heart broken and I think I would have said in my saddest moments  that I felt like I wanted to die but I don’t feel I was ever in danger of actually dying. So I was surprised to find that there is a medical condition known as Broken Heart Syndrome. Takotsubo cardiomyopathy doesn’t sound very romantic but it can occur during moments of extreme emotional stress. Many of us may have experienced it without realising because it didn’t actually kill us.  We know that emotional pain can feel the same if not worse than physical pain.  Our hearts feel light when we are happy: it might skip a beat to see someone we like and it might race with the excitement of being with a loved one. We also feel a heaviness in our chest when we are sad, sometimes even to the point of feeling like it’s difficult to breath. It may explain why we use expressions like heartache to describe sadness.

I wish that Valentine’s Day was a celebration of love rather than just romantic love.  We could all then enjoy the love we have in our lives and not just focus on whether we have one “significant other”. For anyone who may be sad today because they have lost the love of their life it might help to remind them that the love of their friends, family, colleagues and neighbours can provide protection and healing for a broken heart.

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