The other night an old friend said: "My mother passed away ten years ago. Within six months my Dad died, too. He died of a broken heart."
I asked her how old he was. "84" was her answer. I felt a mean smile coming on so I picked up my wine glass to hide behind. Since my lips were hovering by the rim I took several quick sips. Now the Cabernet buzz made my big mouth blurt out:
"Well, at 84 anything can happen. It's almost a decade past life expectancy."
Her face contorted like I had smacked her. She moved her head from side to side as if to shake out my stinging words.
"There was nothing wrong with him! There was nothing wrong with him! There was nothing wrong with him!"
Was she trying to convince me, herself or a jury?
Fortunately for us both the mature part of me woke up and whispered, "What are you doing, Carol? She's been romantasizing her father's death for years. Must you destroy that to make a point?" I almost answered, "Yes, I must!" But, I didn't. I let it go.
It didn't let go of me, though. I fretted the rest of the weekend. It was a natural weekend to fret, though. Jimmy will be gone four years tomorrow, the 13th. The week, or few days before a death anniversary brings me back to a more vunerable place.
This dying of a broken heart question actually was nicely timed.
Why waste depression?
And why was this such a strong issue for me? I thought Friendly's Chocolate Cookie Dough ice-cream might hold the answer. It did! Halfway into my third scoop I had a brain freeze, and when I winced it sent me a message.
I DIDN'T DIE WHEN JIMMY DIED. MAYBE MY HEART WASN'T BROKEN. MAYBE IT WAS JUST CRACKED! GOD, MY HEAD HURTS!
But, that thought and brain freeze only lasted a moment or two. By the time I put my dish in the dishwasher I was free of them both.
Human beings keep breathing. This is what we do. We suffer all sorts of bad stuff in our lives and like my fortune cookie told me: "A woman is like a teabag, you never know how strong she is until she gets into hot water." I'd like to think this goes for men, too.
Still, I began to ask around. My friend, whose parents are both in their 80's, told me she was sure if her Mom went first her Dad would die in a few months. "Oh, please," I said, "Don't put that kind of pressure on him."
Today I posted, "Can you die of a broken heart? (literally) to my Facebook friends - 25 widows and widowers responded YES although I tried to point out that they were alive enough to type. Some insisted that medically it's a fact - Grieving makes your immune system break down. Yes, so maybe you'll get a cold or the flu.
Finally, Mickey, (a widower) wrote, "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger. If you don't believe that you're not dying of a broken heart, you're committing suicide."
Doesn't that sound sane?
Let's stop this knee jerk reaction and take a step towards healing. In an effort to support one another through rough times are we really helping or feeding that "Poor Widow Me" mentality?
Personally, I don't want the legacy of being so weak that I died of a broken heart. I'd rather be hit by a bus...on the way to a party.