Grief Can Really Kill

The Notebook - Grief     (Photo Credit  :    Soulofcastile.net)
The Notebook – Grief (Photo Credit : Soulofcastile.net)

He died of a broken heart.  Grief killed him. Noah couldn’t live without Allie;  Life was drawn out of her when her husband died.   The baby’s parent died shortly thereafter.  I couldn’t live without her…”

We thought those were merely lines from  authors’ creative and dramatic minds.  We thought those were lines only from scripts.  But hey… it’s true. “Intense grief can shorten  lives.

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I grew up to reading romance and stories about life and loving.  I’ve seen movies where lead characters died of too much grief from losing a loved one.  I’ve watched the true story about Hachiko, the dog who died waiting for his master.  And I thought it was all in the movies, all in fictional stories, aimed to give climax and drama which will make people cry and remember what they saw or read.

But GRIEF, I found out, can really kill; not just in reel life, but in real life.  I looked back and tried to enumerate people I know or heard who died from “severe loneliness,” which I later learned is more accurately described as grief.   Nothing wrong with their health or their bodies.  They just weakened and let go.  We also had a dog whose puppies died; and she refused to eat.  She just died during sleep; placid and unmoving where she laid.

ONLY in the movies ?  NO.  Science says it’s real.   The reality of the death of a beloved person can kill you suddenly, especially if you are a man (gender concept; studies said so).

Although most people are able to gather the strength to move on,  others strangely leap from grieving broken heart syndrome into full-on physical heart issues.  Persons who are grieving due to an  intense emotional loss, be it death, severe depression, or just a bad breakup, are less likely to  take very good care of themselves; less sleep, neglect eating, skip medication, and perhaps  drink and smoke more.  The grieving process increases cortisol levels in the blood and at its intensity could bring on psychological stress, increased heart rate, blood pressure,  clotting, and possible heart attacks.

A  study presented at one of the annual meetings of American College of Cardiology in Chicago  revealed that sudden death, in most cases was triggered by ARRHYTHMIA  or irregular heartbeat.  Sudden death can happen so unexpectedly and  in less than one hour following the onset of symptoms.

Mental stress, such as the anniversary effect (there were certain cognitive, affective and behavioral characteristics of the anniversary effect), may induce sudden death in susceptible individuals as stated by Dr. Ivan Mendoza, a lead researcher from Central University of Venezuela in Caracas.

His statement was based from the research of his team as per analyzed data on 102 documented sudden deaths of individuals aged 37 to 79. About 70% appeared to have died of coronary artery disease. 12% of the cases happened at the commemoration date of the death of a parent: 7 on the father’s commemoration and 5 on the mother’s. In one case, it was the commemoration of both parents, who had died about the same date.  Only in about 30% of the cases, the sudden death occurred approximately at the death age of the parents and about 80% of the sudden deaths were experienced by men.

Why men?  Co-researcher, Dr Juan Marques, also from the Central University of Venezuela. said that the reason for that is not understood, but may reflect gender differences in response to stressful situations, which may mean that, generally, women seek more connections with more people, which can help them rebuild after the death of a spouse, while men  pursue independence, which can lead to greater social isolation after a spouse dies.  Women have been found to be more coping than men; perhaps due to their willingness to express or release their grief, their emotions.

People who are more vulnerable are usually those who have a history of heart attack, family history of sudden death or coronary disease, and cardiovascular risk factors such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, smoking, obesity or a sedentary lifestyle.  The loss of someone close could be a really tough and excruciating experience to some people and can  actually kill.  In fact, some of the deaths were related to suicide or stress, although it’s not known how many cases there are in the world.

Theories on grief as a killer emotion:

  • The stress of grief can induce significant physical trauma, for example by suppressing the immune system and making the bereaved person more susceptible to disease.
  • Children who die young are more common to parents who are already less than optimally healthy. The risk of premature death lessens over time, presumably as the sharp effects of immediate grief subside, but remains raised for mothers even 30 years after the death of a baby.
  • The “widowhood effect”, as dubbed by researchers at Harvard University was based on previous studies which have associated the death of a spouse to premature death, the cause somehow relating to an apparent “broken heart.”  Studies also revealed that among elderly couples, men are more likely to die shortly after the death of a spouse than women.
  • The “anniversary effect”, events filled with intense emotions are often the moments we remember most, and owing to the emotional intensity from traumatic events, the anniversary of the event can trigger some of the same emotions one experienced during the initial event, the symptoms of which may include:  denial, shock, numbness, feeling unsafe and vulnerable, anxiety, panic, worry, loss of concentration, withdrawal, flashbacks, headaches, upset stomach, fatigue, sleeplessness, sadness, anger, loss of appetite, or feelings of helplessness or hopelessness.

What we can do for the grieving/what we can do if we are experiencing intense grief:

Not everyone responds to grief in the same way or same length of time.  We should look after each other, whether it’s family or friends.   We should make plans for the future, divert our minds to looking forward.  Sufficient rest and diet, ample exercise, use of humor and having creative outlets could do wonders for grieving hearts.  Remember the famous line “shared sorrow is half sorrow”; and work towards turning to family and friends for support and comfort, or giving it, whichever applies.  Grief is something that shouldn’t be faced alone because at its intensity, grief could actually shorten lives.

Web Sources:

http://news.softpedia.com/news/Grief-Can-Kill-You-82089.shtml

http://www.chatelaine.com/en/blog/post/31373–how-intense-grief-can-shorten-your-life

http://www.maine.gov/beh/EAP/anniversary.htm

Broken Heart Syndrome: How Heartbreak Can Literally Kill You

http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/two-takes-depression/201105/the-anniversary-effect