The Broken Hearts of Widows and Widowers

The Broken Hearts of Widows and Widowers

HitCoffee posted a link to a news story about the affect of grief on one’s health. The article states:

Doctors have long understood the impact of grief on one's health. Now, a new study has revealed how fragile a broken heart can really be. Researchers in Britain have found that bereft people face the risk of death in the first year of being widowed.

In fact, men are six times more likely to die of a broken heart than women. According to lead researcher Dr Jaap Spreeuw of the Cass Business School in London, the study has confirmed the existence of 'broken heart syndrome.

"We all know that the death of a loved one will have massive impact on the life of the husband or wife left behind, but this shows it will have direct impact on their mortality. It statistically proves that people can die of a broken heart during the earliest stages of bereavement," he said.

"The effect is stronger for older people who have been married longer. The good news is that after the first years of mourning, the chance of dying goes down," Dr Spreeuw added.

My first thought was that I already knew this. In fact I remember reading about a similar studies of widows and widowers in college though I don’t recall that study specifically mentioning men as being more venerable than women of dying after the death of a spouse. But I do remember it mentioning that people who were married longer, say 20 or more years, did have increased odds of dying soon after their spouse than those who had been married five years.

That being said, I think anyone who has lost a spouse can understand how easy it could be to die of a broken heart. In Room for Two I wrote:

In a college communications class, I had read about couples who spent most of their lives together. After one died, it was common for the other to pass on soon after, even if he or she was in good health. At the time I couldn’t comprehend how someone could lose their will to live after their spouse was gone. But I began to, at least partially, understand how they felt. Krista had been a significant part of my life for seven years—four as my girlfriend and three as my wife. My life had become completely entwined with hers. Now that she was gone, I didn’t feel complete. I had to force myself to live.

Things I had done willingly before Krista died, like going to work, became a chore. Though my job hadn’t changed, without the prospect of supporting a family, work was boring. There was no incentive for me to put extra effort into my projects. I did just enough to get by. I didn’t care if there were any raises or bonuses in my future. I resisted the urge to walk into my supervisor’s office and quit only because I knew being unemployed and doing nothing would ultimately be worse.

The other thing that intrigued me about the study was how after the first year of a spouse passing the odds of dying from a “broken heart” decrease.

For my own experience, there was something psychologically helpful about making it through the first year. It wasn’t just because Marathon Girl was now a major part of my life (though that was part of it), but there was something about having gone through holidays and other special dates without the late wife once that helped me realize it was only going to get easier the second time around.