By Susan Levy
Death of a loved one is high on everyone’s list for tremendous stress. How do we mend that broken heart? And, as friends and family, how can we help?
A while back I read a report describing the Broken Heart Syndrome. It’s a temporary heart condition that can present in people who experience extreme or sudden emotional stress, such as the trauma from an accident, death of a loved one, or some other long term stress.
Women are overwhelmingly more susceptible and not surprisingly, the 55 plus age group are most prone to the syndrome. The stress that we feel becomes physical and the symptoms are much like a heart attack, only they generally resolve themselves within a week.
Many families across America will be celebrating their first Thanksgiving Dinner without a loved one. Sadly, in American culture we have so few ways to remember and honor those who have passed within the last year. If you were part of the military and died, then there are planned days of observance. If you’re Catholic, you can light a candle in church; Jews observe the passing on the anniversary of one’s death. Mexicans have the Day of the Dead. For that ritual, one of our friends asks that we all make the favorite dish of our departed to bring, along with a picture and story, to share at a communal meal.
That leaves me with this: How can we remember those who meant so much to us – whose death leaves a hole? And as family and friends, how can we let those who were close to the person know how we feel. What’s right?
For each of us the answer is different – on a spectrum ranging from denial to home movies. Here’s our family’s solution, based on personal experience.
It’s now seven months after my (step) daughter, Ann, died of melanoma. Barely at “middle age”, it was a very fast death. Just last week, a friend asked my husband how he would feel if we remembered Ann at Thanksgiving Dinner. (Permission is the important concept here.) Tearfully, my husband was grateful to be asked in advance and for the acknowledgement that this will be difficult.
So, on Thanksgiving, when we sit down together, the first thing we will do is remember Ann. We’ll go around the table and each person will be invited to relate a short remembrance. This is a way of keeping Ann with us in a positive way. There will be tears and soft laughter (because Ann did funny things). And, then, we’ll be thankful for all those who came before us.
It’s a simple ritual; perhaps a small step in mending a broken heart.
Do you have a ritual that helps relieve a long-term stress? How do you mend a broken heart?