"Awake, my dear.
Be kind to your sleeping heart.
Take it out into the vast fields of Light
and let it breathe."
I’m writing this at the end of 2016, which carried the sad news of the death of Carrie Fisher. She left us all too soon at the age of 60 – and what was tragically to follow a few days later was the death of her mother, Debbie Reynolds.
This led me to ponder the question, “Can you really die of a broken heart?” It certainly seems to be so given these events. There are many stories of a person dying shortly after the death of their spouse. There is even a clinical term for a condition often referred to as “broken heart syndrome,” – takutsubo cardiomyopathy – or stress-induced cardiomyopathy.
You can find information about the physical aspects of this syndrome in medical publications. The symptoms are chest pain and elevated bio-indicators that mimic a heart attack. What happens is that the amount of stress one can actually take on after losing a loved one can cause the left ventricle of the heart to weaken, thus slowing the main pumping mechanism required for healthy heart function. And while it is common to recover within a month from “broken heart syndrome,” as we’ve seen with Debbie Reynolds, sometimes a broken heart can do you in.
Another interesting fact about takutsubo cardiomyopathy is that there is no clear physical treatment a doctor can recommend in order to heal from heartbreak. This makes this situation a perfect opportunity to explore what’s underneath the cause of the physical symptoms. When picturing what’s actually occurring in the heart — the left ventricle straining itself from the stress of loss and then weakening — metaphorically speaking, the heart is closing down on itself.
One of the earliest experiences of grief can be a shutting down of the emotions, and closing yourself off to feeling your pain. It’s clear that a re-opening of the heart is needed and the first step to doing that is allowing yourself to feel your feelings and express them. Take your heart out into the field of Light and let it breathe, as Hafiz so exquisitely recommends in the quote above.
Here are some suggestions for breathing new life into your broken heart:
- Be open with your process and be okay with where you are. Mourning your loss and healing your grieving heart takes time and patience. Cry all your tears.
- Realize that everyone grieves in their own way. Just because your way of grieving seems different, it does not mean that you are doing it wrong or that your feelings aren’t valid. Be gentle with yourself.
- Accepting yourself whole-heartedly, no matter what, is the path to healing. Be compassionate with yourself.
- Reach out for support. Find people to talk to about your feelings, who will listen compassionately without needing to give you advice or fix you.
When you experience the loss of someone near and dear, it can feel like a part of you is also gone. Most people feel shock and disbelief at first when the loss is very fresh. If you are concerned about any of the physical symptoms you are experiencing, it’s important to see your doctor. After a thorough check-up, your doctor may want to monitor your health closely – your blood pressure, changes in your weight, or other indications of physical illness.
The most critical factor is your ability to be resilient, to bounce back from this terrible blow. These practices boost resilience and help you get through the worst of times.
- Tell yourself that you will get through this: Reject what takes you into a downward spiral, be kind and gentle with yourself. Not easy to do when you are feeling down, but having the courage to keep at it is the key.
- Create opportunities for small successes: taking positive action repeatedly will elevate self-esteem and is a key coping factor.
- Celebrate the small stuff: recognize how far you’ve come and celebrate your progress.
- Start and end each day with gratitude: review each day for the good things that happened and the blessings in your life.
- There are other factors to consider that may complicate your recovery process. For more information about complicated grief, read here.
Above all, be kind to your sleeping heart. Open your heart to yourself again. Let it rest, heal, and breathe into each new day and into your new life.
Love and Blessings on Your Journey,