Fifty percent of all couples living today will experience the bereavement and grief from the loss of a partner, sooner or later. One of them has to go first.
Is there a link between emotional stress and physiological health after a loved one dies and what happens to the survivors?
I had a friend once (now deceased) who took care of his elderly bed-ridden parents. This was back in the 70's. His parents were two people that fell in love during the war, got married soon after D-day and were very much in love, faithful and devoted to the end, over sixty years of happiness together. They surely would be the first to agree.
The last two years of their lives were spent in bed, in an upstairs bedroom of their home, they had built. They slept in twin beds, within eye and voice contact of one another, too weak and frail to ever get out of bed. As you can well imagine, it was a trying time for my friend, caring for two very old parents, himself considered old at the time, he was fifty-six.
Every morning he would enter their bedroom to check on them and they would be sound asleep, both with one arm stretched out across the void between the beds holding hands. He noticed the strength in their fingers, as if melded into one, holding onto each other all night. It was the same every morning until his mother died. Within twenty-four hours of her death, his father soon followed. They were buried in graves side by side as they did, in the last two years of their lives.
There was a study done in 1969, published in the British Medical Journal, using 4,500 widowers, 55+, a study that lasted for 9 years. They found the survivor was 40% more likely to die within the first six months after bereavement. Another study in 1995, confirmed these results using a larger group, 1.5 million middle aged people. They found the risk of dying from a heart attack after bereavement 20 - 35% greater within 6 months. The study also found that other causes of death increased by 50%, like alcohol related accidents, violence and household accidents as in falling. Be careful taking down those exterior Christmas lights.
Why this is happens is still unknown, but speculation has it that the emotional stress of losing the lifetime of support from a partner may have something to do with it. The older and longer the couple have been together, the more stress afterwards. Doctors have long known that survivors have an increase in health problems such as stomach and muscular pains. Studies have proven they catch the flu and have more colds. Scientists have linked a decrease in the antibody Immunoglobulin A and high levels of cortisol, which fight off germs, bacteria and viruses, our first line of defence against killer microbes.
It's sad to have lived a long happy life, to eventually die of a broken heart, wouldn't you agree? My friends parents died almost together quickly, what about the others, the ones that survive years without the other. It must be unbearable. Years spent with a broken heart. Sad.