How Can Grief Affect Widows and Widowers?

Physical affects of grief
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Physical symptoms can materialize in grief.

The loss of a loved one is a significant event.

You cannot just call the loved one postmortem and hear his or her voice.

You can no longer receive a hug from this important person in your life.

According to a recent Next Avenue article titled “Broken Heart Syndrome: Illness After Loss,” grief can be overwhelming.

The physical affects of grief can be deadly for widows and widowers.
Grief from the death of a spouse can lead to health problems.

For those who have been happily married for decades, the death of a spouse can lead to physical illness.

Consider the recent example of George H.W. Bush.

He and his wife Barbara had been married 73 years when she died.

George became seriously ill after her death.

Johnny Cash provides yet another example.

He died on September 12, 2003, only four months after the death of his wife June on May 15, 2003.

Cash died just seven months after the March 1, 2003, release of his autobiographical music video cover of “Pain” by Nine Inch Nails.

By the way, that video is considered one of the best ever.

Click on the link above on give it a watch.

Powerful on many levels.

Perhaps you know loved ones with a similar story.

As in my personal experience, maybe your grandparents or parents were married for 50 or more years.

Perhaps the relatively healthy widow or widower died within hours, days, or weeks of the death of his or her spouse.

Why is this a common phenomenon?

According to scientists, grief can suppress the immune system.

Researchers applied the term “psychoneuroimmunology” in 2002 to describing the serious impact of trauma on immunity.

This makes those mourning a loved one more likely to become ill from a mild cold or a even a life-threatening infection.

Another common result of grief is a condition called takotsubo cardiomyopathy.

The colloquial term is “broken heart syndrome.”

The extreme stress of grief can lead to a portion of the heart enlarging temporarily and failing to pump properly.

The impact of bereavement and immune issues has been recognized and studied for decades.

A 1995 study showed evidenced of the “widowhood effect.”

This occurs when the spouse is more likely to die soon after the death of the partner.

In 2012, researchers found widowed men born between 1910 and 1930 had a 30 percent increase in mortality beyond what was expected after the death of a wife.

The emotional and physical stress from grief can certainly be detrimental to the immune system and even deadly.

Check in on your loved ones after the death of a spouse and make sure incapacity planning is in place should illness incapacitate them or death take them.

Encourage any recent widow or widower not to make any major decisions within that first year of “firsts” as a widow or widower.

Reference: Next Avenue (May 26, 2022) “Broken Heart Syndrome: Illness After Loss”

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