Last month we lost two classics from the silver screen – Ms. Debbie Reynolds and her daughter Carrie Fischer. Their deaths came just one day apart when Ms. Reynolds died from what many have declared as broken heart syndrome, after suddenly losing her daughter the day before. Ms. Fischer, profoundly known as Princess Leia from the epic Star Wars film series, followed in her mothers' footsteps most of her life and just like her mother, she landed in the movie business before the age of 20. Both of these women left behind tremendous legacies and have amazing personal stories filled with both joy and triumph. As the world learned about Carrie's untimely death, just hours later came the news of her mothers' collapse. Carrie Fischer and Debbie Reynolds will always be remembered for their talent and iconic roles in some of Hollywood's finest movies, and their deaths will forever remain synonymous.
Wait a minute, let's back this up. Dying of broken heart syndrome? Is that a real thing? Is it truly possible for somebody to die from a broken heart? As is turns out, yes, there is real evidence that you can die from a broken heart, and in fact, it makes perfect sense. Grief is similar to other powerful emotions such as anger, anxiety or loneliness, which are all just different forms of stress. Stress has a powerful impact on our health, especially the health of our heart. According to the American Psychological Association, stress is a complicated condition that has a huge negative effect on our bodies and almost always manifests itself in physical symptoms. Additionally, and not surprisingly, we understand anger has a direct connection with increased risk of cardiovascular problems. When we see somebody expressing and venting a lot of anger we might think, "Man, this guy's going to have a heart attack!" Grief is really no different. The Mayo Clinic describes broken heart syndrome as a "temporary disruption of your heart's normal pumping function in one area of the heart ... which may be caused by the heart's reaction to a surge of stress hormones."
So let there be no debate. Broken heart syndrome is real and related stories, both fictional and true, have captured our hearts for years. I remember first learning about the concept in elementary school, when we watched the classic 1974 film Where the Red Fern Grows. A story that ends with a dog being attacked by a mountain lion and dies, then shortly after the other dog "Little Ann" loses the will to live and dies a few weeks later (the red fern grows upon their grave and is believed to be planted by an angel). Looking back it was an awfully heavy subject for elementary students. There wasn't a dry eye in the classroom. These stories, especially real life ones like Carrie Fischer and Debbie Reynolds, have a way of tugging on our heart strings. They stop us in our tracks and cause us to take pause. Perhaps, the power of love is more impactful than we think.