Matt, Since your Death I’ve had several episodes where it feels like my heart is actually breaking apart. The medical community uses the term “Broken Heart Syndrome”. Although the cause of broken heart syndrome is not completely known, it is thought to be triggered by extreme emotional stress. Intense grief is listed as one of its causes. The heart is stunned by an unexpected, shocking event. When stunned, the heart no longer works efficiently and causes severe pain and anxiety.
I can tell you I’ve become the poster child for Broken Heart Syndrome. I’ve been in the ER more since your death than I have my entire life.
My first trip was the day before Christmas Eve. It was the first Christmas after your death and I think reality gut punched me and started the shattering of my heart to begin. I was a mess. Breathless and in agony. Trying to describe my pain to doctors was like trying to explain color to a blind man. Nothing like your classic heart attack signs just an unending ache deep in my soul.
I remember the doctor coming in to tell me all the tests were normal. Seriously, I thought. I’m dying and you’re missing it. Then he asked what’s been going on in my life. That simple question opened my floodgates. His face said it all. Your death, then my career screeching to a halt was tough enough but when you threw in the death of a dear friend ten months later, I was drowning in grief.
Returning home I remember feeling so foolish. I was an active, healthy person. Why did I feel like I was dying. Once again I put one foot in front of the other taking baby steps trying to navigate this new life.
Strike two was in April of the following year. Year two was shaping up to be another brutal round of reality. I made it through all those “firsts” and never expected the “seconds” to come with stronger gut punches. I was in my garden. Clearing out old leaves trying to remember the joy I once felt digging in the dirt. My garden was my sanctuary. The place I fled to trying to find peace during your addiction.
Seeing your cigarette butts was a sharp slap across my face. Memories flooded my brain. You sitting on the deck pitching your smoked butts into my precious gardens. I remember yelling at your disrespect for all my hard work. What should have been minor fix turned into a major fight as you continued to flick your butts into the garden with that look of defiance on your face. Oh God, that memory long since buried was dancing through my head. I held them to my nose trying to pick up the scent of your mouth. Oh God, what I would give to have you sitting there again. This time I would hold you and hug you knowing how our journey would end.
Once again that familiar pain shot across my chest. Struggling to catch my breath. That lump in my throat growing larger each second. This time I’m sure something will show up. My heart hurting so badly yet again everything was “normal”. Sent home once again feeling foolish. Even my nursing education wasn’t any help in controlling my thought that I must be dying.
Strike three arrived 5 days after returning home from Florida. Even the beauty of the Keys couldn’t lift my grief. I felt it the second week there. I could see you everywhere and no where. Dear God, you died in Florida was all I could think of. You should have been enjoying the turquoise water. We should be having lunch. I should be seeing your place, meeting your friends. You should be alive.
Returning home was another slap of reality. My eyes finding your urn. Seeing your smiling face staring back at me forever frozen in time. I can’t breathe. This time I heard my heart break. Feeling the shards of glass tearing into my throat. I can’t be alive and survive this pain. I must be dying. Once again the doctor wants to know what’s been happening in my life. Once again I see the look of compassion for your broken mother on her face.
This time a stress test is ordered. I’m injected with an isotope and told to start walking. The treadmill belt is moving. I think of you. I’m walking too fast. Trying to run from reality. I’m told to slow down. The speed needs to build up. All I want to do is run. Pictures are taken and reviewed by the heart experts. I’m told I have a beautiful, healthy heart. I sit and listen as tears run down my face. How can they not see the cracks, the shards that live where my heart used to.
The NP gives me a hug. Tears mingling with mine. She too knows living with a broken heart. Losing her daughter years ago. She tells me our mother’s hearts never forget. Eventually the breaks won’t be as severe and gut wrenching. Time will eventually put some pieces back where they belong. One day my heart will remember only the love rather than the loss.
Until then I’ve learned that a heart breaking never makes noise. It’s only felt by the soul of the one experiencing the pain. Unseen to the human eye but deeply felt by the griever. And like grief, the break signifies unspeakable, unending love…….