Cause of death: broken heart.
When I was working for a funeral home out in Massachusetts there was a situation where a husband and a wife both passed away naturally within twelve hours of each other. I couldn’t help but think the whole concept was utterly romantic.
Now, while working for this funeral home I never much interacted with the families. I was in college and just gaining some experience in the funeral field. Which basically meant I would dress/casket/do make-up for bodies. Which was cool. I didn’t mind. Maybe the situation didn’t bother me as much as it should have because I never formerly met the children of the morbidly romantic dead couple. Or maybe it was because I found out later that both deceased’s were sick that I was able to rationalize their deaths in my mind. Or maybe it was because seeing the two caskets kiddy cornered together just pulled at my heart-strings. Thinking that deep down in their hearts, neither wanted to live without the other. I never thought that I would ever see anything like that again.
And then I met Mrs. Smith. Mrs. Smith came in to make arrangements for her husband. He was sick in the hospital and passed away on a Tuesday night. I met with her on the following Wednesday for funeral arrangements. Thursday night I got a phone call from police. Mrs. Smith passed away at her home. I have never been more baffled. I mean, I have made pre-arrangements with people knowing that they had a terminal illness and not much time. I’ve hugged people knowing the next time I would see them would be when they were in the embalming room. But this wasn’t supposed to happen. She wasn’t sick. After Mrs. Smith died I heard many people who knew her saying how she and her husband were inseparable. After seeing the photographs her family brought in I’d like to testify that they were correct. It looked like they loved life and that they loved each other deeply.
Just to keep the conversation flowing I want to mention a book that I just purchased and read called “Exit Laughing.” It’s filled with numerous essays that talk about how humor can take the sting out of death. One of the stories titled “Measuring Grief” written by Benita Garvin talked about her parents and how they attempted suicide together. The initial attempt didn’t work, however they both ended up in the hospital as a result. After a little while her father passed away from complications. Benita’s mother awoke in the middle of the night from a drug-induced sleep and let out a cry. Just after midnight. The exact time her father passed away. He was two floors above her in the hospital. (Side note: I know the book is supposed to incorporate humor to help us grieve, I didn’t think that this story personally was the best demonstration of that concept…)
So the big questions. Can you literally die from a broken heart? Can you be so intertwined together with a person that your hearts can actually be one? That you could feel in your soul that moment when they have taken their final breath? Can you will yourself to die? So that you can join your beloved? I guess no one will ever know for sure. Right now I will tell you that I am comforted by an image of the Smith’s dancing together in Heaven. Because if we can’t know for sure that we’ll be together, at least we can have hope. After all, once you get past the sadness, it’s okay to be a little morbidly romantic.