01/26/2012 11:52 am ET Updated Mar 27, 2012

Can You Die of a Broken Heart?

Think about it: Can you die from a broken heart? I am not only speaking of a tragic breakup, although we all know that feeling. What about couples who have been together for so long, and one of them passes away? The pain can be so unbearable that their heart is broken, they lose their spirit and they pass away shortly after.

I know this is true for my own grandparents. They were in love for 50 years. She married at 15 years old, and she worshiped my grandfather. Although he was tough at times, they were the best of friends. Alzheimer's disease slowly began taking her life and her memory at a young age; however, she never seemed to forget my grandfather. He had diabetes and lost his left leg and part of his right one. She insisted that she take care of him by herself in their home. I visited them often in Pompano and watched how she catered to and carried him in their home.

At 65 she was on her game -- sure she forgot things, but she never forgot him. Social Services found out she was caring for him alone and moved him into a hospital for the care they determined he needed. She was put in a state nursing home. After being together and in love for 50 years, they were separated and taken away from each other by strangers. That was the last time they ever saw each other. He died one week later in the hospital they insisted could help. I was devastated. I went to see her at the nursing home but I didn't have the heart to tell her grandpa had passed away. I found her in the corner of her room, her body curled in a ball, hugging his picture in her hand. She died the next day, age 65, one week after him and just two weeks after they were separated from each other. I often wonder: Did she die of a broken heart?

What about Joe Paterno? According to his son, he had treatable lung cancer. But after the alleged sexual incidents of Sandusky and being questioned about whether Paterno did all he could to prevent further incidents from happening after it was reported to him, he was released after 61 years at Penn State. He died just a couple months after being released from his duties as coach, all while under tremendous scrutiny. Did Joe Paterno die of a broken heart?

What about Bear Bryant? He died just 28 days after announcing his retirement from Alabama, at the age of 69. When asked what he would do without football, he said "probably croak in a week." It was only 14 days later than his prediction.

A broken heart is a common metaphor used to describe the intense emotional pain or suffering one feels after losing a loved one, whether through death, divorce, breakup, physical separation or romantic rejection or physical loss of something you love doing. You have lost your spirit; your heart is broken.

My mother passed away of a massive heart attack at the age of 42, leaving me alone at the age of 21 with my brothers, my sister and my 7-month-old daughter, Amber. My heart was broken. I never thought I would overcome that "feeling" that seemed to never leave me: the sadness that replaced my happiness, the grief that took my spirit, the pain that broke my heart. It took months to overcome and years of healing to pull myself together, but I knew that if I lost my spirit, I would lose myself and not just my beautiful mother. I would die of a broken heart.

We feel with our hearts and we love with our hearts, so what can happen when something breaks our heart?

A study done at John Hopkins School of Medicine shows that stress hormones produced by a breakup, a death, a sudden shock or even a car accident can indeed mirror a heart attack, especially in women. It's called "Broken Heart Syndrome." Family and friends should provide close support to help prevent such incidences of a broken heart, especially near the grieving process.

Do you know someone who is suffering from a broken heart? Help them by building up their self esteem again, and remind them how important they are to you and others. Provide healthy distractions to keep them focused. Try to get them out of the house and keep them busy. Ask them for advice on things so they realize their value to you, their value to others, their value to themselves. Remind them of all the things you love about them. Make the time to help them feel great again. Help them to regain their purpose in life, regain their purpose for living. Hug them again and again and tell them you love them. These things can help them find their identity again as well as help to find their spirit again.

After all, time heals all wounds even a broken heart.

Love, Loren xo

For more by Loren Ridinger, click here.

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