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Dying from a Broken Heart

Here is a very interesting piece about how the loss of a loved one impacts our bodies, Quite moving.


Ruth and Harold “Doc” Knapke met in elementary school. They exchanged letters during the war, when Doc was stationed in Germany. After he returned their romance began in earnest. They married, raised six children and celebrated 65 anniversaries together. And then on a single day in August 2013, in the room they shared in an Ohio nursing home, they died.

“No relationship was ever perfect, but theirs was one of the better relationships I ever observed,” says their daughter Margaret Knapke, 61, a somatic therapist. “They were always like Velcro. They couldn’t stand to be separated.”

For years, Knapke says, she and her siblings watched their father’s health crumble. He suffered from longstanding heart problems and had begun showing signs of dementia. He lost interest in things he once enjoyed, and dozed nearly all the time. “We asked each other, why do you suppose he’s still here? The only thing we could come up with was that he was here for Mom,” she says. “He’d wake up from a long snooze and ask, ‘How’s your mother?’ ”

Then Ruth developed a rare infection. Lying unconscious in the nursing-home room she shared with Doc, it became clear she was in her final days. The Knapke children sat down to tell Doc that she wasn’t going to wake up again. “He didn’t go back to sleep. I could see he was processing it for hours,” says Margaret. He died the next morning, and Ruth followed that evening.

Knapke sees her parents’ same-day deaths as a conscious decision—two hearts shutting off together. “My feeling was that he was hanging around for her,” she says. Knapke believes her father wanted to show her mother the way to the next realm. “He knew she needed something else from him, so he switched gears and let go,” she says. “I feel he chose to go first so he could help her. It was definitely an act of love on his part.”

The Knapkes’ story may be special, but it’s not unique. Every few months, some small-town paper publishes a similar human-interest story. Last July, People magazine ran the story of 94-year-old California residents Helen and Les Brown, who were married for 75 years. They’d been born on the same day and died just one day apart. In February, a photo of New York residents Ed Hale, 83, and his wife Floreen, 82, made the rounds on social media. The image showed the couple holding hands through the railings of their side-by-side hospital beds. They died mere hours apart.