Prolonged Grief Increases Young Widows' Health Risks
Thirteen years ago I read a letter to an editor urging young widows to go for annual physicals. The timing of the piece reminded me of when I first read about the Heimlich Maneuver in 1974, just days after my grandfather choked to death on a bite of meat.
My uncle had rushed to Grandpa’s aid, pounding on his back to dislodge the piece of meat – all to no avail. If he had known enough to wrap his arms just above Grandpa’s waist, and pull into his gut, the morsel would have popped out and my grandfather would have survived.
The letter in the newspaper that advocated regular physical exams for young widows jolted me once again, for my 49-year-old husband had died a few weeks earlier.
One third of the 800,000 people widowed every year are under age 45. And when the death is sudden, as with my young husband's, the effects on the surviving spouse can be particularly severe and long lasting. Unlike older widows, young widows face the greater part of their lives before them. This puts the younger woman who has lost her husband at greater risk for long-term emotional and physical effects of grief.
GRIEF WRECKS A PHYSICAL AS WELL AS EMOTIONAL TOLL
A year ago, the medical community officially declared a broken heart can actually trigger a heart attack. “Emotional stress, conceptionally, is the same thing for cardiovascular risk as physical stress,” says Daniel J.Brotman MD of John Hopkins Hospital. “But a lot of doctors blow that off, because they think emotional stress is a psychological problem, not a physical one.”
When I lost my husband, twelve years ago, my doctor recognized I was in for the long haul. He immediately began monitoring my inevitable symptoms of grief: depression, exhaustion, nervousness, loss of appetite, insomnia, weakness, and aching. New evidence in the 1990s had indicated that grief and its related stress affect young widows more seriously than women who lose their husbands later in life. - because of the longer period of time the younger bereaved would likely experience elevated blood pressure, unhealthful eating habits, and weakened immune systems.Continued on the next page