Death by Broken Heart
Hello Church Family,
I was surveying the latest Internet sports news last night when I came across this disturbing headline: “Former NFL QB Doug Flutie’s Parents Both Die on Same Day.” Apparently, only one hour after the former signal-caller’s father passed away of a heart attack, Flutie’s mom also succumbed to cardiac arrest, resulting in her sudden death. The two had been married for 56 years.
We had a similarly devastating event take place in our own church a few years ago. On September 23, 2012, I officiated the memorial service for longtime Northpoint member, J.J. Johnson, who died at the age of 91. Even though his wife, Esther, seemed to be in good health at time of her husband’s passing, it was only a month later that I was presiding over her funeral, as well. These gracious childhood sweethearts had been married 70 years.
The term doctors use to describe what happened in both of the aforementioned episodes is takotsubo cardiomyopathy; in layman’s language it’s called “broken heart syndrome.” Studies around the world have shown that among couples who have been married more than a few decades—say, 50, 60 years or more—once one spouse passes away, the likelihood that the other will die within six months spikes by 50%. Of course, it doesn’t always happen this way, but it happens enough that one researcher, Dr. Barbara Messinger-Rapport, of the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, concludes: “It is possible to die of a broken heart.”
Many have sought to make sense of this phenomenon, but to me, the explanation is very simple: We were created for relationship, and when our most intimate human connections are abruptly severed, it wreaks immediate havoc on our emotions and our souls—so much so, that some cannot even survive such an ordeal.
To be sure, our most important relationship is with our Heavenly Father, but even those who enjoy sweet and restored fellowship with God, through faith in His Son, still need other people.
The Scriptures tell us that we are made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26), and that our God is deeply relational. Long before He spoke the world into existence, or placed upon this planet frogs that could fly or fish that would defend themselves by puffing out their cheeks, God existed in perfect Trinitarian harmony: Father, Son and Sprit. Before He created anything, God enjoyed an eternal, dynamic relationship with Himself. And what binds that relationship together is self-giving love.
Consequently, we, as his image bearers, are also intensely relational beings. And the deeper our relationships are, and the more self-giving our love is, the better we experience and resemble the God who made us. To put in another way: We feel the greatest pleasure and wholeness when who God made us to be is fully developed and expressed.
French theologian, Henri Blocher, contends: “From the very beginning, the human being is Mitsein, a being-with; human life attains its full realization only in community.”
It’s sounds a bit esoteric, I know, but it’s actually a very helpful reminder: Only as we live in fellowship can we accurately show forth what God is like. And only as we are engaged in self-giving relationships are we fully human.
I was reminded of the importance of this theological concept this week as I heard two people talking about the loneliness that the holidays bring. For some, this next month-and-a-half represents the most depressing time of the entire year. Many don’t have a place to celebrate. Even worse, many don’t have anyone to celebrate with. They have no one who will actually listen to them and care about their needs. This should not be so in the church of Jesus Christ.
So … let’s take an opportunity this holiday season to foster real community. To invite someone over. To share table fellowship with another believer. Let’s do our part to make sure that no one is alone. Because we were created to be together, especially when there’s turkey involved.
In His Grace,