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Grief’s Impact: Did Debbie Reynolds Die of a Broken Heart?

           The tragic news of performer Debbie Reynold’s death the day after Carrie Fisher’s, her famous daughter, illustrates the tremendous stress grief puts on loved ones left behind. People can indeed die of a broken heart.p1000860

            According to a USA Today article, Reynold’s son said the stress of his sister’s death “was too much” for 84-year-old Reynolds. She reportedly suffered a stroke amid preparations for the funeral of the daughter who the world knows best as Princess Leia in Star Wars.

            I don’t know what it is like to lose a child, but I’ve lost two parents and I know the bond that continues into adulthood. I remember falling to my knees when I found out my father died July 9, 2006. My emotional state impacted my physical state. My legs would not hold me up.

            In the months that followed, I despaired of life at times. At night, after work, I put on music and cried. My heart literally ached.

            What is often the first reaction to grief – shock – protects us from the sucker punch of loss. We don’t believe our loved one is really gone. But then reality sets in, and with it the feeling that what was vital to our existence is gone forever. That’s extremely stressful.

            While most people survive the initial news that a parent, a child, a brother or a friend has died, we all have heard stories of the ones who do not. The Huffington Post published an article last month about a Texas couple, Leonard and Hazel Cherry, who were married 75 years and died the same day about nine hours apart. They’d been high school sweethearts. I recall reading a similar article in The (Memphis) Commercial Appeal many months ago about a separate couple.

            According to the American Heart Association’s website at, “a real-life broken heart can actually lead to cardiac consequences.”

            No mention of a cardiac episode for Reynolds, who was admired by my mother in The Unsinkable Molly Brown, a tape of which I found among my parents’ things. However, grief’s range of physical effects is familiar to the mourning. It’s well established that the death of someone close makes you more likely to get sick and suffer from an illness yourself.

            We may not be able to predict who is susceptible to dying of grief but we can recognize the strain that loss puts people under. We can come alongside our friends and hold their hands and listen. We can recognize grief for the tremendously stressful event it is, and call, write and befriend the hurting. That may not be enough for everyone, but it will certainly ease some people’s pain.

            If you’re the one who is hurting, I urge you to reach out to your doctor, counselor and best friends. Reach out to God. Don’t carry this pain alone.

            Who will you reach out to this week? Will you be the one who eases someone’s pain?


Copyright © 2016 by Toni Lepeska. All rights reserved.




4 Comments Post a comment
  1. Thank you for these words Toni. I will share your post on Facebook. So many people need to know emotional pain and its implications are life-threatening.


    December 29, 2016
  2. Diane Hight #

    More often than not, people who are grieving hold it in and don’t reach out to others. We would think this would be the natural thing to do but it isn’t. We wouldn’t think we’d need to tell people to talk to someone but we do. No need to suffer alone. Great advice, Toni.


    January 2, 2017

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