A broken heart can happen to anyone – even men! The world witnessed this firsthand when John Travolta and his wife lost their beloved son, Jett in January 2009. His death provides cruel proof that bereavement, grief and loss impacts both genders, every culture, and pays no heed to social status.
The grieving families of the 4,316 members of the U.S. military who died since the Iraq War began in March 2003 (as reported by the Associated Press, June 28, 2009) fully understand the Travolta’s heartbreak of losing a loved one unexpectedly. Likewise, the soldiers returning home with a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), although experiencing grief in a different way, also understand the heartbreak that comes with loss.
To demonstrate on a global scale how many individuals are walking the grief journey, consider this: In four months, the “I hate goodbyes” Facebook page, which posted this question –Why does it take a minute to say hello and forever to say goodbye? – catapulted its fan base from 3,000 to 1.9 million! This speaks to significant heartbreak in the world today. In fact, heartbreak is a global epidemic. One may ask, “With all the material and resources available today, why has heartbreak escalated to that of epidemic proportion?” It has skyrocketed because we remain a dismissive and mourning-avoidant culture grounded in this assumption . . . “people will get over what has happened to them with time.”
Divorce and separation, trauma, chronic illness (e.g. Alzheimer disease) and even the downward spiral of the world economy are common loss experiences in this century. All are a source of heartbreak and grief and if left unresolved can have profound and lingering effects, such as depression, relationship breakdown, substance abuse and even disease. Although the frequency in which these events occur have become commonplace, the anguish that emerges as a result is daunting and cannot be cast aside. There is no way around the pain – one can only go through it to get to the other side.
A broken heart is most often associated with death. But when given the opportunity to reflect on the different ways that we may encounter loss, people realize that even in the absence of a physical death, they have endured a loss, or multiple losses of some kind, or supported someone through the grief process. For some, this awareness turns their world upside down. Like a dam breaking, unreconciled grief spills into every area of their life, causing deep confusion and the inability to comprehend how an event from the past could wreak such havoc in the present. Long-forgotten grief and sorrow often festers below the surface, eating insidiously away at one’s self-esteem.
It is true that a person can die from a broken heart. More often than not though, they live. From the center of their pain stems this critical question, “How will I survive?” It is not our responsibility to answer that question. It is our responsibility to understand that the road they are traveling is long, unpredictable, and deeply painful. Our commitment must be to be there with them for however long they need support and encouragement. Our work involves offering resources, safe environments to express their feelings of sorrow, and a relationship void of judgment. Moreover, we must offer them a sense of hope, because without hope, they will remain stuck in their pain.
For the grieving individuals and their families, it is their responsibility to do the work … and yes, that work involves tears – even for men!