Saturday, February 12, 2011

Dying of a Broken Heart


So I just watched the movie "Karaoke Terror (a.k.a. The Complete Showa Era Song Book)" based on the novel by Ryu Murakami that I read recently. If it has karaoke in the title, no doubt I will be interested. What I want to know is, since when are women in their thirties middle-aged? Because there's this whole kids vs. middle aged-ladies thing in it, and the women make reference to being in their early thirties, which is only about 10 or maybe 12 years older than the guys in the movie. I'm at least 5 years older than the women in the movie, and I don't think of myself as being middle-aged. In Japanese culture, these divorced middle-aged women are called "obasans." One of the quotes in the movie is "It's not the cockroaches that will be left after the apocalypse; it'll be the obasans!"

I think of myself as youngish and with sort of some time in my life left, but with increasing frequency in the past year or so, I am more pensive and sad about death. What I think about is this: no matter how great your life is, you end up at the end of it sick and unhappy and in pain and then dying, most likely alone and scared and sick. I saw it with my mom. I saw it with my husband's mom. I saw it in various stages of progression in the cancer ward when I was sick.

And no matter what anyone says about it, the 2 things that are always the same in any death situation is that it's ghoulish and it's surreal. The body is bloated. The legs turn purple first. Death moves it's way up from the legs up to the head. And the body makes weird noises and weird smells as it shuts down. The surreal thing -- I've seen this a few times now -- within a few minutes of the pronoucement of death everybody standing around the person, everybody switches into "OK, let's make the plans, you're in charge of calling those people, you're in charge of those, what day shall we pick out the coffin or the urn or this or that" and suddenly, it's like you go into event planning mode. I'm not making any judgement. It's just the way it is.

When I look at people I love, I feel like I see them aging by the second and what it will be like when they're gone. What am I going to do when my loved ones die? It will have been like they've never been there.

I was listening to a podcast of All Songs Considered and they had Tom Jones on and they had him talk about songs he liked that had to do with Valentine's Day and he played "He Stopped Loving Her Today" by George Jones. It's a song about how this guy loved this woman until his last dying breath, and then he dies, and that's how he stops loving her. I was standing in the closet picking out a shirt and then I'm all tears and lump in my throat. I thought about what it will be like for either me or my husband, whichever one is left after the other one dies. I thought about how Johnny Cash died just 4 months after June Carter died, no doubt of a broken heart. And then I started thinking about that episode of "Doctor Who" with Madame de Pompadour who waited for the Doctor to come back and he never came back and then the next thing you know they're wheeling her coffin away (wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey stuff) and someone says, "Some say she died of a broken heart."

So a chapter of your life closes and then it's like, boom, you put the photos in the album and close the book and that chapter of your life is over, like it never happened, like all the stuff that's in that photo album is just some past life that is no longer relevant.

So can you die of a broken heart? For real?

I googled "Die of a broken heart" to see what the web had to say about this, and I found a very interesting New York Times article called "Health and the Broken Heart" and what was really interesting was well, YES it is possible to die of a broken fucking heart. Some older women, who developed classic heart attack symptoms after suffering severe emotional stress had consistently elevated blood levels of the stress hormones epinephrine and norepinephrine, which can cause a significant weakening of the heart muscle. Elevated stress hormones interfere with normal blood flow, causing the heart damage. Or it may be that the hormones bind to the heart muscle, causing changes to the heart cells. No wonder they call it heart break. And do you ever get over your early heartbreaks? Do they leave you with scars? Do they do you more harm than good? Does what doesn't kill REALLY make you stronger? Or weaker and more defeated?

Happy fucking Valentine's Day. From an obasan.

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