President George H.W. Bush died on Nov. 30, less than eight months after his wife of 73 years, Barbara, passed away. Officially, the president had vascular parkinsonism, a condition caused by one or more small strokes. Many, however, felt he may have suffered from takotsubo cardiomyopathy, a medical condition better known as broken-heart syndrome.

Inside Edition quoted David Valdez, Bush’s official White House photographer, as saying he believed the former president longed to join his wife and daughter Robin, who died of leukemia at age three, in the afterlife. This thought was confirmed by granddaughter Jenna Bush Hager and other family members.

“Broken heart syndrome is a temporary heart condition that’s often brought on by stressful situations, such as the death of a loved one,” says the Mayo Clinic.

In some cases, of course, it’s more than temporary. And while the syndrome might not show up in any autopsy, there’s no doubt it exists.

Other famous examples include Hollywood icon Debbie Reynolds, who suffered a fatal stroke just a day after daughter Carrie Fisher died of a heart attack. Son Todd Fisher said Debbie’s last words were: “I miss her so much, I want to be with Carrie.”

Country singer Johnny Cash died of complications from diabetes in September of 2003, just four months after he lost his wife and musical collaborator June Carter Cash, who died following complications from heart surgery,

“The pain of her being gone is more than I can stand,” Cash told longtime friend Johnny Western, according to Radar Online.

Given our area’s elder population, it’s no surprise broken heart syndrome is quite common.

“I’ve been doing this for 40 years, and I’ve seen it many times,” said Rick Tuss, owner, managing partner and funeral director at Charlotte Memorial Funeral Home, Cemetery and Crematory in Punta Gorda. “We’re holding a funeral this Saturday (Dec. 8) for a women whose husband’s funeral was this past April.”

Tuss recalled an incident from several years ago while he was operating Venice Memorial Gardens. A couple came in with their children to make final arrangements. One of the parents was very ill and on the verge of dying.

“The one who was not sick made the arrangements for the who was sick,” Tuss said. “And then shortly after that, the one who wasn’t sick died suddenly and the one who was sick died a few hours later. So we ended up having a double burial.”

Over the years, Tuss has seen enough widows and widowers to recognize those suffering from broken heart syndrome.

“When someone comes in here who has lost somebody they’ve been married to for 50, 60 years, you can tell,” he said. “You just look at them and they’re just lost. They’re not eating or sleeping right. Their whole routine is messed up.”

Tuss not only buries victims of broken heart syndrome. He and his staff do whatever they can to assist mourners in dealing with their grief.

“We’re not licensed therapists, but we can recommend different people when we talk to the survivors,” he said.

Tuss echoed advice found in Psychology Today, which encourages anyone suffering from broken heart syndrome to make sure and attend to their physical needs, especially when it comes to eating well and maintaining a routine sleep schedule.

“I always tell people to please, please make sure you eat,” Tuss said. “Even if you’re not hungry, force a few bites of a sandwich or something. And try to sleep, even if you don’t feel like sleeping, lay down, rest.”

It’s vitally important that sufferers don’t get run down, Tuss said, especially during the period right after their loved one’s death.

“Take somebody who’s 80 years old, and not in the peak of health anyway, who has lost a loved one,” he said. “If they let themselves get run down, then start getting out of their routine, maybe they miss some medication here and there, they miss meals, they don’t sleep right – it’s a vicious cycle. They just get worse and worse.”

Tuss said Charlotte Memorial also talks to children and other relatives, encouraging them to monitor and maintain contact with the surviving spouse.

Charlotte Memorial is located at 9400 Indian Spring Cemetery Road, Punta Gorda. Call 94-639-1171 or email info@charlottefuneralhomeandcemetery.com for more information;

Comments and suggestions are always welcome. Call Dan Mearns at 941-893-9692 or email danmearns@gmail.com.

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