Grave covered in flowers include two big hearts made of red roses in the centre edged with two rows of white mums. Other bunches of white flowers with trailing whie ribbons visible too

2024 Grateful 48: Till death do us part

It seems like not a week passes but someone in the village dies. That’s what comes with living in a well-established community. There’s a cycle to it all. Thankfully, one of the silver linings of the COVID-19 pandemic is that more young people are here now. Eight years ago, a toddler in the street was a rarity. Now a couple of mams are out walking with their babes in prams. And the youngsters have moved into their early teens and are hanging out.

One elderly couple, László (91) and Mária (85), lived across from us until they moved into an old people’s home in the next village. I didn’t know them. Or perhaps I knew them to see but can’t place them. We’re not long down this end of the village.

Both recently died.

On the same day.

Within a few hours of each other.

And the one who died last didn’t know that the other had gone.

How lovely is that?

I’ve just finished reading Anxious People by Fredrik Backman, translated by Neil Smith from Swedish. It’s also on Netflix as a series, and his other book, A Man Called Ove, will soon be a movie starring Tom Hanks. Someone’s on his uppers! It’s a quirky read that jumps backwards and forwards from character to character, linking their stories in a novel way. In it, Julie asks Estelle (both hostages, by-products of a failed bank robbery):

‘How long have you been married?’ Estelle counted in her head until she ran out of numbers. ‘Knut and I have been married for ever. It’s like that when you get old. In the end there simply wasn’t ever a time before him.’

László and Mária perhaps felt the same way. But unlike countless others left behind when their spouses or partners die before them, they got to go together.

CNN reports on a couple married for 71 years who died within 12 hours of each other. The article speaks of broken heart syndrome.

‘Broken heart syndrome – which is, in fact, a real thing – is when someone finds out some shocking news, typically terrible news, and there’s a massive release of these stress hormones that are released into the bloodstream, and the heart is then bombarded with these stress hormones,’ said Dr. Matthew Lorber, a psychiatrist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York. Severe emotional shock can cause an abrupt weakening of the heart, which can mimic a heart attack.

But this wasn’t the case here. Or at least, so I’ve been told. Something could have gotten lost in translation.

And even if it did, I’m choosing to go with my version, which is that they knew. After so many years together, the surviving partner didn’t need to be told the other was dead. They simply knew. And they decided that they wanted to be with them. To go too. And they did.

The mind is a powerful thing. People can give up on life and die. That simple. No interventions. No drugs.

Frank Bures, writing in Salon, talks about British survival psychologist John Leach and his work: Dysexistential Syndrome: The Pathology of Psychogenic Deathaka death by despondency. In that same article, he mentions David Kissane’s work on demoralization:

“Depression is a loss of happiness, joy and pleasure in the here and now” Kissane says. “Demoralization is future-oriented, that I won’t be able to experience pleasure in the days and weeks, months ahead.”

It, too, can cause death.

I’ve heard a few people in the village comment that it was nagyon romantikus – very romantic. The two huge hearts made of roses that adorn the grave would seem to agree.

How lovely for both of them. For neither one to be left without the other.

It’s not for everyone, I know. For some, the death of a spouse/partner can be a blessed relief. After years of caring for them, their own life suspended, they can now get back to the business of living. Or not.

Am grateful for this reminder that there are happy endings because even if I don’t know the full story, I can believe this was one.

 Dying on the same day, hours apart, unknowing – that says it all.

As a PS, am also grateful at how beautifully kept our village cemetery is. Really like the new footpath and greenery.

Paved pathway turning a sharp left edged with young trees. Sunset in the background.

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