Surviving the Broken Heart Syndrome
I’ll never forget the day I literally and physically felt my heart break beneath a burden of grief I believed was too heavy for me to bear. I realize now I had actually suffered from “Broken Heart syndrome” that day.
Over seven years ago, I was standing at the kitchen sink in my parent’s house, washing dishes like I had countless times before, when suddenly I felt an intense heavy pressure in my chest. It was as if someone had their hand around my heart and was squeezing the life out of it. It became difficult to breathe or talk to let my family know I was having trouble.
I leaned against the kitchen counter with one hand while the other I held over my heart, trying to slow it down. Tears fell down my face as I prayed, “God, I think I’m dying, and to be honest, I’m ok with the thought of that.”
After doing some research, I discovered that having a “broken heart” is an actual medical condition and can be pretty serious in some instances. It turns out “heartbreak” can be an actual physical condition and not just a way to describe deep sadness or grief. Extreme stress or emotion will cause the heart to briefly interrupt how it pumps blood, sometimes contracting more forcefully, weakening the muscle and making it feel like you’re having a heart attack.
For the first time, I understood why they describe deep grief and sadness in terms of a broken heart.
Two days before, I had woken up to several missed calls and a voicemail from my Dad. As I listened to the message asking me to call him back, my heart was already beginning to break. Before Dad spoke the words that would change my life forever, I knew my Mom was gone. My brain couldn’t process the how of it, but my heart just knew.
It’s crazy how quickly life can change; that morning, my precious Mother woke up early, had her Quiet Time and a cup of coffee, fed my Dad breakfast, caught her horse, and proceeded to spend the day like a thousand others before that; working cattle beside her husband. But shortly after being in the saddle, she was taken from us.
Now everything just felt off. Standing in my mom’s kitchen without her being there was the most unnatural feeling I’d ever experienced. How many dishes had she and I washed over the years, all while having deep conversations with plenty of laughter and tears?
Today I can think about those memories and smile through the tears, but that day it was all too much, and I thought God was going to take me to join my mom right then and there.
Grief is such an impossibly complex and painful emotion to go through, and yet, it’s something we can’t escape. At some point in our lives, grief will touch us all. We’ll each experience a profound loss that makes us feel like we won’t survive.
And yet, God doesn’t waste our pain. Instead, when we are the weakest and most vulnerable, in His love, wisdom, mercy, and grace, He uses those hard things to refine and strengthen us.
It took time for me to see all He had done through my loss, but today I recognize that the Lord wasn’t trying to break my heart but desired to strengthen and refine it. He didn’t want me to ignore or try to make my grief more comfortable to myself or those around me, He wanted to use it to draw me close and point others to Him.
God uses the hardest, most painful moments in our lives to bring an awareness of our absolute need for Him.
In those moments I depended on God for every breath I took and for daily direction in how to put one foot in front of the other and do the next thing before me.
David was well-educated about this kind of heartbreak. He says in Psalm 38:10, “My heart throbs; my strength fails me, and the light of my eyes – it also has gone from me.” The anguish we feel amid some of life’s most brutal circumstances is powerful enough to knock us off our feet.
Still, if our foundation is built on the steadfast faith we receive in Christ, God can take our broken hearts and create something more beautiful and refined to reflect His image to others.
Like David, my hope in this life is not that it will be without heartbreak but that He is right there beside me, as David says later in Psalm 38, “But for you, O Lord, do I wait; it is you, O Lord my God who will answer.”
God doesn’t leave us to face our worst fears and deepest pain alone, He’s there with us and will bring an exquisite refining strength if we let Him. After all, He is close to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit. (Psalm 34:18)
Jana MacCarrie Fraley is a Christian writer and speaker, as well as a ranch wife and mom. Her heart’s passion is for discipling & encouraging women as they pursue an active and enduring faith in Jesus by seeking God’s truth through His Word, developing a Biblical Worldview, and finding contentment through their hope in Christ. She has collaborated on one devotional book, “Tapestry of Grace,” and has created and written “The Truth Journal, A 30-Day Guided Journal to Combat the Lies of the Enemy With the Truth of God’s Word” . Jana has also written for various other print and online publications, including The Kindred Mom, Living By Design, The Joyful Life Magazine, and Faith Storytellers. She does all of this with her family’s Wyoming ranch as the backdrop, where she and her husband, Mike, have made a life together raising kids and cattle. You can connect with her on her website, Facebook, or Instagram.