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I am excited to have my first guest blogger.  Deborah Varnam is a Family Nurse Pracitioner and owner of Varnum Family Wellness Center, in Shalotte, NC.  Deborah is not only a great FNP, but also my friend.  I know you will enjoy this blog!

My Heart is Broken, What Now?

Deborah C Varnam, MSN, FNP-BC, FAANP

Many times, patients express that they are having a hard time dealing with the death of a loved one.  Often, the question becomes how long will I suffer from this broken heart and why is it not getting better? Broken hearts are grieving. Grieving can occur because of the death of a loved one, the chronic illness of self or a loved one, major rejection, divorce, incarceration and the list goes on and on. Simply, grief is a reaction to a major loss. It is most often an unhappy and painful emotion. Everyone feels and deals with grief in a very personal way. There is no right or wrong way to handle grief.

There are different stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depressed mood and acceptance. The stages of grief are fluid, meaning that one can experience any of the stages at any time, not in any particular order and more than one stage can be experienced at one time. And, sometimes, not all the stages are felt by everyone.  

  • Denial is a temporary defense mechanism. Often described as “I feel fine” or “this cannot be happening to me”.
  • Anger includes feelings of range and defiance. It occurs once one realizes that denial is no longer possible. I often hear things like: “Why is this happening to me?” or “Why me, this is not fair!”
  • Bargaining involves the hope that the devastating event can be postponed. For example, “I know I am dying but I need more time with my children” or “If I could just have a little longer with Ellen”.
  • Depression involves the certainty of the event precipitating the grieving process and includes feelings of despair and hopelessness.  In this stage, silence and crying may be common. Many times people feel as if they cannot go on. Commonly expressed as “I am so sad, I can’t do anything right!” If this stage lasts longer than a month or two or symptoms are severe, treatment may be necessary. Treatment could include medications and/or counseling.
  • Acceptance, the final stage of grieving, is knowing that the event has occurred or will occur and having the strength to move on. It is at this time, that one comes to term with their own mortality or their loved one’s mortality. 

When people are grieving they reach for strength at every opportunity. They lean on friends, family and faith. Many times grief is very public and friends and family come to the grieving person, family or situation. Sometimes, grief is very personal and others are not aware of the devastating loss. Everyone deals with grief in a different but perfectly acceptable way.

I find that when I am faced with a situation of devastation like the loss of a family member, I focus on my faith. My friends and family are of utmost importance to me and help me through difficult times but I find my relationship with God supersedes all other sources of peace. Others may deal with grief in very different ways. Some are very private, some are very public and some are somewhere between. 

Over the years, many people have asked how to cure a broken heart. The short answer is that there is no quick cure for a broken heart. Grief can last for weeks to months and sometimes years. Time does seem to make all emotionally broken hearts a bit more mended.  Sometimes, the answers to the “why” questions come and sometimes they don’t. Either way, time mends the soul regardless of the way an individual copes.  Faith, family, friends and time seem to be the answer.

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