It was Sunday morning, and I was sitting eating some late breakfast and reading the obituaries in the Washington Post.  I very often peruse the obits, you can find truly incredible, sometimes astounding,  sometimes heartwarming, even life-affirming tales woven into those pages. It can often be a microcosm of remarkable yet virtually unknown lives well lived, all in a four page splash of black ink.

I came across the combined obituary of Walter and Joann Robuck of nearby Falls Church. It struck me odd at first that a couple would be co-memorialized in one obituary, something fairly uncommon to this seasoned obit-reader.  But in reading further, I got why. I got exactly why.


Walter died on Saturday February 28th. Joann died 8 days later on Sunday March 8th. Joann died eight days, a little over a week, after losing her husband. Walter and Joann Robuck were married for nearly 50 years, spending nearly half a century as husband and wife, and quite possibly as partners, as parents, as friends, as lovers, and seemingly as soulmates. And they ended their life’s journey at almost the same time.

Every indication points to another case of  what’s often called “broken heart syndrome.” If you’ve heard of it, or even if you haven’t, odds are you know someone who has fit the profile. Medically speaking, it’s called “stress cardiomyopathy”, and is the trauma the heart experiences as a result of tremendous stress, also accompanied by a sharp rise in adrenaline and certain metabolites. In other words, the body is so jolted by trauma, particularly the loss of a loved one, that the heart is literally “stunned” as chemicals are released in massive amounts, chemicals directly related to the experienced stress. And if you are already ill or sickly, as many elderly people are in one way or the other, then the body cannot take the additional shock of the loss and shuts down.

Speaking of the same scenario more emotionally, and I guess more romantically, the tremendous stress associated with the sudden loss of a close loved one can cause such trauma, such anguish, sadness, and even anger and fear, that the person just doesn’t have the strength, the desire, the will, to go on without their partner, and seemingly dies of a “broken heart.”  Sure, there are medical reasons for everything, and again, often the spouse has a pre-existing and possible life-threatening condition at their advanced age. But if there’s ever been something that seems to fit a case like Walter and Joann Robuck, “broken heart syndrome” is IT.

How do I know? Oh…I know.


My Mom and Dad were married for 46 years when my dad got sick in May of 2004 and died on November 19. They were each other’s soulmate and lifelong partner, spending virtually every waking moment together that entire 46 years and even some before they were married. Although my Mom had chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (she smoked for 50 years), her condition was not considered in any way dire. In fact, we brought her down to Virginia after my dad died, enjoyed her company over the weeks before and after Thanksgiving, planned out Dad’s memorial service, and then headed back up to Connecticut with her for the service on December 4th. We even talked about her moving south to be closer to her grandchildren, an idea she nodded to me about but never really had any intention of doing.

Although I knew that life for my Mom was never to be the same, that she had lost the closest friend she ever had and her constant companion, she made it through the services and the like, frail yet resolute, and we left her in her bed in mourning on the morning of December 5th and headed back home. She would be found passed away two days later by police I had sent over when I became concerned her phone was busy all day. She was holding the phone in her hand.

Yes my Mom had a predisposition to illness with her COPD. Yes, she was not in the best shape of her life. But she was not ready to die. That is, until the love of her life left her, and then, with one hand on the phone and one possibly on her broken heart, she took Dad’s “hand” and joined him in the afterlife.  That makes sense to me, somehow, in some otherwordly, emotional way. As their only child, and amidst the lingering grief I still feel almost five years later, it gives me some peace to think that she simply didn’t want to live without him, and slipped into death knowing they would soon be together.

Is this really what happened with my parents? With the Robucks? That the will to live just gave out? Or was it just because it was also their time to die, and it was purely by coincidence that it was the same month, week or almost the day they lost their spouse and best friend. No one really knows. But as the child of two people who spent virtually their entire lives together, it sure is a beautiful thought. It masks the grief and sadness with a sense of, I don’t know, poetic justice, the justice of loving someone for so long that having that kind of love means you’d get to join them in eternity.

Sad, but somehow, in some way, oh so beautiful too.


3 Responses to “BROKEN HEARTS”

  1. I can only say that in my second life, I do hope that I find that kind of love. I’m not giving up and I envy those who have that special someone; that special friend, lover, soulmate. I am a firm believer in that, there is someone out there for everyone. I know there is for me; he just hasn’t found me!

    You were truly blessed to have that in your family. I did too, in mine. My grandparents were married for 56 years! As my grandfather used to say, “56 years with the wrong woman!” My folks, 34+ and still going!!

    Thank you for sharing!

  2. Jennifer Says:

    JoAnn and Walt were my grandparents, and today marks the 5th anniversary of her death. Their love was beautiful, patient and kind. I read this post every so often as a reminder. Thank you for you beautiful words.

    • midliferocker Says:

      Wow, Jennifer, I just read this comment. I had no idea you had read this post before. Reading yours from yesterday really floored me on this Monday morning. A post like yours makes the writing I do worthwhile. I remember seeing that obit and being so moved,. I wish you peace and beautiful memories of your grandparents. Best, Steve

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