Last updated: March 2022
The word ‘heart’ has many literal and figurative meanings, especially if combined with a word like ‘have,’ as in ‘to have heart.’ A heart is an organ that pumps blood through our circulatory system and keeps us alive.
Emotions and traits
Figuratively, it can be the center of our emotions, especially love, compassion, generosity, or loyalty, sometimes referred to as ‘having a big heart.’ To ‘have heart’ implies being merciful or having a will to win, like a great athlete. It can mean having courage, determination, or being robust and healthy.
The term ‘broken heart’ also comes with literal and figurative meanings. For anyone dealing with symptoms of heart failure, it can literally mean having a ‘broken heart,’ one that isn’t functioning normally, that maybe can’t be fixed. Figuratively, it’s a metaphor for “intense emotional stress related to great and deep longing.” Often it refers to the unwanted end of a romantic relationship, but it can also be the result of intense grief over the loss of a loved one.
I am fortunate that my heart condition, coronary artery disease, is treatable, and does not severely impede my health and lifestyle, as long as I mind my diet, exercise, and take the medications prescribed by my cardiologist. But my family and I have recently experienced a sudden loss that has resulted in a far deeper and more painful understanding of having a broken heart.
My wife, Melinda, and I have three adult sons, ages forty-one (Devin), thirty-eight (Willie), and thirty-two (Brady). I say have, and in our minds, we will always have three sons, but in truth, we now have only two living sons. Our son Willie, who struggled with substance abuse problems for many years, died from an overdose on February 9, 2022. We learned of that loss when a Sheriff’s Department Deputy came to our front door on the morning of the 9th to ask us if we had a son named William and deliver the news of his death.
Even more grief
There is no greater fear for a parent than the thought of losing a child. For many years Melinda and I were aware of our son’s struggles and we had witnessed a variety of consequences. We always strove to balance fear with hope, the idea that someday our son would find sobriety and reclaim his life. Our hope was dashed that morning, and our hearts were broken as well.
Writing this several weeks later, we now know that grieving will be a life-long process and that our hearts will never fully mend, nor will the hearts of our other sons. Watching them grieve has been like a second level of grief for our loss. It’s hard to watch your children experience intense pain.
Comfort from others
Despite his addiction, Willie was a good man, beloved by everyone who knew him. Like any other disease, addiction does not define character. His innate goodness, kindness, love, and compassion were recognized by the 300 friends and family who attended his celebration of life, including 37 fellow surfers who paddled out in turbulent surf to honor him while his brothers spread some of his ashes in the sea, his favorite place.
The love shown to him has been a great comfort to our broken hearts. The heart: our most vital organ and our most vulnerable, literally and figuratively.
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