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Did Jesus Die of a Broken Heart?

Here’s some psychological, biblical and historical evidence to provide some support that Jesus died from the “broken heart syndrome” (technically a psychosomatic phenomena called ”stress-induced cardiomyopathy“).

Psychological Studies

Older couples that have been married for many years suffer intense grief when their spouse suddenly dies.  Sometimes the husband and wife are so close that when the one dies, the other will soon follow because of the pain of being separated from their loved one.

People have studied the psychosomatic effects of rejection and separation.  Dr. James Lynch wrote a book called, The Broken Heart, in which he states:

“stress, pain, anxiety, fear and rage sometimes appear in indexes of textbooks on the heart but never love.  In surprising number of cases of premature coronary heart disease and premature death, interpersonal unhappiness, the lack of love and human loneliness, seem to appear as root causes of the physical problems.

We have learned that human beings have varied and at times profound effects on the cardiac systems of other human beings.  Loneliness and grief often overwhelm bereaved individuals and the toll taken on the heart can be clearly seen.  As the mortality statistics indicate this is not myth or romantic fairy tale.  All available evidence suggests that people do indeed die of broken hearts”

Dr. Arthur Brown has been acknowledged by over sixty medical journals and publications for his findings.  His findings also suggest a major relationship between heart disease and emotional stress.

Dr. David Jenkins states in the New England Journal of Medicine, “that a broad array of recent studies point with ever increasing certainty to the position that certain psychological, social and behavioral conditions do put persons at a higher risk of clinically manifest coronary disease”.

Dr. George Ingle from Rochester University Medical School, did a careful study for six years that explored the backgrounds of 170 sudden heart attack deaths.  His studies showed that a great majority of sudden death cases had a close personal lose precede their death.

Grief is proportional to intimacy.

The more you love somebody, the more you are hurt when that person dies or rejects you.  Can you be so close to somebody that their rejection can literally break your heart?

The Biblical Evidence

Jesus had a great amount of rejection and grief.  Let’s look first at what the Bible says about Jesus’ rejection.

He was despised and forsaken of men, a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and like one from whom men hid their face, he was despised, and we did not esteem Him” Isaiah 53:3.

“Jesus said to them, “Did you never read in the Scriptures, ‘The stone (the stone refers to Jesus) which the builders (teachers of Israel) rejected,this became the chief corner stone;” Matthew 21:42.

“But when the vine-growers saw the son, they said among themselves, ‘This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and seize his inheritance.’ And they took him, and threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him” Matthew 22:38-39.

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her!  How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling” Matthew 23:37.

“But first He must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation” Luke 17:25.

“He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and world did not know Him.  He came to His own and those who were his own did not receive Him” John 1:10-11.

“And you are unwilling to come to me that you might have life” John 5:40.

“’They hated Me without cause’” John 15:25b.

These are a few passages that talk about Jesus’ rejection.  There are others that state or imply His rejection by the world that He “so loved.”  Several of the parables are about how the multitudes rejected Jesus.  The parable of the landowner (Matt. 21:33-42), and the parable of the wedding feast (Matt.22:2-10) both depict the rejection of Jesus.

The scripture makes it clear that our Lord and Savior was rejected by the majority of those He loved.

Since love suffers when it cannot give

and intimacy is proportional to grief

we would assume that Jesus must have had an overwhelming grief.

The Bible states clearly that Jesus did indeed have great amounts of grief.

In Matthew chapter 26 verses 37 through 38, Matthew writes,

“And He took with Him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be grieved and distressed.  Then He said to them, ‘My soul is deeply grieved, to the point of death (italics added); remain here and keep watch with Me.’”

The entire chapter of Isaiah 53 describes Jesus’ grief.  Here are the excerpts: “A man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief”; “surely our griefs He Himself bore, and our sorrows he carried”; “But the Lord was pleased to crush Him, putting Him to grief”; and “As a result of the anguish of His soul, He will see it and be satisfied”.

Sweating Blood:

The gospel of Luke (22:44) states, “And being in agony he was praying very fervently; and His sweat became like drops of blood, falling down upon the ground.”

C. Truman Davis, M.D. writes in his book, The Crucifixion of Jesus,

“Though very rare, the phenomenon of Hematidrosis, or bloody sweat, is well documented.  Under great emotional stress, tiny capillaries in the sweat glands can break, thus mixing blood with sweat”.

Jesus bloody sweat is evidence of great grief.

Historical Evidence

The crucifixion was a horrible means of putting somebody to death.  The criminal was nailed onto the cross in such a way that his legs would be bent at the knees.  The bend in the knees placed all the criminals weight on his arms.  This, of course, hurt the hands, but it did more than hurt the hands.  The position that the cross placed the criminal in would cause muscle cramps throughout his body.

C. Truman Davis states (speaking of Jesus), “Hanging by His arms, the pectoral muscles are unable to act.  Air can be drawn into the lungs, but cannot be exhaled”  This disabled the criminal to let out his breath.  In order to prevent suffocation, the criminal would have to push up with his legs to change position.  After spasmodically pushing up with his legs, the criminal would take a quick breath of air before letting himself back down again.

A picture of a left ventricle experiencing stress-induced cardiomyopathy.

The criminal would eventually die of asphyxiation, or suffocation.  It was said that a strong man could hang on the cross, some say, up to ten days before their bodies were so tired that they could not continue the process to get breath.  Jesus, who was most likely a healthy man (he was a carpenter) was on the cross for only six hours before He died (Mark 15:25, 33).  Pilate, himself was astonished that Jesus died so quickly (Mark 15: 42-44).

The Roman soldiers were surprised Jesus died so quickly.  The Jews did not want the bodies of the criminals to remain on the cross over the Sabbath, so they

“asked Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away.  The soldiers therefore came, and broke the legs of the first man, and of the other man who was crucified with Him; (breaking the legs disabled the criminals to push up so that they could exhale the carbon dioxide; thus, the criminal would suffocate to death) but coming to Jesus, when they saw that He was already dead, they did not break His legs” John 19:31-33.

Jesus was in his early to middle thirties and was most likely a strong man since He was a carpenter and walked most everywhere He went.  If Jesus did die the normal crucifixion death, why did He die so quickly?  Couldn’t he have lived longer on the cross?

We read in John’s gospel (John 19:34) that “one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and immediately there came out blood and water.” C. Truman Davis writes concerning the medical significance of the blood and water, “We, therefore, have rather conclusive post-mortem evidence that Our Lord died, not the usual crucifixion death by suffocation, but of heart failure…” (8).  Heart failure that began to develop in the garden when Jesus was sweating blood, continued to build when he was rejected by many of his disciples and came to utter fruition when his people nailed him to a cross.

Let me suggest that Jesus died from stress-induced cardiomyopathy as a result of the rejection and grief he experienced as he walked the world.

Final thoughts from theologian Nicholas Wolterstorff:

God is love.  That is why he suffers.  To love our suffering, sinful world is to suffer.  God so suffered for the world that he gave up his only Son to suffer.  The one who does not see God’s suffering does not see his love.  God is suffering love.  Suffering is down at the center of things, deep down where the meaning is.  Suffering is the meaning of our world.  The tears of God are the meaning of history.

Between Life and Death

Today’s guest post is written by apprentice funeral director Patricia Fitchett.


I’m good with dead people. What kind of funeral director would I make if this were not so? Dead people don’t “freak me out” (most often asked question) nor do I become depressed through my dealings with them. They are quiet (duh!) and peaceful and I find a great sense of serenity knowing that no pain is present in them.

I’m pretty good with people who are alive.  They rarely “freak me out” (although there have been times) and my depression comes not from people, but from a lack of kindness or compassion. My friends and family are a precious gift.  It is the netherworld between life and death that causes me the most angst. I am very uncomfortable in the face of uncompromising pain or irreversible illness. A helplessness and uselessness overcome me and I don’t know what my role is.

As I write this, a person I love is existing in this netherworld. After a car accident, she was hospitalized and her injuries were severe enough that she was placed on a ventilator to keep her alive. Now if you have never been in the presence of a person undergoing mechanical ventilation, your frame of reference would be what you have seen on television. On TV, a person lays peacefully in bed with a tube in their mouth while air silently inflates their lungs. In reality, a ventilator has a very distinctive sound. There is clicking and whooshing and an unnatural inflation of the person’s body that is in no way reminiscent of actual human breath.

My first exposure to this was in 1996 when one of my sons was comatose. I will never forget the chilling sights and sounds of the machine that kept his tiny body alive and his necessary organs functioning. One of the most joyful moments in my life was when he started to breathe spontaneously and a refreshing “humanness” returned. Although the road to recovery was a long one, this step was the most significant.

All that came flooding back as I stood by my friend’s bedside and watched this noisy behemoth doing her breathing for her. Nothing can describe the pain of looking at someone’s unmarked perfect features and knowing that although they look like your friend, a distinct component of their humanity is absent. Life is breath after all and it is never more poignantly apparent than when breath is taken out of the equation.

Hospice nurses see this sort of thing all the time I suppose. They have inured themselves to be of service during that purgatory-like time between life and death. Although I have the utmost respect for nurses in general and hospice nurses in particular, I could never do the job that these brave and strong (and oftentimes wacky and irreverent) women and men do every day. I don’t have the fortitude to be present in the face of life’s ultimate transition.

That being said, I am honored to be someone with whom my friend’s family has chosen to share this sacred time. As painful as it is to stand by her bedside and witness the palpable grief pouring from her beloved partner, her family and her friends, it is a privilege to be in the presence of such strong love. Their anguish reminds me of the words of Kahlil Gibran who wrote “When you are sorrowful, look again in your heart and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.” And my friend is nothing if not delightful.

I don’t know what will happen between the time that I write this and when it is published. She may die. A miracle may happen and we will delight in seeing her recover. Whatever happens will be part of the grand plan of God or the Universe that brought us all into connection with her and so all will be well. The words of the poet Mary Oliver keep running through my head (in my friend’s kind, loving voice of course, because she introduced me to Mary Oliver’s poetry):

“To live in this world, you must be able to do three things:


to love what is mortal;


to hold it against your bones knowing your own life depends on it;


and, when the time comes to let it go, to let it go”

The time has come.

(UPDATE: The day after Patricia wrote this essay, her friend Georgette passed away.  In memoriam, Unitarian Universalist minister the Reverend Georgette Wonders, 1952-2014.)  



Patti Fitchett is an Apprentice Funeral Director with Casey Family Options Funerals and Cremations of Racine Wisconsin. Patti came to the funeral business as a lay minister and found an affinity for being of service to the families of Southeastern Wisconsin.

Ten Examples of Disenfranchised Grief

Grief shared is grief diminished.  When an individual dies, that death throws a web of relationships out of balance, causing the mourners to learn how to live in the new normal.  That new normal is best found together in community.

When grief isn’t shared.  When there is no community to share it.  When it isn’t recognized by society, then grief becomes complicated.

There are losses in our society that — for one reason or another — aren’t recognized.  This kind of grief is a disenfranchised grief.

Here are a couple forms of grief that often aren’t validated by society:

1.  Grief from miscarriages. This is a silent grief.  A grief that few people share; and when they do share, few people show compassion.  This is a grief for one who had no connections in life. No schoolmates, no friends, no co-workers … all of which translates to no funeral. A grief that can’t be shared.  A grief to be borne solely by the ones who conceived. A grief that is carried by the one who may now feel guilt upon silent grief because she miscarried.

This is a grief that is often carried alone. A grief that is too often complicated by guilt. A grief that is private and difficult to share. A grief for a nameless soul.

2.  Death of a pet. Pets become part of the family; and when they die it’s almost like losing a family member, except no one in the community recognizes your loss.  “It’s just a dog” is both true and false.  Yes, it may be a dog, but that dog was one of the truest friend you’ve ever had.  It was loved and it loved you.

3.  Grief from abortions. This topic has become so political that it has lost its human element.  Abortions are by nature a loss.  And some (many?) mothers who choose abortions will grieve, even though society tells them that “it was just a fetus.”

4.  Grief of the supporter. When death occurs, roles quickly play out.  There’s the main mourner(s) and there’s the supporting cast.  That supporting cast — those who take care of the main mourner (the spouse of the deceased, the children of the deceased) — are often very close to the deceased themselves.  But because they are the supporters, they simply aren’t allowed the time to grieve.  They are the strong ones.

5.  Grief from suicide.  Suicide is such a difficult, tragic and complicated death that those who are left behind are often not sure how to grieve … or if they should even grieve at all.  To complicate the issue, outside society can often look at suicide as such a taboo that they don’t recognize the grief of those surrounding the suicide.

6.  Grief from the death of an Ex. Whether it’s the death of an ex-spouse, ex-lover or ex-boyfriend/girlfriend, if the deceased is the “ex” there’s an assumption that you aren’t allowed to grieve, because that relationship “has already been severed.”

7.  Grief over a loss that isn’t a person.  Businesses fail, marriages fail, dreams go unfulfilled, you (or a loved one) loses a function due to sickness (such a dementia).  The sweat equity that goes into a business; the hopes and passions of a marriage; the hard work and sacrifices that come with pursing dreams; and the slow death that comes with a disease like dementia; these are all real.  And when society tells you, “buck up”, you need to know that you have permission to grieve.

8.  When you grieve differently than others.  We all grieve differently because we each have a unique relationship with the deceased.  Sometimes, though, the way we express our grief is different from the way your family, friends and community expresses their grief.  Perhaps you cry “too much” or perhaps you cry “too little.”  If you find that you express yourself differently, you may also find yourself unintentionally ostracized.

9.  Grief from an “invisible” or misunderstood illness.   Empathy is often seen as coddling for those who suffer with “invisible illnesses” like fibromyalgia, or misunderstood illnesses, like depression and bi-polar disorder.  So the sufferer is left to suffer alone.

10.  Children and grief.  While some parents may feel obligated to shield their children from death (a practice I see all too often), parents should be careful not to remove their children from the community of grief, and so revoke the child’s right to feel.  Not only should we recognize that death confrontation provides our children with incredible teaching moments, we should also realize that children do indeed grieve.  They are connected.  They love.  They feel.  And so when death comes, they grieve.  Depending on their developmental stage, they will grieve differently than adults.  But as long as they are apart of our family, of the community of the deceased, they have the right to grieve with us.


When disenfranchised grief occurs, there can be multiple problems that can result: depression, withdraw, self-esteem issues, substance abuse and even psychosomatic illness.

If you have experienced grief that was disallowed by society, it is important to remember this: YOU HAVE PERMISSION TO GRIEVE.  YOU HAVE PERMISSION TO GRIEVE IN YOUR OWN WAY.  YOU HAVE PERMISSION TO GRIEVE IN YOUR OWN TIME.

And, you’ve been the one who has disallowed another’s grief because you don’t understand it, or you feel the need to “shield” them from death (i.e. children), it’s important that you learn to EXTEND PERMISSION TO THOSE YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND.


Have you ever experienced disenfranchised grief?

Have you even been the one who has disenfranchised someone else’s grief?

Why You May Never Heal

1144Pop psychology has implied that our grief can one day “heal.”  That one day, we’ll come to a place — after going through an extensive emotional process — where we’re back to normal, as if the brokenness we feel has been mended.

In Kubler-Ross’ model, she listed five stages:





and acceptance.

Many of us (myself included) have been taught that Kubler-Ross’ five stages are in fact stages of grief; or a process that a bereaved person goes through after they’ve experienced the death of someone close.  But Kubler-Ross’ model described the stages she saw in people who were dying; not a prescription for those going through a grief process. 

Pop psychology has made Kubler-Ross’ model to be a model of grief and assumed that throughout the whole grief process, the bereaved should be experiencing what Freud called “decathexis”, which is a removal of emotional energy from the deceased; a detachment. Freud suggested that during and after “decathexis” we will take those emotional energies and reinvest them into another object or person in a process called “recathexis.” Essentially, we find other people to love … and use them to fill the “love hole” left by the deceased.

The assumption in pop psychology’s and Freud’s model is that the end of the grief process (healing, acceptance) is a form of detachment from the deceased.

But, I think they’re wrong.

Anna Lamott writes,

“You will lose someone you can’t live without, and your heart will be badly broken, and the bad news is that you never completely get over the loss of your beloved. But this is also the good news. They live forever in your broken heart that doesn’t seal back up. And you come through. It’s like having a broken leg that never heals perfectly—that still hurts when the weather gets cold, but you learn to dance with the limp.”

Instead of saying that the end of the grief process is detachment and healing, I think we should say that the healthy end of the grief process is adjustment. It’s adjusting to the fact that your loved one is no longer here to share life experiences with you. It’s adjusting to the loss of the future, but there’s never a detachment from the past.

We simply have on-going bonds with the deceased. They will forever be apart of us and instead of trying to “heal” and find “decathexis” (although I don’t think Freud’s idea is categorically wrong), we must learn to adjust and dance with our limp.

Over time, you will learn to adjust to the death of a loved one. A part of you has been lost and you will never find it again, so you must learn to live without it. But, don’t confuse your adjustment for healing. You may never heal.

This from Jandy Nelson over the loss of her sister, Bailey:

“My sister will die over and over again for the rest of my life. Grief is forever. It doesn’t go away; it becomes a part of you, step for step, breath for breath. I will never stop grieving Bailey because I will never stop loving her. That’s just how it is. Grief and love are conjoined, you don’t get one without the other. All I can do is love her, and love the world, emulate her by living with daring and spirit and joy.”

Maybe the reason we never heal is because our love never dies.

10 Requests Funeral Homes Should NEVER Hear


The other day someone emailed me and asked, “What are some odd requests that families have asked funeral directors to perform?”  Honestly, it seems like every other day we’re asked to do something “odd.”  These “odd requests” are a burden that every funeral director has to bear.

 And yet, there are some odd requests that are exceptional.

I asked my Confessions of a Funeral Director facebook page a similar question and here are the top ten oddest requests.  If you aren’t accustomed to PG-13 topics and are grossed out by anatomy talk, before you get offended it’s probably best that you stop right here and and don’t continue reading this list which is morbid and kinda gross … but, nevertheless, part of the experience of being a funeral director.





















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