Nautilus

Can You Die From a Broken Heart?

Ruth and Harold “Doc” Knapke met in elementary school. They exchanged letters during the war, when Doc was stationed in Germany. After he returned their romance began in earnest. They married, raised six children and celebrated 65 anniversaries together. And then on a single day in August 2013, in the room they shared in an Ohio nursing home, they died.

“No relationship was ever perfect, but theirs was one of the better relationships I ever observed,” says their daughter Margaret Knapke, 61, a somatic therapist. “They were always like Velcro. They couldn’t stand to be separated.”

For years, Knapke says, she and her siblings watched their father’s health crumble. He suffered from longstanding heart problems and had begun showing signs of dementia. He lost interest in things he once enjoyed, and dozed nearly all the time. “We asked each other, why do you suppose he’s still here? The only thing we could come up with was that he was here for Mom,” she says. “He’d wake up from a long snooze and ask, ‘How’s your mother?’ ”

Then Ruth developed a rare infection. Lying unconscious in the nursing-home room she shared with Doc, it became clear she was in her final days. The Knapke children sat down to tell Doc that she wasn’t going to wake up again. “He didn’t go back to sleep. I could see he was processing it for hours,” says Margaret. He died the next morning, and Ruth followed that evening.

Knapke sees her parents’ same-day deaths as a conscious decision—two hearts shutting off together. “My feeling was that he

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