Broken Hearted


Scientifically, it is known as stress-induced cardiomyopathy. In other words, the heart stops because of significant stress or trauma. Nobody is really sure how many people it has killed, mainly because it almost always occurs alongside another illness or cause of death. They say it’s what killed Debbie Reynolds, even though official media coverage labelled it as a stroke. But enough of the medical jargon. People-at-large usually call it by it’s common name: Broken heart.

VANCOUVER, 1927

Fred Morrison – father of two – hadn’t come home that evening and his wife Ethel grew concerned. Their oldest child – son Jack – had just turned 13, and their daughter Eleanor was nearly 12. The news came a couple of days later; Fred had been found. Well, his body had been located at the very least; drudged up from the Fraser River. He was cold, lifeless, the coastal currents being rather unforgiving that time of year. Ethel took the news hard. She was, as one would expect, despondent. She was now a single mother raising not one, but two deaf children.

Ethel tried her best, no one could question her on that. It was more her mind, then her body that gave up, she was only 37 after all. Love can drive us wild, and perhaps when we lose the love of our life, we can lose all sense of sanity. There has always been a debate amongst Ethel’s descendants about what really happened to her. The official medical report lists suicide as the cause of death, and that is probably true. She was found in a hotel room after all. Knowing how she felt about Fred, however, would cause her grandchildren to say that she died of a broken-heart. And that, is probably also true.

TORONTO, 2012

Tim Mogg had had a good life: a successful career in the film industry as a special effects make-up artist, strong relationship with his partner Janet, and he had recently reconnected with his nieces and nephews, some of whom he hadn’t seen in nearly 20 years. He had always one issue plague him however, and that was epilepsy. He had always seizures, although sometimes they were easier to control than others. He could go for years without having one, and then several could arise in a relatively short period of time. April 29 was one of those occasions.

He had just come down the stairs to the ground floor of the home he shared with Janet when the convulsions started. Nothing really out of the unusual, Janet had been through this before and was quite prepared. It quickly became apparent however that something was different about this encounter, and that something wasn’t good. He was gone a short while later, his heart having stopped, unable to bring him back from his accident. Tragically, he was just 48, leaving behind his two older siblings and his 85 year old mother. Janet would survive though, in large part, thanks to Tim’s strong family – particularly his sister and niece, but this is not a tale about Janet.

CALGARY, JUNE 2015

Roger had moved back to Canada a few years prior having spent the last decade-plus abroad in The Philippines. His family had decided to return to his home country on account of his health, which had been in decline over the last several years. Often considered the black sheep of his family, his immediate relatives would not even meet his wife and daughter until after his passing.

Similar to his younger brother, Roger had always had a spate of health problems – both mental and physical. He had had a lung removed earlier in his life, caused by a smoking habit which he had picked up from his late father Mike. His weight was also another issue. Years of not looking after himself properly had taken its toll. By January, he had a caregiver full-time at the home. He passed away six months later. His surviving sibling, a sister, was able to see him in his final days, and become close with his wife and daughter, and did his youngest nephew, whom he had not even seen in nearly two decades. Tina was just 13 when her father died. Both her and her mother Olivia remained strong, and found themselves supported by the tight-knit Filipino community in Calgary. But this is not a story about them.

VICTORIA, AUGUST 2015

By almost every account, Jeannie Mogg had had a tough life. She was orphaned at the age of 7, and she and her sister were sent to a different home then their brother. Jeannie only saw them a handful of times throughout their lives. If that wasn’t enough, she had recently found out that she had outlived not one, but both of her sons. She had taken the news of Tim’s death well as she always knew the dangers of epilepsy. Surprisingly for her family, she took Roger’s a lot harder. She had been in declining health for about the last five years, and her elder son’s death, seemed to have been the final blow.

Although that passing gave her permission to go, Granny, as she was affectionally called by those close to her, didn’t just go wistfully into the night. Her spirit held on long enough to meet Roger’s family – the granddaughter and daughter-in-law she never knew she had. The two of them had just come to Victoria to meet the rest of the family and to spread the rest of Roger’s remains. Even after Jeannie went into palliative care at the Hospice, she held on for a surprising number of days; her many days of walking several kilometres no doubt a strong factor. She finally went on August 25, exactly two months after her son’s passing.

By now, dear reader, you may be wondering how all these stories are linked and what on earth they have to do with Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds. I suppose, truly speaking, that they are unrelated, and yet in a way, we are all connected. Both Ethel Morrison and Jeannie Mogg were women who could have been said to have died of a broken heart, and many feel that the same symptom befell Debbie Reynolds, who died only a day after the passing of her daughter. But there is one other, final common link.

NEW YORK, AMERICAN THANKSGIVING, 2016

This day will always be seared in my memory. We were walking to Thanksgiving dinner at Club 40/40, I was with two friends that I had met on my travels. We had reached Chelsea and were coming close to our destination. Suddenly, Tay and Bex bumped into a lady walking her dog, a French bulldog, to be specific. Right in the middle of the street. Apologies were exchanged and the ladies eyed the dog. Just as we were about to continue on our merry way, the woman looked up. That’s when I saw her: Princess Leia in the flesh. Being a huge Star Wars fan, I told her how much I admired her and managed to get away with a photo. Then we parted and went on to have a lovely meal.

That was November 23. She had her heart attack exactly one month to the day after our encounter, and passed four days later, on December 27, followed by her mother one day later. It’s a pretty surreal feeling knowing that you were one of the last people to obtain a photograph with a specific person. Especially someone of Carrie’s ilk. The twin passing are definitely going to be hard on Billie Lourd, Carrie’s daughter. But if the women in her family are any indication, Billie is strong and will persevere.

I guess that’s what this is tale is really about, strong women. I should know for I am the man that links these tales together. Ethel Morrison was my great-grandmother, and Jeannie Mogg my beloved Granny. And of course, I was the one who spotted Carrie Fisher. It is difficult to know for sure whether these women died of a broken heart, but what I do know is that the love they had for the people in their life – whether it be spouses or children – was absolute. Ethel adored Fred and simply could not live without him. Debbie couldn’t stand to be without her daughter and wanted to join her. Granny simply decided she was no longer needed.

Ultimately, this a tale about strong women, both the survivors and the fallen, and the people they loved. Whether or not this is a trend that continues in my family remains to be seen. I am not one to talk, but I feel that this is a dying art form, this kind of connection, this specific type of passion. Deep down, I hope that I should ever be so lucky to experience this. Well, not the broken-hearted part.

-DM

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