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Cause of Death: Broken Heart? For a couple in the Portland area their family thinks so.



Their obituaries are printed side by side. Their families, the same. The dates of their death are two days.

For a couple Gresham it seems they can not live without each other.

59-year-old Risa Slaun died first. At the end of May, she was diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis. Doctors said she had a few years left to live. But two weeks later her husband Allen kissed her farewell and left the phone on her pillow. By the middle of the morning of June 10, she had disappeared.

Allen's daughter Kristen Schlaun said her father's grief was too much. On June 12, he also died.

He was a healthy 60-year-old man. Kristen believes he has died from a broken heart.

***

Risa and Alan's relationship began as a whirlwind. They were neighbors in Gresham. Everyone had two children from a previous marriage. Kristen remembers that the couple "barely" dated before marrying.

In the autumn of 1994, they headed for Reno. They came home with a Polaroid from the ceremony and a box filled with hotel items, receipts and memories of their wedding ceremony on October 7th.

Kristen was 12 when Risa and Allen married. She remembers that marriage is difficult for children – placing two families can be a challenge. But that did not prevent Risa and Allen from promoting their family experiences. They took children to camping and fishing around Oregon in the summer. Kristen remembers the frequent visit of Timothy Lake during her childhood.

As the children moved, the pair's traditions focused on their own hobbies. They have often traveled to a campsite and taken their trailer to the beach. Riesa gardens – she was growing everything – from fruits and vegetables to hydrangeas and roses. Alan played golf and watched the New York Yankees.

The garden has also become one of their favorite activities. Kristen said the two of them love to spoil their four grandchildren with princess crowns, a BB pistol and a drawer, full of Jolly Ranchers and licorice ropes.

After Rizza's diagnosis, they focused on making the most of their time together. Risa relied on his faith. But Alan was more upset.

"She had such a strong belief system that everything would have been right in the way she was supposed to be," Kristen said. "While he was a faithful man, it really was difficult for him to understand."

***

Officially, Alan dies for unknown reasons. The family has opposed an autopsy after it has been established that there is no evidence of unfair play or self-harm. Kristen suspects that the loss, combined with a possible exhaustion of heat – that's 95 degrees that day – was too much for him.

Psychological stress at times like grief can have a severe physiological effect, experts say. Dr Allen Theo, associate professor of psychiatry at Oregon University of Health and Science, said the model of the dying husbands is one common enough to have a name: the effect of widowhood. When one of the spouses dies, there is an increased risk of death for the other.

"This talks about the idea of ​​the amazing idea that at some level, a person's death can somehow convey and influence the likelihood of the other," Theo said.

Studies of adult couples have found that the risk of death increases in the coming months and years compared to the relationships in which both partners are alive. Loneliness "creates a number of health risks," such as cognitive decline and depression, Theo said.

Cardiologists have their own diagnosis of the physiological stress of a person: cardiomyopathy. Broken Heart Syndrome.

Dr. Adrien Kovac, an associate professor and psychologist at the Conservative Conservation Institute of the OHSU, says intensive stressors – emotional or otherwise – can leave mental changes in the heart. Most of those diagnosed with cardiomyopathy recover. This is temporary pain.

Kovacs said it is important to recognize unusual symptoms, even during the low points of life.

"Sometimes when traumatic events happen and we feel really bad physically, we tend to reject these symptoms because you think it's emotional," Kovac said. "For me, when we see any physical symptoms that feel serious, we need to seek medical help."

Alan's emotional stress was obvious to Kristen on June 11, the day after Rizza's death. Kristen described it as a maniac. One minute she planned to travel with grandchildren. In the next, he was confused by the lack of his wife.

– The last 25 years of his life have had such a routine. She would call her at lunch. He would have called her home and talked most of the trip home again, "Kristen said. But that was more than routine. She was his person.

***

For the Splawns family the losses were heavy. Kristen said she was focusing on helping her missing children.

"Most days I think I'm doing well," said Kristen, who lives only a mile from his parents' home. Her brothers live in Portland, Damascus and Bend.

She paused, thinking more, then admitted that she might be numb when she was busy with work and wedding preparation. Her brother Tyler married at the end of the month. He is the first of the boys who married. Rizza was excited – she would bring some of her garden to the ceremony.

"We're reviewing the proposals," Kristen admitted.

Allen's birthday is Monday. He would be 61 years old. His family can go fishing in Timothy Lake in his honor.

The family may never know the true cause of Alan's death. Kristen is good. It is more important to consider the relationship between her father and her stepmother as solid and inspiring.

– Marriage is not perfect. They definitely had moments, "Kristen said. "At the end of the day, they were together and would never want to divorce."

– McKenna Ross

mross@oregonian.com

503-221-5776; @mckenna_ross_

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