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Do More People Die Around the Holidays?

Posted Dec 09 2009 3:59pm

Do more people die around the holidays? Yes, sadly they do–at least hospice numbers reflect a rise in deaths during the holiday season.

Some factors are obvious–flu, depression, car accidents to name a few. It’s hard on families–to have a loved one on the brink of death during what’s supposed to be a joyous time of year. Caregivers are torn between exhaustion and sometimes feel a tinge of relief after a long bout with cancer or heart disease. It’s hard to face the holidays while you’re grieving–and grieving starts long before your loved one dies.

A dear friend of mine worries if her dad will make it through this Christmas. Everything seems bitter-sweet. Her mom died near the holidays as well, and she misses her each year when she’s decorating the tree–something they used to do together. “I try to enjoy the season, but it’s hard. Hospice is coming three times a week–and we all know it won’t be long now.”

Perhaps the hardest thing to face is a new death. Recently, I met a woman at a care conference who just lost her son to AIDS. It’s only been two weeks, and she looked completely depleted–physically and emotionally. She says she doesn’t want a tree–she couldn’t stand to look at one. I told her I understood. It’s okay to “skip Christmas.”

Grief may get notched up a bit during the holidays. It may be that someone you love died during this time of year (even long ago) and your body has a “muscle memory” of that time in your life. You may not have verbalized it, but then it hits you-and it all makes sense.

Maybe it’s that you’re supposed to be happy that makes it so impossible to muster any joy or sentiment. Nobody wants to be told they have to decorate cookies or deck the halls. That’s not a should. Trust that if it’s a really rough time in your life that it won’t always be. It’s just for now. Be where you are. The only way I know through grief is to take one moment at a time. Even breathing or thinking can be so difficult at times.

Do what feels good. If you like driving around looking at lights, or going to see a performance of the Nutcracker, or sitting in front of a fire cracking nuts–do only what brings you a sense of peace. That’s the essence of this season. Don’t get caught up in the busy-ness, just do what’s easy.

“Treat yourself like you would your best friend,” I said to a friend who’s having a tough time. She’s one of the kindest, most giving, patient people I know. Too bad we don’t always extend that generosity to ourselves. I asked her what her best friend would tell her to do–she said, “She’d make me hot tea and tell me I can go put on my jammies.” Good advice–we should listen to ourselves once in a while.

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