We all love the holidays right? Look around; everyone is happy. I’m in New York City, surrounded by friends extra dressed up for holiday parties, coworkers on a sugar-high from all the seasonal sweets, children on their best behavior (hoping to please Santa), tourists eagerly filling the streets shopping or awing at the Rockefeller tree, heck, even the buildings on Fifth and Madison Avenue seem happy to be decorated and lit up.
I’m giddy like everyone else; I don’t leave home in December without a crazy pair of Christmas socks to keep my feet warm. Unfortunately, the socks are often completely covered by dark suit pants and black shoes. I, a funeral director, am most busy during the holiday seasons. Why?
Nobody actually knows for sure why, but the statistics are there; more people die around the holidays. Emma Ines noted in the Daily Mail that people are most likely to die on Christmas, New Years Day and Boxing Day (she’s British). There are all sorts of theories on why this might happen; sick patients get caught up and forget about regular checkups, people have poor diets and lifestyles during the holidays, or even due to a younger staff on call at the hospital could all be possibilities. I, however, go along with the theory, “it could be because people experience more stress and, sometimes, more sadness at Christmas.”
Again, I’m no Grinch, I’m simply a realist who is not blinded festive decorations. While I love nothing more than the opportunity to continue Italian traditions with my mom, I find us frequently speaking about my late father. There is comfort in referencing one of his nonsensical sayings, but there is also pain. I am not alone. Obit writer, Andrew Meacham, noted, “There seems to be a correlation between body and mind here.” Next, CNN quoted hospital worker, Stephanie Kohler saying, “We want to make sure we are ready for any phone calls to make sure people are all right in their grief, the holidays definitely are a harder time of year for people when this happens, especially since they are such a time steeped in tradition and family.” She suggests that during this time of year, we all be extra sensitive to those who may be mourning or lonely. That’s a wonderful message to keep in the back of our minds even after the decorations have come down.
Lately, research has proven the correlation between loneliness and death. “Researchers in the US looked at 218 studies into the health effects of social isolation and loneliness involving nearly four million people.They discovered that lonely people had a 50 percent increased risk of early death, compared to those with good social connections.” Moreover, according to AARP, “around 42 million adults over the age of 45 could be suffering from chronic loneliness.” That number is significant and we as a society need to address it. The world has changed; people are having fewer children later in life, and nowadays it’s common for families to spread out and share less time together.
Earlier this month, The New York Times published a profoundly moving piece “A Generation in Japan Faces a Lonely Death.” Here, the author focuses on building complexes out side of Tokyo where elderly men and women living out their final years sad and alone. Disturbingly, the record number of unnoticed deceased bodies caused health concerns and thus sparked others to take action. There are now monthly lunches to foster relationships, volunteers who look after the elderly, and more (albeit minimal) bonding among tenants. As deeply heartbreaking as the article was, it showed that with some effort, great change can happen.
At this time of year, while there are many you see with smiles on their faces, I beg you to take a minute to think about others suffering behind closed doors. There are so many challenges diseases that we individuals can’t fight, let’s make a difference where we can. Please, in the spirit of the holidays, reach out to someone who might need a friend. Together, we can change the statistics and make the holidays even merrier.