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Why is grief so common during the holidays?

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It's not uncommon to come across someone who is grieving over the holidays because he or she lost a loved one around this time of year in the past. In fact, it seems like more deaths occur during December (around Christmas, Hanukkah, etc.), May (around Mother's Day) and June (around Father's Day) than any other times of year.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, in 2011 and 2012 about 20,000 more deaths occurred in December, January and March than during the other months of the year. While March doesn't fit with this article's hypothesis, December and January do. Why is it that more people die in the US during these months?

In the 18th century, English author Anthony Trollope wrote:

Indeed, there are seasonal fluctuations in U.S. deaths. One’s chances of dying in the winter months are significantly greater than in the summer. This is a statistical fact. It is generally true regardless of where one lives in the U.S., and it is borne out year after year.

Was he a visionary or did he just have a keen eye and a curious mind?

Actually, as he indicated, Trollope had statistics and common sense. Cold weather brings on more disease because people tend to stay indoors and in close contact, allowing bacteria and viruses to spread more easily. Also, the suicide rate in the US is highest in winter months, when the weather is gray more often. If someone has a disease such as cancer, the immune system is already vulnerable, so a common cold can lead to something more serious in these individuals.

As far as May and June go, the death rates are consistent with the other non-winter months. Perhaps it seems as if more people are grieving because no matter in what month a parent passed on, Mother's and Father's Day bring the grief back to the surface.

When grief surfaces around the holidays, it is easy to sink into depression. People appear to be happy, spending time with family or friends that the grieving individual is missing. Here are some tips for dealing with grief around the holidays:

  • Remember that people are very good at "putting on masks." While it may seem that everyone else is happy, chances are high that they are all dealing with issues of their own and are just not showing it.
  • Jealousy and resentment of others is common during grief. Anger is also a common expression of mourning. These feelings may not feel good, but they are normal; they just need to be expressed in a healthy manner, such as writing in a journal, talking to someone or beating a pillow with a Nerf™ bat.
  • Isolation may seem like a good option, but it is not (a day alone is fine; anything exceeding a few days may be cause to seek professional help). Gathering with others is often more helpful.
  • Any organized expression of feelings, memorials or rituals honoring the one(s) who passed can ease grief.
  • Focus on the people who are still here and honor the lessons learned from those who have passed.
  • If any suicidal or homicidal feelings and thoughts are experienced, go to the nearest emergency room! Do not be another statistic!

Remember, this too shall pass. If feelings of mourning are lasting longer than anticipated, take action by seeking professional help. While there is no "right" or "wrong" amount of time for grief, when daily life is affected negatively, it is time to find some help.

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