Funeral directors probably can’t make plans for Christmas vacations, as it is likely the busiest time of year for them. It has been known for a while that external causes of death, including suicide, homicide, and motor vehicle accidents, spike during the holiday season. Research has found that there are also more natural deaths on Christmas Day, the day after and New Year’s Day than on any other day of the year.
In the Social Sciences & Medicine study, conducted by David Phillips, Gwendolyn E. Barker and Kimberly Brewer, more than 57 million official U.S. death certificates were examined during a 25 year period from 1979-2004. The study found that there were more than 42,325 additional deaths from natural causes during the two week Christmas/New Year’s period even beyond the normal winter increase. This is important because natural causes, according to national health statistics, account for 93 percent of deaths.
Researchers examined a list of the most likely causes for the peak in natural deaths around the holidays, but none of them explained this phenomenon and no solid explanations were determined. The spike is seen across all age groups except children and across all types of disease. One theory was that people were waiting for Christmas, but there should be a dip in numbers prior to Christmas or after but there isn’t.
The study theorized that medical care might worsen as health care professionals take holidays off from work, leaving junior staff in charge. Or that emergency rooms are more crowded during the holidays. But most questions about why we see this jump in deaths at the holidays were left unanswered by the research.
Armed with this knowledge, smart funeral directors make plans to deal with any potential spike in funeral service needs. They re-assess their after-hours and holiday procedures, and ensure that there is enough staff available to meet the need.
Holiday deaths are particularly difficult for grief-stricken families. Prepared funeral directors can offer the best available care while still being able to help families dealing with those extra struggles inherent in holiday bereavement. Regardless of why so many die at the holidays, having a thorough, up-to-date strategy will help funeral directors get through their busiest time of year.