Holiday season takes its turn for the worse

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As someone who has spent nearly 40 years in the newspaper business, I have been fascinated annually by a holiday phenomenon that has nothing to do with Black Friday or its online offshoot, Cyber Monday.

Instead, my interest has been piqued each yuletide by the invariable uptick in obituaries published in dailies and weeklies across the newspaper landscape. It is a boon to business that has long mystified newspaper publishers and industry observers, and serves as interesting prelude to the inevitable financial downturn during the long winter months.

So it seems strange that little attention has been paid to a 2004 medical study published in the aptly titled "Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association." In the study, medical researchers found that more "heart-related deaths occurred on December 25" than on any other day of the year among people not already hospitalized. The second most deaths occurred on the day after Christmas, while the third highest peak was on New Year's Day.

Pundits have labeled it the "Merry Christmas Coronary" and the "Happy New Year Heart Attack," two not-so-catchy phrases that mask the underlying reasons behind the increase in holiday deaths.

Cold weather, most certainly, plays a major part, researchers indicated. The drop in temperatures is "hard on the heart," constricting blood vessels and correspondingly raising blood pressure. Blood also clots "more readily" during the winter months, triggering a host of medical conditions that can prove deadly.

Then there is the so-called "Eggnog Effect," which is medical code for "behavioral changes" around the holiday time due to increased food, salt, and alcohol consumption.

Couple those with the "emotional and psychological stresses" of the holidays, sometimes known as "too much time with the relatives," and you now know why there is the sudden spike in obits.

My parents seemingly were mindful of that fact some 15 years ago when they delivered a letter to me on the eve of the holiday season. It was less than a page in length, neatly typed, and contained in hand-scribbled form the "Official seal of the HOUSE OF KIRVAN."

In short it spelled out their "unequivocal wish . . . singly and together" that in the "event of catastrophic injury and/or illness that neither one of us be kept alive by tubes, wires, needles, Cuisinarts, Dustbusters or any other mechanical or medical means."

Simply put, they wrote, "If our brains are dead and our organs have lost their functions, let us slide away in a peaceful exit. We have no desire to suffer all the 'keep 'em alive' procedures that have been developed, nor do we wish to inflict hardship, heartbreak and poverty on our children, grandchildren, or anyone else who might give a hoot."

This action, they said, was taken "without legal assistance as we see no need to pay a lawyer to transcribe our wishes in legal mumbo-jumbo that could be argued in court for 'lack of clarity.'"

To summarize their wishes in the simplest possible terms, they turned to an old song.

"Please Release Me, Let Me Go," they wrote with conviction.

"That's exactly what we mean. Don't fiddle with our faculties. Don't violate our vitals."

Published: Thu, Dec 10, 2015

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