Question: What are some good ways to cope with the stress that comes when a loved one is sick or passes away?
Answer: Well I think it's important to recognize that sickness and death in our family ranks very high on the list of possible stressors we can experience. When researchers have created hierarchies of stress from least to most, death or illness in a loved one ranks right at the top of that list.
And again we've got to be mindful of the fact that the stress of that kind of illness or death can take an enormous toll on our bodies, and we've got to be mindful of the buildup of stress hormones that can take both a physical and an emotional toll. And when we talk with people who are experiencing illness or death in their families, the example that I often use is that of the flight attendant who urges passengers first in the case of an emergency landing and the oxygen masks come down. The admonition is to first place the oxygen mask on yourself before you take care of someone who is incapacitated, or young or elderly in the seat next to you.
It's an important example because it relates to the importance of taking care of ourselves first in order to be optimally able to take care of others who are depending on us. To take care of our self by being sure that we are exercising, we're getting adequate nutrition, we're getting good rest, so that our resources are such that we can handle the demands that the death or illness of a loved one brings with it.