That kind of goes with a general reluctance with death that our society has. The team at Above and Beyond Home Health Care often sees that many people are uncomfortable dealing with death.
In some cases, the patient receiving hospice care may better accept what’s ahead with more stoicism than the people around them. At some point, they may resign themselves to thinking short-term, while family members, friends or other loved ones may not know what to say or do.
This discomfort can sometimes even lead to some people deliberately staying away since they’re uncertain about the right words or don’t want to put themselves through something as emotionally difficult as seeing someone for possibly the final time.
This type of thinking, while understandable, doesn’t do anyone much good. The patient receiving hospice care likely would appreciate a final visit or extra time with important people in their lives. So since it’s obvious that some people are uncomfortable, how do you get them comfortable enough to pay a visit to someone receiving hospice care?
There are actually quite a few ways.
- Talk to people familiar with the hospice process and death in general. Home health staff, employees of local hospice programs or medical staff all likely have more experience with people who don’t have a lot of time left. The team at Above and Beyond Home Health Care, for instance, have worked with many patients and their families through the dying process. While everyone’s circumstances and situations are different, there are often some similar thoughts and opinions that patients and family members have. These personnel are often very happy to provide advice on questions like “What do I say?” or “What do I do?” They can share ideas for conversation starters, give advice on what not to say or even some suggestions on how to express yourself through a card.
- It’s OK to not know the right words. Clients themselves don’t always necessarily know how to feel or come up with the right phrases when people come to visit. In many cases, the experience of dying is new to them so they don’t quite know what to say or do either. Do they try to get a lot of stuff done and fight the diagnosis? Do they calmly sit back and embrace the unknown or do they have a wild party, perhaps a memorial-in-advance that they could be part of. In some cases, visitors might be fine just sitting quietly. This could be as memorable of a visit. Even admitting something like “I’m not sure what to say” will be appreciated for its honesty and sincerity.
- Less guilt later. Let’s say that some people find it difficult to go visit someone. They may be a bit scared emotionally but may still get something out of a visit. Or, if their friend/family/loved ones pass away and they don’t get to say good-bye, they may regret their indecision and feel guilty about it for a long time. These type of situations may require thinking less about yourself and how you might feel, and more about allowing the person in your life who is dying to have some extra time with you for conversation and quality time together.
- Come as a group. If you’re a little uncomfortable coming by yourself, bring a friend or two along. That way, nice conversations can go on even if one person doesn’t have anything to say at any point in time. More people visiting will also increase the potential of fun stories involving more people. But too many people and/or too many tales from the past could make someone get more tired faster. If they don’t have too much time left, they may not have all that much energy.
- Show, don’t tell. If you are still having a tough time with words, ask if there are other ways to spend time with someone. Maybe perform some home maintenance they’re no longer able to take care of. Maybe take them for a ride somewhere. Maybe bring them food from a favorite restaurant. They may not have much appetite anymore but can still enjoy sights, smells, and memories.
Send a note
If you truly don’t know what to say and aren’t able to force yourself to pay a visit, (or unable to pay a visit if there are geographic/financial/employment challenges) you can still look for ways to brighten someone’s day.
Consider writing them and sharing information about your past interactions with them. A nice letter or card can be appreciated especially if someone is feeling low or reflecting on their life.
For instance, you can share a nice memory or a lesson that you learned from that person and still reflect upon sometimes.
Although your local card shops may not have any “pending death/hospice care” themed cards, a blank one might be appropriate.
Nice cards and personal messages can both be treasured by the person receiving hospice care and their families after they’re gone.
Overall, visiting someone you love in hospice or a friend can be challenging emotionally. But ultimately it can be valuable in a lot of ways.