To visit the dying

I often see comments left by those struggling with the idea of visiting a terminally ill person. It may be struggling with the thought of going or looking for suggestions on what to say during such a visit.

I have said many times I am not a doctor, nor therapist, I am just sharing my thoughts from my own experience and my thoughts which most certainly not apply to everyone. Every situation is unique as every individual is. These are my thoughts as they apply to me.

Firstly, should you call/visit. My answer to that would be a big YES. Geography may make a visit impossible but I think it is fair to assume most have access to a telephone.  Recently I have written of the sad passing of my cousin Joe. I spoke to his wife Ev, she spoke of how the telephone was constantly ringing off the hook. She said it was wonderful as it showed how much people cared. I think that is wonderful of all that are showing that caring.

From that I am going to take it one step further. If calling or visiting can show how much you care. Could not the same be felt if you do not call. Now I know I am over simplifying and maybe over stating it, or am I. Calling shows how much you care, not calling shows how much you care. A terminal patient is aware you know of their condition. If they don’t even get a call, what are they left to think?  Do you think they could get the impression they are not important enough to you to even warrant a simple phone call. Now think about that. Yeah, yeah, I know hundreds of excuses will instantly pop to mind. Try to think of it from the patients point of view.

What to say or talk about. For me that is easy. I am still the same person I was before the doctors came up with their prognosis. My likes and dislikes are the same, I enjoy the same things. Talk as we “normally” would. Reminiscing is always good, take a trip down memory lane. If you want to ask about my health, go ahead and I will answer your questions. I live and breathe all of that on a daily basis. A pleasant distraction is much more appreciated

6 Responses to To visit the dying

  1. Noel says:

    Thanks for these wonderful advises. I did something like this before my uncle passed away two years ago. He asked me plain blank “Am I dying..?” and all I could think of saying was “I don’t know,…” but I remembered what I have been learning about embracing the present moment, and said , “all I know is that you are with us today… and we love you.” Thankfully, he was satisfied with this answer. I happen to have a conversation with one of my clients (I am a mental health counselor) whose best friend just passed away, and is grieving. I valued her feelings and encouraged her to nourish her good memories with her friend and share what she has learned from her relationship with her friend. It is not easy to talk with the dying or with people who just experienced a loved one’s death, but it surely is a reminder of how fragile this life is and to embrace the present moment.
    Hi Noël, I thank you for sharing this with us. “Embrace the present moment”. Right on, for the present moment may well be all we have. Your response to your Uncle, perfect.
    I understand the confidential nature of your profession but anything you can share is always welcome

  2. M T McGuire says:

    Sounds like good advice to me. I have literally sat there and said to people that I don’t know what to say to them but that I’m going to behave as I always would and if we touch on something that upsets them or, conversely, if there’s something they want to talk to me about, to say.


    Right on, let them lead the direction of the conversation

  3. rangewriter says:

    We can’t hear this enough. Thank you, Bill.
    Thank you

  4. Hilary says:

    Hi Bill – being in contact is so important – for the patient, but also for the supporting family and friends, and for that matter the nursing/caring staff should a person be in a nursing centre/hospital/hospice …

    The patient if the are able to have visitors – gives them something else to think about, than their four walls, or their future – and if they are able to communicate, relate etc – all things that need to be taken into account.

    Be empathetic to their and the situation …

    The family and friends can offload at times .. and maybe get a slightly different perspective on how they are doing (if they have anxieties) … and how they are helping all concerned. This connection will help with the future – and when they are bereaved … friendship along the journey will be there to help them along the next path, until they are able to adjust more easily.

    The staff, in all the institutions, my mother was in … always said it was wonderful I was there for her and them … as it showed my love for her and my appreciation of their care … they could relate more easily .. they could understand us.

    In fact the above occurred with new friends I made during this period, and the pastors who visited … I still have contact …

    I was lucky as both my mother and my uncle could communicate and relate to their situations … not easy for them … but we coped and I was there: they felt able to put their trust in me … the ill person needs to trust others at this stage …

    I was grateful for the support I had … and was frustrated for the lack of it too … but that’s life – now I know I did my best for both of them .. and for others along the way.

    I’m by far from perfect unfortunately … but being in touch with ill people is essential, visiting if possible, talking to family and to them via a cell phone is now possible … or even skypeing … again empathy is the most important thing – be aware of what suits the person, as well as the family or friends doing the caring …

    I also learnt a great deal and saw a side of life I’d never experienced before … and now via blogging, I can add to that store cupboard of experiences and awareness …

    With thoughts – Hilary
    hi Hilary. I thank you so much for sharing such a deeply personal time in your life. I always encourage readers to view the comments, not just my ramblings. This is an example of why I do that.

  5. Mel says:

    It’s difficult all the way around. Friends that I had prior to becoming ill, vanished. Some remained. I’ve no doubt my circumstances touched on some of their fears/issues. I cross paths with some of them and it’s awkward for them, despite my efforts to make it pleasant. Obviously (gratefully and by the grace of G-d) I’m still here…but I won’t be on the planet forever. We’ll all have a turn at leaving this world. And we’ll all struggle with being there for others who are dying. It’s emotionally charged for both ends. But we get to choose. And what we choose…..matters. Usually it matter much more than we know.
    I’m with ya….take a deep breath and forge ahead with the right thing. We can make that difference. It simply means we show up and let them drive the conversations. But we show up. That’s the first step. :-/Hey Mel, it is great to hear from you. I know you are going through your own difficult issues. It means a lot to me that you would drop by and share. We are all grateful that by the grace of God you are here. I hope all read your comment. As always you have delivered the message in a manner beyond what I could come up with.
    Rest and take care of yourself my friend
    You go girl, you may not be able to see it yet, but there is a light at the end of that tunnel

  6. Shirley says:

    In defense of those who don’t call or visit (that would be me), let me just say it’s not because we don’t care. It’s because plain and simple we are too emotional and just can’t handle it.

    Hi Shirley. I appreciate you leaving your comment. Your point is very valid and does apply to many. We do what we can, we deal with things like this, each in our own way. I would never try to suggest there is a right way or a wrong way. I am only sharing my thoughts on the way I see it based on my own experiences as the patient.
    I am but trying to encourage calling or visiting if it is at all possible. Awkward, possibly uncomfortable but I believe well worth it for all.
    Again, thank you for having the courage to comment. I realize it may have been difficult. I hope we will hear more from you

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