Caring for Loved Ones at Home

An Illustrated, Easy-to-Follow Guide to Short or Long-term Care 4th Edition.

7. Family and Friends: Visiting Someone Who is Ill or Recovering

Many family members and friends find it difficult to visit someone who is very ill. If the person is at home, it may be more difficult for some family members and friends to overcome their fear of illness to visit because they assume that home visiting is less important than hospital visiting.

It is natural to hesitate to see someone you love who is recovering from an illness or who is seriously ill. Here are some suggestions that may help visitors:

If you care about the person then go and visit, even if you are not great friends (e.g., a colleague from work).

Check with the person or family to see when the best time is to visit. You don't want 20 people coming one day and no one coming the next.

Remember that the people you love have not changed. They may be your parent, your child or a dear friend. Their personality, the qualities you admire and love, have not changed because they are ill or tired. Respect them rather than baby them. Include them in decisions. Ask their advice.

There is nothing as comforting as a touch for many people. If the person will allow you and if you feel comfortable yourself, sit close to the person, hold their hand and give them a hug. Your touch and the caring in your eyes express more than words ever can.

Use openended questions to permit people to decide what they want to talk about (if they want to talk at all). Questions like: "How are you feeling today?" "Are you comfortable?" "I love you so much. Is there anything I can do or say that will help?"

Perhaps you can show or give this book to a family member or a friend to help them understand better what is happening to them and to the people around them. A small section of the book may open up the discussion in a nonthreatening way. A book like this left with a person may or may not be read but it provides information to people who are naturally curious.

Don't prepare a speech. Admit your fear of illness or sick people. The person needs to feel useful and if you are honest, they may help you overcome some of your fear so that you can have a really good visit.

Be yourself. Act as you always do with the person. If you are naturally quiet then avoid telling all the latest jokes from work. If you normally gossip about old friends then continue to do so. If you are naturally outgoing don't become sombre and serious. People need stability in their lives and family and friends can offer the greatest emotional stability.

Let the patients vent their anger, frustration and despair. Their feelings are real and they need to get them out. It may have nothing to do with their illness but could be their treatment, their employer's attitude, old friends who no longer visit, or an acquaintance who owes them money but is nowhere to be seen. Offer to help if you can improve the situation.

It is often not helpful to compare the person with other people who have gone through similar things. It minimizes their unique experience and feelings.

It is all right to cry and show your own feelings. You don't have to be strong all the time, for that makes the person dependent on your strength. If you cry and allow the person to be strong it is a normal relationship and one that benefits both of you.

Don't hide behind a gift or card. It is your presence that is the gift. You can send a card or gift if you cannot visit, or between visits, to let the person know you are thinking of her.

Try not to stay too long. Two short visits are better than one long one. This is especially true if the person tires easily.

Remember the other family members. They need your emotional support, too, and practical things like transportation, food, babysitting and running errands can reduce their stress and provide them with the precious gift of time.

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Caring for Loved Ones at Home

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Copyright © 1996, 1999, 2002, 2006 Harry van Bommel

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