It’s been awhile since I have posted one of these because I hit a road block when seeing that the next one was visit the sick. Part of it was because I have done so much visiting of the sick that it became an emotional topic for me. Another part was that I had a lot of ideas of what visiting the sick should and shouldn’t be but not a lot of ideas of where or how to do it. So, I am changing my format slightly and giving four tips on what the sick and their caretakers need most in a visit, and then a list of ideas of how to visit those who are sick and may not get many, if any, visits.
Keep visits short and timely. My mother, as many of you know, had brain cancer for six and a half years. She was a teacher and avid volunteer around town, that meant she had a lot of friends and connections. This proved to be a blessing during the difficult time. Any given day, at least one person had stopped in to say hello and “shoot the breeze” with my mom–she loved to talk! However, as much as we appreciated the love and support, it was difficult to constantly have people stopping in and some times staying for hours. Towards the end, my mom was really only “up and ready” for about an hour or two a day, but people still wanted to visit. The visitors meant well and were acting out of love. My first suggestion, though, in being a helpful visitor is keep your visit brief unless requested to stay longer. Illnesses, especially serious ones, are very draining on the patient and the family. While, we were always happy to see those who loved us stop by, there were times when we really just wanted to be left alone. In addition, entertaining people for long stretches of time while caring for my mother was difficult to say the least. So, please ask the family or caregiver when is best to visit, and plan on it just being a short stop in, not full day visit.
Bring nutritious foods and snacks. All those lovely friends that stopped by supplied us with a steady stream of cake, pie, cookies, and pastries. Chocolate is a delicious distraction, however it is also not a healthy one. In those early years when I was there daily with two young children in tow, my health declined as my weight soared. I was busy cleaning and helping, especially entertaining guests with coffee and a scrubbed kitchen. I had no time to sit and eat a meal, so I grabbed what was easy to find–namely junk food. My children developed a serious sweet tooth and my mom also rapidly gained weight, making caring for her more difficult. We appreciated the sentiment and enjoyed the bounty but really it didn’t help our situation to keep filling up on sugary carbs. If you would like to bring a treat to the person infirmed, choose a healthy treat like a fruit basket or veggies and dip. Let the sweetness come from a lovely visit, not just a sugary treat.
Bring something to share. Especially toward the end, when my mom was home bound, she appreciated people bringing news and photos to share. Sometimes it was their grandchild’s latest photo, or a clipping from the magazine about the school where my mom had worked. On occasion, someone would bring a video or CD to listen to. It became increasingly difficult for her to focus, but she always appreciated the thought. Bringing something happy to talk about helps cut through the isolation and loneliness of being stuck home sick. After all, who wants to spend their days just discussing doctors, tests, and medicines.
Remember the family and caregiver need visits, too. Caring for a loved one can be very isolating for the family. Your life revolves around what is best for the person in need. It was always nice, although rare, when someone would go out of their way to stop by my house or give me a call. I needed support and cheering up, too. I felt guilty asking for help, though. So, make a little time to cheer up the caregivers. If they live in the same home, take time to talk to them about themselves. Ask how they are doing, not just how their sick relative is. Serious illness affects the entire family.
If you are blessed to not have a sick loved one of friend in your life right now, here are some other options for your famliy to live this work of mercy:
- Happy Mail: Send a cheerful message and some distractions to a chronically ill child. Help brighten up their world and help them forget about the worries no child should face.
- Bring Flowers to a Nursing Home: We have done this with centerpieces from events. Bring the flowers to a local nursing home and ask for them to be given to a patient who hasn’t had a visitor in a long time. We have also dropped off candy and cards with the same request.
Remember Hospitalized and Sick Religious: Priests, brothers, and nuns are always the first to pray for the sick or visit the lonely. However when they are hurting, they are often forgotten. Organize a card shower for a religious in your community in need of support. Ask church groups and friends to send a card, and then invite three other people to do the same. A shower of cards will surely lift their hearts and remind them that they are loved.