Visiting a dying friend on hospice or at home can be a very heartbreaking experience. Most people do not know what to do, say or how to react when they see their close friend or relative in anguish during their last days on earth.
Whatever you say or bring during these moments of sorrow can make the difference in bringing hope and comfort to a critically ill patient.
Here are 15 etiquette rules that you should always observe when visiting a patient who is dying.
1. Always call ahead and ask when you should come to visit
Before making that coveted trip to the hospice or rest home, always call in advance to ask about the appropriate day or time to visit. This is because dying patients tend to become withdrawn, and they might not like spontaneous visitations. Also, knowing the right time to visit will help you prepare for what to talk about, and who to bring along with you.
2. Keep visits short, but engaging
Visits can be helpful to both the dying patient and the visitor. However, spending the entire day with the patient can be tiresome as well. Although your loved one might be drawing closer to the end, they still need some time on their own to recollect about the past and let go of some of their attachments to life. With this in mind, spending hours on end with the patient is not only tiresome but also intrusive in some way. Ideally, you should visit frequently, but keep your visitations as short as possible.
3. Consider visiting with a friend
Conversations with a dying friend can be awkward, especially if you are alone and visiting for the first time. Essentially, you may have a hard time holding down a meaningful conversation with your dying friend if you are just the two of you in a room. With this in mind, it is advisable to consider visiting with a mutual friend, especially if it is your first time. This might help strike a natural conversation as you talk about your common interests.
4. Sit rather than stand
Etiquette rules when visiting your loved one under hospice care demands that you sit, rather than stand next to the patient. In essence, standing in the hospital room is not only disrespectful, but it also indicates that you are in a hurry, and you probably do not have ample time for the patient.
5. Greet the patient as you always have
When visiting a dying loved one, always greet them as you normally do. Whether it is a hug or a firm handshake, do not change your style of greeting. This will ease any tension or anxiety that might arise and helps in creating an environment that is calmer and more comfortable for both parties. Acting normal will also build confidence, and make it much easier for you to strike a good rapport with your dying friend.
6. Speak soothing words
Words are more than just expressions. In essence, the words that you speak to your dying friend can make a big difference in their lives, making them feel loved and appreciated. You should convey your message using soothing words to help your dear friend let go of life attachments. Nevertheless, you should avoid falsehoods or deceiving words that are far away from reality.
7. Speak clearly and keep eye contact
Always maintain eye contact when holding a conversation with a patient under hospice care. Seemingly, critically ill or dying patients tend to avoid eye contact by facing away when speaking to their close friends or relatives. This is understandable, but you should try to keep contact to help monitor their comfort level. Additionally, you should speak slowly and clearly to pass your message with precision. You never know, maybe the sound of your voice might just be enough to help your friend live a little bit longer.
8. Follow the patient’s lead
When conversing, avoid talking about death even if it is clear that the patient is close to dying. Instead, you should talk about ordinary things such as your shared memories, common interests, or even the weather. The best way to go about it is to follow the patient’s lead when striking a conversation. Also, let the conversation go the way the patient wants. You would be surprised that many hospice patients have so many good things to talk about, rather than the negative aspects of life.
9. Be a good listener
Patients in hospice care do not have more than 6 months to live. For this reason, it is prudent to give them all the attention they seek, by being a good listener. Essentially, you should listen more and talk less. This allows your dying friend to express their feelings and share their anger or fears. Simply sitting in silence as you listen to their stories can go a long way to show your support, and helps in easing tension.
10. Respect the dignity of your dying friend
Never talk about your patient’s condition behind their back. Even if the patient appears to be sleeping, their sense of hearing is still very much alive, and it is often the last to go. Ideally, you should talk to your loved one as if they are listening to you, and always leave the room if you have to converse with the doctor about their condition. Besides, do not force the patient to indulge in uncomfortable conversations that might disparage their dignity.
11. Use gentle touch
Whoever said action speaks louder than words was 100% right. Whenever talking is no longer possible or necessary, you can console your friend by touching them gently on their hands, shoulder, or head. You may massage their hand tenderly to show that you are there for them at their time of need, even when they are not able to respond through words. The dying patient will still be able to hear your voice and feel your presence through touch. However, you should be moderate when touching your dying friend, as some patients do not like physical contact, particularly during their last stages of life.
12. Be sensitive about noise
Good etiquette demands that you should be mindful of what your loved one listens to during their last days on earth. Loud noises can be agitating and unpleasant, hence it is prudent to turn off the radio or television and ask other visitors to keep their conversations in low tones. Interestingly, playing soft music such as instrumentals, a cappella vocals, or harp music might help ease anxiety and enhance relaxation. However, make sure to keep the volume low, and always be ready to turn the music off if need be.
13. Ask a caregiver or hospice aide about appropriate gifts to bring
Deciding on the type of gift to bring depends on the health status of the patient. If your loved one can talk and interact actively, then gifts such as sweets, chocolate, and flowers are just appropriate. You may also bring photos of their pets and people who cannot visit due to distance. However, it is advisable to ask a caregiver or hospice aide about the items that might be ideal, as some patients might have allergic reactions and respiratory or digestive issues when handling fresh flowers and sweet treats.
14. Visit more than once and always keep in touch
Make sure you visit your friend regularly. Alternatively, you should call regularly to check on your dying friend in case your work or school schedule does not allow you to come in person. Importantly, be truthful and do not promise to come back, unless you are sure that you will. Moreover, remember to tell your friend that you are thinking about them or praying for them. You never know. Your show of concern might go a long way to add your dying friend more weeks to live.
15. Don’t wait until the last minute to say goodbye
It is very difficult to predict the exact timeframe before your dying friend eventually slips away. With this in mind, it is sensible to conclude your conversations in a manner that is seemingly okay, if it is the last time, you will see each other again. Importantly, you should avoid casual goodbyes to avoid regrets after the patient is finally gone. Giving an emotional hug after every visit is okay as it might be the last goodbye.
Paying a visit to a dying friend does not have to be a solemn moment. In contrast, it should be an opportunity to offer comfort and share precious memories with your loved one during their last few days of life.
It should also be a moment to ask for forgiveness and free yourself of hard feelings, as it is crucial in giving both of you a sense of peace before it is too late.
By following the aforementioned etiquette rules, you can say goodbye to your dying friend in a more dignified and satisfying manner.
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