What to Do in Illness: Visiting

Many people care about the suffering or crisis a friend or acquaintance is in but have no idea what to do. Often they, we, choose to do nothing rather than risk doing the wrong thing. Our culture prides itself on being right, so no one wants to do the wrong thing. But doing nothing IS the wrong thing when someone is in crisis or suffering. What should we do? Sometimes the answer to that is “visit.”

The question of visiting needs to be brought up with the person, spouse, or parents. Some illnesses/hospitalizations preclude visiting. Other people are uncomfortable with visitors. One person in your HF[small group- group of friends] needs to check and let everyone know where the family in crisis stands.

Even introverts need someone to talk to. When I was in the hospital, R was alone with E. Every day he expected to hear that M and I had not made it. He is not generally thrilled with drop-in visitors, but during this time he was craving daily contact with someone outside our circle of crisis. Remember: the parents or spouse may need visits, too.

If the person who is ill is up to visitors, here are some general guidelines for the visit.

•Go singly or in pairs. Large groups are wearing. If you must go in groups, wait in the waiting room.

•Coordinate your visits. All the HF group should not show up at the hospital on the same day. Maybe you can assign days for visiting or writing cards.

•Visit for a short while. Being ill can drain a person more than they want you to know and most will not feel comfortable asking you to leave. Stay only fifteen or so minutes. It is generally better to come several times than only once and stay for an hour.

•Don’t tell the person you had a hard time finding time, or a parking space, or the money, or overcoming your fear of the hospital to come visit them. Offer it as a free gift.

•Offer to talk about the illness if they want to. Otherwise, get the information from the spouse or parents, pass it along to the group, and talk about other things.

•Bring children only if they are close to the person or you are leaving quickly. Children get bored and can be injured.

This visiting, obviously, was not just visiting the sick person, but also visiting the family of the sick.

Several years later, about four I think, one of the people in our small group had to have emergency surgery. The boys (ages 6 and 7) and I would make the trek to the hospital every day. We would stay for a bit and then leave. We brought something each time, balloons, candy, books, magazines. The friend in the hospital didn’t enjoy reading, I knew that, so we brought magazines and collections of short stories. But he was never that bored. He said thank you though. His mom read them while she was visiting.

About five years after that, the man’s wife called me and told me that she did not know at the time how much work it was for the boys and I to come every day but that now she is a mother (of four!), she appreciates what we did so much more.

Visiting can be a blessing. Just don’t turn it into a chore, for you or the person you are visiting.

The blockquote in this post was written many years ago, in 1993, for our church. It was a young church with many singles and few marrieds and almost no older people. There was no tradition of what to do in a crisis for a member of the church. (Or for a friend.) Having been in two crises over a period of eight months, I was asked to write something up. This is what I wrote on visiting. “HF” is the “home fellowship” group, a small group that met in people’s houses once a week. These people would be friends or at least closer acquaintances than just the person sitting next to you on a typical Sunday morning.

I came back to this writing, after not having glanced at it for years, because of two articles. One by The Common Room and one by The Constructive Curmudgeon.

Other posts on this topic:
What to do in Illness: Talk
What to do in Illness: Gifts
What to do in Illness: Children
What to do in Illness: House
What to do in Illness: Stay at Hospital
Others’ Suffering and What to Do