If you’ve ever visited a palliative care home or a hospice, you may have noticed that it’s not the depressing, sad, dark place that many people imagine it to be. The very phrase, death and dying, does bring that to mind. Without a doubt, there are people dying and there are people mourning within those walls, but a big part of palliative care is allowing people to live their lives for every day that they are alive.
Appreciation of the last days
Even in someone’s last days, they may be able to appreciate the laughter of a young child, the gurgle of a baby, or the comfort of a beloved pet. They may want to sit by the window and look at the view, go outside and sit in the breeze, or sit by a roaring fire and listen to music. Simple pleasures, like a back rub or having a book read aloud may make the difference between a hard long day and a relaxing comforting one. They may be dying, but life goes on.
Often, people who visit someone dying may feel guilty if they talk about a recent outing or something fun they had done. You may be reluctant to share the details of your fabulous shopping trip or a great movie you’ve just seen, but you don’t have to feel that way. If you take your cues from your friend, you’ll know if they want to hear these stories – and many do.
They often want to hear about the fun things; they get to remember and use their imagination. They know that life goes on – if people don’t talk to them about it, what is left to talk about?
Take the time
So, how do you know what to talk about? When you’re visiting someone who is dying, they are still the same person you knew before. They will likely still enjoy the same things, appreciate the same jokes, or take pleasure in the latest antics of their pets.
Assessing the situation
When entering the room, you can take a quick inventory. What do you see? Are the curtains drawn and does your friend seem to be in pain? Perhaps you could speak to the nurse or caregiver to find out what kind of day your friend has been having. Is your friend sitting by the window, enjoying the view? Is he watching television? Is he visiting with someone else and laughing as they talk? All these are clues as to how you can approach your friend and begin your visit.
The gift of time
Sometimes, your friend may just want you to sit there and be there with him. It’s often a comforting feeling to know you’re not alone, even if you’re dozing off and on. Sometimes he may want you to sit and watch television with him or just catch up on the latest gossip.
Whatever it is that you end up doing, it’s important that you know that your visit means something and that you have given a precious gift, a gift of your time.
When someone is dying, they can lose contact with others who are afraid to deal with it. Friends and family may have bad memories of previous contact with dying people; they may have their own emotional baggage that makes it hard for them, but this affects the dying person in many ways.
Not only are they dying – they are losing some friends because of this. If you visit, if you spend some time, you are reaffirming that this person is still alive and still valuable to you and to the world. Don’t be afraid to take that time. Just take it one step at a time; you’ll know what to do.