By Juliet Mitchell
“When… I was sick… you visited me.” Matthew 25:36
It’s not a happy subject to discuss, but it’s inevitable that human bodies will experience sickness, disease or break down. Since this is a fact of life, a part of the human condition, we are likely to be called upon to visit someone who is sick at some point.
So, let’s get real about this whole visiting the sick thang, y’all. Yes, my southern girl is coming out. Yes, I’m a GRITS (Girl Raised in the South). Growing up in the South around a close-knit community of relatives and friends, acquaintances and even strangers, visiting the sick was as much a part of life as farming, canning and going to church.
As good family, good community members and good church folk, you cooked some food, packed it up, cleaned yourself up and went to visit. Visiting included laughing (if the person was up to it), talking (if the person had the interest, strength or energy), listening (if the person wanted to listen), and sometimes sitting quietly.
Your visit may have required feeding, cleaning (yes, even cleaning the person — especially relatives and close, close friends) and sadly, sometimes that visit meant shedding some tears.
We know that at any age, sick and disease can take hold to our frail human bodies; however, as our population ages, it’s more likely that we will be visiting our elders as they approach the end of life.
I’ve spoken to medical professionals, clergy and caregivers and gathered etiquette considerations for visiting those persons.
8 life etiquette tips for visiting the sick
Please call and arrange a time to visit. There are numerous considerations concerning time, feeding, bathing, dispensing of medication and a sleep schedule. Do not be offended if the caregiver gives you specific times to visit rather than allowing you to stop by at your convenience.
Ask if it’s OK to bring something for the sick person to eat or drink. That person may be on a restricted diet or may not be taking food at all.
On that note, it is also considerate to bring something for the family/other visitors if you’re visiting a home. If you do not know the person’s likes and dislikes, ask. Some general things that are usually needed include bottled water and/or juice; fruit, sandwich fixings, prepared meals. Remember to include paper towels, napkins, even disposable cutlery and cups. We live in a diverse world, so, again, if you don’t know, ask.
Be as clean as you can and be prepared to take your shoes off if visiting a home (bring clean indoor shoes if you must wear shoes). Also, be prepared to wash your hands, use sanitizer and/or wear a mask.
Be willing to sit in silence. Your presence and your positive energy are important, not necessarily a whole lot of chatter. I’ve actually been told that too much talking can be disturbing to the sick.
While we’re on the topic of speaking, remember to tone it down. Some of us can be too loud. You might say, “Well, I’m just loud” or “That’s just the way I talk!” But this isn’t about you. Keep the volume low.
Keep your visits short. A 10-, 15- or 20-minute visit is long enough. I know that it may seem cold, but according to my “research,” — depending on the degree and extent of the illness — the energy of visitors can be “draining” and de-energizing for the person who is ill.
Should you bring flowers or a gift? Well, that depends. Again, ask. Besides the physical and emotional aspects of caring for the ill, families and caregivers are often faced with the stress, weight and worry of financial demands, as well. Perhaps a gift card or a monetary gift would better help to meet the needs of that family.
Do you have any etiquette tips related to visiting the sick? Please share them with me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally appeared in the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.