How to Visit a Sick Relative

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Visiting a sick relative is challenging because it's painful to see someone we love in distress, and yet we must muster up the courage to put on the proverbial brave face. However, visiting a sick relative--be it a parent, child, sibling, grandparent or cousin--is one of the most important acts you'll ever perform, especially when that individual is gravely ill or wounded. Your company by their bedside will resonate with them for years to come; and if they pass away, you'll always have those last days tucked away in your memory bank.

Things You'll Need

  • Tissues
  • Dress up and look happy. Your relative doesn't want to see you charge in there looking as if you got run over by a tractor trailer. Put on some makeup and brush your hair. When you get to the hospital, grab a tissue from your pocket and dab your eye if you must, but don't let those tears show.

  • Hold your loved one's hand. Even if you haven't traditionally been physically close with that person, a calming touch to the hand or arm, or smoothing their forehead, will be appreciated. Nothing soothes like touch, and there is evidence that it also speeds the healing process.

  • Listen to their stories. Don't start telling them what you want to say; listen to what they are telling you. If the relative is dying or only has a few months to live, they will likely have many stories they want to share. These are precious times. You should think of bringing a pad of paper and pen and perhaps a video camera (to use only with their permission) to record some of these stories. Be sensitive to what their wishes are, though. You don't want to make it obvious that you are worried about their impending death.

  • Give the gift of laughter. If you have a special bond with this individual, undoubtedly you crack each other up. Hospitals are not off limits for comedy. Some families are more jokey than others, but everyone feels better when they laugh. If you aren't funny, consider sharing an amusing story from a comedy show you saw, or watch a great sitcom together with your grandparent or other sick family member.

  • Be sensitive to their requests. People in the hospital, especially elderly people who've been there a long while, will be irritated by a number of things. Namely, they don't like their roommates or have issues with a certain nurse. Part of this is just their physical pain, but honor their wishes to whatever extent you can. If they ask for a different nurse, talk to whomever's in charge at the hospital.

  • Say farewell with a smile, with a promise to return soon. Whenever possible, stay with that loved one until they go to sleep. That will make them feel more secure. When you have to say goodbye, though, make sure it's with a kiss to the forehead and a soft smile that says, "I'm always here for you--and will be back right after work tomorrow!"

Tips & Warnings

  • Bring appropriate gifts--don't bring hard foods if your elderly grandpa is on a soft diet in the hospital, but bring old family photo albums, flowers and magazines.
  • Don't cry in front of your loved one. If you must cry, leave the room with an excuse that you must use the facilities.
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