Visiting Someone in Hospice Care
If you’re wondering if you should visit someone in hospice care, the answer is almost certainly yes! In most cases, visits to those in hospice care are very welcome. When the end of life is very close, it may be best for only close family and loved ones to visit, but before that visits can be very helpful for both the patient and the visitor.
Hospice care can be received by anyone considered to be less than six months from death. In many cases that does allow very significant time to be spent with family and friends. The quality of this time is hugely important- in fact Center for Hospice Care believes that every moment is important, and if there is an opportunity for shared joy, for reconciliation, for love, it should be grasped with both hands.
Don’t wait to visit. Even if life expectancy is measured in months rather than days, a patient with a terminal illness can slip away quickly. The sooner you visit, the more you’ll both be able to share, and you won’t regret leaving it until too late.
What should I bring?
Often, gifts like flowers or sweet treats are fine for those able to converse and interact, but if you are not sure, ask a caregiver, hospice aide or medical professional what might be appropriate. It never hurts to be sure, especially if the patient has respiratory or digestive problems.
Photos of pets and people who can’t visit can also be good choices. Those able to read might like a book or magazine, and music can be an excellent gift for anyone except those with hearing problems. Even in the last stages when a patient is not fully conscious or able to speak, hearing a favorite piece of music can have a positive impact.
However, without a doubt, the best gift you can bring is yourself- companionship and conversation.
What should we talk about?
You don’t need to talk about death unless your loved one wants to. Many first time visitors assume that conversation with a hospice patient will be awkward or stilted, or that the person they are visiting will be upset or distressed. This is not usually true.
Most hospice patients have plenty to talk about. They might want to remember happier times you shared together, or want to know how other people are going. They might want to make sure you haven’t forgotten a precious moment, tell you about a piece of family history, or pass on some good advice.
A patient in hospice care can still be very much alive and want to feel included in your life and that of family and friends. If you find conversation isn’t flowing as easily as it might, ask about something they know- how to grow the best roses, what’s in their signature recipe, where a prized picture was taken.
Should children visit hospice patients?
In most cases children should be included in hospice visits. Although many parents have an understandable desire to shield their children from death, it’s often better to include them. Talk to them in an age-appropriate way about what is happening and what is going to happen, and let them see and talk to their loved ones in hospice care.
Having children to talk to can also be beneficial for patients, especially the elderly who will want to see the younger generation thriving. Bring photos from birthday parties and sports events, and let the kids talk to grandparents as naturally as possible.
Stay in the room when your child is visiting a very ill person and make sure they don’t touch medical equipment. This also means you’ll be close at hand if the patient needs to sleep, becomes agitated, or is ready for the visit to come to a close.
If you’d like help with how to talk to your children about the death of a friend or family member, we’re here to help- all you have to do is call or email.