Should I Visit?

2010 October 7

“I don’t want to burden them.” “They have so many things going on right now that I don’t want them to feel like they have to visit.” “They have jobs and families and worries of their own.” “They live so far away. It would be so expensive for them to fly out and visit.” Incredibly, this is what my mother said to me days after her terminal diagnosis. My own mother, who was told she was dying, was more worried about burdening others than she was worried about herself.

But she was wrong. And she knew it too. As the days passed, she told me so herself. With tears running down her cheeks, she knew those whom loved her would have to make their own choices about if, when, and how often they would visit. She realized that she couldn’t (and shouldn’t) tell them how they should respond to her terminal diagnosis because she knew they would have to live with their choices long after her death.

Each of us is deeply immersed in our own lives. We have spouses and jobs and children and vacations and goals and timetables. News of illness and disease are never scheduled into our weekly calendars because they are, after all, unexpected.

When something bad happens to someone you love, you must keep in mind the following when thinking about visiting:

  • You must answer the how much question yourself. No one will give you a definitive answer about how many visits or how long you should stay. There is no magical formula that will help ease the pain or sadness.  Terminal diagnoses are not exact. No one, not even a doctor, will be able to predict death with precision and accuracy. So don’t expect your loved one or his/her caregivers to tell you when exactly you should visit. They are immersed in living, not predicting.
  • Don’t ask your loved one if they want you to visit.  You can’t expect an  ill loved one to have the cognitive and emotional capacity to read your mind and tell you what you should do. You must decide what is right for you, at this particular time, given the constraints you are under.
  • Don’t overpromise. Just because a loved one is ill or dying, doesn’t mean their feelings can’t be hurt. Don’t tell a loved one or friend that you plan on visiting them every day to read a story or spend time with them, and then never come.  The dying have feelings too. Wanting to put someone you care for at ease by promising what you will do is a noble goal—but if you do so at the costs of creating false expectations, you may be doing more harm than good.
  • Your trip will say more than the visit itself. Remember, if a loved is terminal and/or seriously ill, don’t create unrealistic expectations for yourself. Your care will be most expressed in the fact that you chose, amidst the endless obligations of your own life, to visit someone you deeply love and care for. The visit itself, however, may be mere minutes, not hours and it may be filled with silence, not necessarily the eloquent speeches you had hoped for.
  • Plan your trip and/or visit with your loved one’s primary caregiver. Make sure and ask the caregiver what time of the day it would be best to visit.  A loved one and his/her caregiver’s schedule is of utmost importance—not yours.
  • Know when to leave. No one will tell you when it is time to leave. If a loved one is still conscious and able to communicate, their gratitude for your presence will not allow them to tell you that they may be physically and emotionally exhausted only after a half an hour. Read the situation. Know their limits. Respect their limits.
  • Remember, there will never be enough time or enough visits. Never. You will try to convince yourself that if you had just one more visit or just one more hour, then the regret would be less intense and the guilt would be less piercing.  Be kind to yourself. There is never enough time to spend with someone you love.
2 Responses leave one →
  1. Daughter permalink
    February 25, 2011

    I am so happy to have found this, and such timing! My Mom is not dying per say, she is however, 89 years young! She is living with my sister very comfortably, just coming home early next week from a short stay in a Rehab due to a broken hip.
    I was hoping that when the time came for her to need constant attention that I could fill that need, although I am not able to “live” with her, I can be useful in other ways. My Mom is fortunate that 4 of her 5 children live close by and can visit.
    Unfortunatly, my sisters daughter is filling that “gap” being with my Mom during the day while my sister is at work. I found this out last night and was so overtaken with grief feeling like that right should have been mine.
    Today I am coping with it, I will visit more often and hope this helps my feelings. My Mom and I have never been close, and as time closes in on her time here, I feel the need to spend time with her, but that is limited due to other obligations. I feel sad, feel guilty and alone in this and your site was a blessing….Thank you.

  2. Dr. Zachary White permalink
    February 26, 2011

    Thanks so much for sharing your incredible story. Caring for loved ones, whether in person or from afar, is always filled with so many mixed emotions. I’m so glad you found The Unprepared Caregiver. I hope we can be a supportive community for you during this challenging time. All the best.

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