When a friend is diagnosed with a life-threatening illness, it can be one of the most horrible experiences in your life. You may not know what to say or do, or what your obligations are. On top of that, it reminds you of your own mortality. One of the reasons many people feel uncomfortable about going to visit a friend or family member in the hospital is that it reacquaints them with the fact that they may be next in line.
But no matter how uncomfortable it makes you feel, you have to remember that it's not about you. Here are some tips for visiting a friend or family member in the hospital:
- Show up. Don't make excuses about not having anything to say. There is nothing you can say or do that will change anything, but being there will make them feel better.
- Don't text or email. The weeniest thing you can do is text or email. A phone call is great. Skyping is even better.
- If you can't see them, drop off a little gift, memento or photograph so that they know you are thinking about them. Keep it small, simple and sweet.
- Knock. Even if the door is wide open, knock or peek around the corner. Just because they are sick doesn't mean they aren't entitled to some dignity.
- If they are sleeping, let them sleep. Sit and read, or go get a cup of coffee. If you can't stay, leave a note saying something cute and that you'll be back another time. (And then actually come back another time).
- Wash your hands or use sanitizer before you go in and after you leave.
- Respect their privacy. If they need to use the restroom or the nurse or doctor comes in, wait outside.
- Keep the visit short (about 15 minutes, unless they ask you to stay longer).
- Share a laugh. Humor never hurt anyone. The worst thing you can do is say nothing.
- If they have a caretaker, volunteer to give that person a break for a few hours.
Just about everyone out there knows someone who isn't feeling well, so I expect that by the end of the day you make contact with them.