water lilies, photo by Michael Shoemaker
Advice for Visiting the Sick
In Matthew 25:35-36 (NKJV) Jesus Christ teaches that when we serve others,
we serve Him.
“…for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.”
When we visit the sick, we serve that person and Jesus simultaneously.
Being sick can be a lonely and isolating experience. When a person is sick, they often lose some degree of their day-to-day independence. They may tire easily and need support to get around or have things brought to them. They might have difficulty with concentration, memory, or confidence.
We may experience uncertainty or a lack of confidence about what we can do on our part
to have a good visit. While we have good intentions, we may procrastinate or delay a visit for various reasons, like caring for close family members who are also sick or perhaps we lack good health or energy. Your reasons may be valid for now, but sometime in the future, you may find the opportunity to visit the sick.
If the reason is mostly procrastination or smaller fears, you may want to put yourself in another person’s shoes. If you were sick, would you like someone to visit you? I think
that in many instances the answer would be yes.
Visiting the sick can be a positive and uplifting experience. Ask them ahead of time if
there’s something they want or need, and then comply, within reason.
Plan the timing of your visit. Call, text, email, or message first, if possible, to determine
a convenient time for the person and their family. Some people with various types of illnesses do better or worse at different times of day. By checking beforehand, you allow caregivers the ability to plan errands around your visit. Also, you may become aware
that they do not want a visit due to a painful treatment procedure, fatigue, or already
have other planned visits.
Let them define the length of the visit. Generally, a visit of five to fifteen minutes is sufficient. Their preferences may change during the visit. Due to tiredness, the need for taking medications at a certain time, or an unexpected visit from a family member, you may
need to shorten the visit.
Large group visits are often too taxing for someone who is sick. Consider making your
visit by yourself or with one other person.
If you plan to bring something to eat or drink, ask before doing so. The person you are visiting may have a restricted diet or may not be eating anything at all. If you do bring
food, consider bringing something for the family/other visitors, if you’re visiting a home.
Should you bring flowers or a gift? It depends. Once again, ask what their preference is.
A small, inexpensive gift that reminds the person of the visit long after the visitor has left
may be welcomed. Others see no purpose in gifts at all. Perhaps a gift card or a monetary
gift would better help to meet the needs of the individual and family.
Wash your hands thoroughly before and after the visit. Be as clean as you can be. If requested, be willing to use hand sanitizer or wear a mask.
It is courteous to knock before entering a room, whether it is at home or in the hospital.
By doing so, you may avoid the embarrassment of walking into the middle of a bath
or a medical procedure. A sick person already has had their usual sense of privacy reduced. Give them a sense of control by stopping at the door, calling their name,
giving yours, and asking if it is all right to come in. Unless requested, do not sit on
the person’s bed.
Spend more time listening than speaking. Learning how to do this may take time and practice. Some people long for someone to be a witness to their stories. Often, people make meaning of their stories while hearing what they say to others. And we gain new perspectives that can strengthen and fortify our faith and help us to see the grace of
God in our lives.
Be willing to sit in silence. Your presence and your positive spirit are important. It is
not necessary to speak nonstop throughout the visit. For some, too much talking can
be stressful. You may know a friend or family member who would prefer that you do
a quiet activity with them, such as a small puzzle, crochet, or needlepoint together.
In your conversation, minimize advice, judgments, comparisons, corrections, or asking
too many questions. It is best to adapt the conversation to the situation and needs of
the moment. But if your mind goes blank, here are some things you might say: “We’ve
been concerned about you,” “We’re thinking of you,” “We’re praying for you,” “We know
you are going through a very difficult period,” “Can I get you something?”
If they request food or water and are under medical care, check with a provider before giving them something.
Listen to what your recovering friend is communicating. Do they long for more visitors?
Or are they burnt out by the constant stream of calls and interactions? If they would like
more visitors, you might bring someone with you the next time you visit, or ask others to visit.
You may want to avoid these topics in your conversation as they probably hear them enough:their medical diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, medications, details about illness,
or stories about people with a similar illness. Do not give medical advice.
Offer to pray. Rarely are people offended by a simple offer to pray as a genuine expression of your interest and care. If they ask you not to pray, respect their request. Otherwise, sharing a prayer out loud may be very meaningful. Keep the prayer short, specific, and accurately hopeful.
Should you touch someone on your visit, such as holding their hand or giving a hug? There are studies that support the healing aspects of touch. Jesus touched the sick. At the same time, it is violating to force touch on someone who does not welcome it. The answer is likely that it depends on you, the other person, and the Lord to know what is best.
Circumstances may not allow for an in-person visit. Poor weather conditions, limited visitation hours when you are not working, restrictions on who is permitted to visit, and concerns over transmission of infection (such as COVID-19) are some of the reasons
that a video visit may be a good option. We live in a digital world. Many people would
prefer a video or phone visit to no visit at all.
Preparation is key for a successful video visit. Pick a time when there will be limited background noise and you know there is adequate wi-fi or internet service. You may still consider sending a gift, a card, something tangible as a reminder of your visit.
No visit is going to be perfect, but don’t let a good visit fall victim to unrealistic expectations. Everyone makes mistakes. Over time, through observation, reflection, and trying again,
we can improve how we care for those who are sick.
If you remember that the reason for your visit is your interest, concern, and care, your visit will serve in most instances to uplift. May you be blessed in these compassionate and holy acts of service.
Flash flood waterfall, photo by Michael Shoemaker
Two poems by Michael Shoemaker:
hard words flew
in a second
through this room
they’re not invisible
I am so sorry
and would fly instantly
replace these words
with love, balm and
a sanctuary of peace
but I can’t fly
what words are left
in this empty space
except for a plea
to allow me
to try again
Garden courtyard, photo by Michael Shoemaker
bouncing tennis balls
wide brim straw hats
roses climbing trellises
picking summer squash
lemonade with crushed ice
in tall thin glasses
broad shade umbrellas
road construction flaggers’ vests
dripping melted butter
off corn on the cob
reading a book at the library
about a man with a big yellow hat
marigolds, begonias, petunias, daisies,
sundresses, beach balls, flip-flops, nail polish,
garden gloves, swimsuits, popsicles, golf balls,
meadowlarks, warblers, goldfinch, tanagers
glow-in-the-dark shoelaces that show up
while eating popcorn in a cool dark movie theater
sunflowers reaching through my neighbor’s
chain link fence into my backyard
turning yellow autumn leaves rustle on my porch
convert to brown mid-rain, snow, and slush
dreaming in my chair in the winter dark
summer yellow returns
in radiating splendor
Tall grass by the lake, photo by Michael Shoemaker
Michael Shoemaker is a poet, writer,
and photographer. His poems have
appeared in Ancient Paths Literary
Journal, Front Porch Review,
Utah Life Magazine, and elsewhere.
He lives in Magna, Utah, with his wife
and son where he enjoys looking out
on the Great Salt Lake every day.