Guidelines When Visiting
a Grieving Person
WE ARE ALL CAREGIVERS
By J. Shep Jeffreys, Ed.D., C.T.
Family caregivers play an important role in educating and managing
visitor behavior. Many people who come to visit an ill or dying
person are unsure of how to act; sometimes they irritate rather
than soothe. To make visits more helpful, visitors should be apprised
of all of the following specific guidelines for visitors:
• As a visitor you are making a commitment.
• Look at the person you are visiting.
• Talk directly to the individual.
• Make physical contact.
• Bring something as a connecting activity.
• Don’t persist in probing for medical information or
express concerns for the person’s condition.
• Bring news of the outside world.
• Use humor when appropriate.
• Keep advice out of the conversation unless asked for.
• Be aware of your own feelings and respect them.
As a visitor you are making a commitment.
Whether this is an ongoing activity or a one-time visit, it is a
time devoted to supporting the person you are visiting. The agenda
belongs to the ill person being visited. If you are too conscious
of “doing a good deed,” the person you are visiting
will resent rather then welcome your presence.
Look at the person you are visiting.
If you avoid eye contact the person may conclude, “I must
be too terrible to look at.” “I’m worse off than
I thought.” In addition to feeling insecure about one’s
physical appearance, the ill person may feel embarrassed. Stay focused
on the person you are visiting and refrain from allowing every sound
outside to pull your gaze away from him or her. This does not imply
staring so intensely that the other is made to feel uncomfortable.
Look away from time to time and then look back.
Talk directly to the individual.
Talking to another person in the room about the person
whom you are visiting is discounting and hurtful. Additionally,
using the “Royal We” (“How are we today? Would
we like our meds now? Are we ready for lunch?”) is hurtful.
Just converse normally.
Make physical contact.
Approach the person, whether he or she is in bed or in a chair -
and it’s always best to ask if it’s okay- hold a hand,
wipe the forehead, or massage a foot. Offer to bring a drink or
food, rearrange pillows, take a walk, or take a wheelchair stroll.
Bring something as a connecting activity.
Anything that interests you or that you know interests
the other person can be used as a good ice breaker: a novel, magazine
article, prayer book or book of psalms, scriptures, cards, checkers,
chess or other games to play. You can also pray or reminisce together.
Don’t persist in probing for medical information or express
concerns for the person’s condition. Allow the person you
are visiting to talk about his or her medical status or not. Share
your concerns with and get additional medical information from the
Bring news of the outside world.
Talking about the neighborhood, larger community, or workplace,
gives the person a sense of ongoing connection with the outside
Use humor when appropriate
Some people will appreciate hearing new jokes; other will
want to read humorous books or watch funny videos or DVD’s
Keep advice out of the conversation unless asked for.
If you want to make a suggestion, speak to the family caregiver.
Such advice is not always met with enthusiasm; be prepared for this.
Be aware of your own feelings and respect them.
Visiting a very ill, disabled or dying person can be a
profoundly sad and possibly a scary experience. If you begin to
feel overwhelmed by these feelings, it’s time to say goodbye
and make a promise to return. If possible give a specific time when
you will come back.
Excerpted from Helping Grieving People--When tears are not enough:
A Handbook for Care Providers by J. Shep Jeffreys, Ed.D., C.T. Copyright
© 2005 by Taylor & Francis Books, Inc. All rights reserved.
Excerpted by arrangement with Brunner-Routledge. $39.95. Available
in local bookstores or click