Tips for Handling Visitors

Encourage people to visit whenever possible, unless your loved one doesn't want to see anyone. Many caregivers say that after their loved one died, they regretted turning visitors away when their loved one seemed too ill or the household was too chaotic.

Tell anyone you think might want to see your loved one, or whom your loved one might want to see, what's going on. Ask your loved one for names, or check your loved one's address book. Don't forget old friends and acquaintances. Tell these people that your loved one is dying so that they understand there is a certain urgency to the situation.

Encourage people to visit early in your loved one's illness, especially if they hope to resolve differences or make amends. Your loved one is more likely to be well enough to participate in this kind of exchange and will be able to keep the memory of the visit for the future.

You may wish to set certain visiting hours or use a signal, such as a porch light turned on or a sign on your door, to let people know if it's okay to drop in. A signal can let even expected visitors know if, at the last minute, your loved one can't see them.

If you don't want visitors just dropping in, ask people to call ahead. You can put a sign on your door with your phone number to remind them. Remember that you can turn away any visitors at any time if you can't accommodate them.

When visitors arrive at your home, no matter who they are, always double check that your loved one it ready to see them. Even if your loved one was ready for visitors 15 minutes ago, moods and physical condition can change quickly.

Never force your loved one to see anyone who is not welcome. It's up to your loved one to decide who may or may not visit. If the situation is difficult for you, remember that your loved one's change of heart is always possible.

Know that many visitors will be nervous or even frightened by things like changes in your loved one's appearance, or by the fact that your loved one is dying. It may help everyone involved if you offer visitors some general guidelines and explain any specific limitations or requirements that apply in your situation. You can explain guidelines to visitors, or you can keep a list of guidelines in the patient log for visitors to read on their own.
If children will be visiting, it's especially important to prepare them for any changes in your loved one's appearance, physical condition, or ability to interact. If a child does not wish to visit, respect and support the child's decision. You may encourage the child to write a letter, send a card, or draw a picture for your loved one instead.

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