A Primer for Visiting the Sick

African woman visiting sick best friend in hospital. Afro-american young female patient lying in bed and talking to sister visitor sitting near in hospital ward

In Matthew 25:35-36 (NKJV) Jesus Christ teaches how 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 the person and Jesus simultaneously.

Don’t Wait or Procrastinate: Schedule the Visit

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 can be less clear about their needs and have difficulty with concentration, memory, or confidence. Many sick people want visits when they can manage it the best.

Plan the timing of your visit. Call, text, email, or message first, if possible, to determine a convenient time to visit for the person and their family. It is a courteous step to take. There are different times of day when people with different types of illnesses do better or worse. Someone with Parkinson’s disease may prefer a late morning or early afternoon visit. 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.

African woman visiting sick best friend in hospital. Afro-american young female patient lying in bed and talking to sister visitor sitting near in hospital wardWhen setting up a visit consider using the method of communication that is most familiar and comfortable for them. I know people that only check Meta Messenger for communication and never check voicemail messages. Many only check and respond to text messages.

Let them define the length of the visit. Under normal circumstances, 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 close family member you may need to shorten the visit.


Prepare Yourself for the Visit

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. Those may include being too busy and caring for close family members who are also sick or lacking 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 prefer a visit soon rather than no visit? I think that in many instances the answer would be yes.

Visiting the sick can be a positive and uplifting experience. Ask them what they want from the visit and then comply with what they ask within reason. They will appreciate it. Here are some helpful tips. Most of these apply both to a home or hospital visit.

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.


Prepare to Bless Them

Unless it is a special circumstance like a person’s birthday large group visits are often too taxing for someone who is sick. Consider making your visit by yourself or with another 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 is their preference. A small and 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.

Optimize Your Time Together

A friend always knocks before entering a room, whether it is at home or in the hospital. By doing so, you may avoid embarrassment if you walk 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. As you enter, if there are other people in the room, include them in the visit. Unless requested, do not sit on the person’s bed, but instead in a chair near the bed. You will want to sit in a place where you can both see and hear one another without anyone having to be in an awkward or tiring position.

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, we make meaning of our stories while we hear what we say to others. 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 complete visit. For some, too much talking can be disturbing. You may know a friend or family member that 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. You may want to avoid these topics in your conversation as they probably hear them enough: the medical diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, medications, details about illness, or stories about people with a similar illness. Do not give medical advice.

If you get there and don’t know what to say, what can you begin with? 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 as a start:

  • “We’re concerned…” or “we’re thinking of you.”
  • “We’re praying for you!” and “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 you should check with a provider before giving them something.

Listen to what your recovering friend is communicating about others. 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 take someone with you the next time you visit, or request others to visit.

Some people long for someone to be a witness to their stories.

The Prayerful Touch

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.

Sharing a prayer out loud may be very meaningful. People have different beliefs about prayer. Throughout the world, there is a great variety of ways in which people pray. If you are visiting someone who is not from your particular faith background, you may want to take the time to describe the way that you pray before doing so. It will likely help them to be more at ease and to know what to expect. Keep the prayer short, specific, and accurately hopeful.

Should you touch someone on your visit such as holding a hand or giving a hug? Certainly, some studies support the healing aspects of touch. Jesus touched lepers. 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.

Loving Them From Afar

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 in person, 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. Some who experience social anxiety may prefer a video or phone option to an in-person visit.

Preparation is key for a successful video visit. It is important to pick a time when there will be limited background noise and you know there is adequate wi-fi or internet service available to run the video platform that you will be using. You may still consider sending a gift, card, or something tangible to be a reminder of your visit.

Remember Why You Came

No visit to the sick is going to be perfect, but don’t let a good visit fall victim to unrealistic expectations of perfection. Everyone is bound to make mistakes. Over time, through observation, reflection, and trying again, we can improve how we care for those that are sick. If you remember that the reason for your visit is your interest, concern, and often love, your visit will serve in most instances to uplift others. May you be blessed in these compassionate and holy acts of service.



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