When your dying friend or relative doesn't want visitors

There is nothing worse than having a family member near death and having to deal with a string of visitors who you have not seen in years, or relatives who just want to come and stand by the bed and talk about their lives. When your husband or wife is dying the last thing they generally want is to be stared at or have to cope with visitors when they are obviously not feeling their best. Most people are well intentioned but consider a visit as an outing and it all can be far too much for the person who is not well.

I can remember my mother had a set of friends visit her when she was dying. She was watching TV when they arrived and they came in and Dad organised coffee and biscuits for everyone. They were all happily chatting between themselves when Mum shocked everyone by asking Dad in front of these people, “Please tell them all to go home!”. We had not really considered the fact that she did not feel well enough to entertain people even though she was half sitting up in her TV chair, and we had thought they might brighten up her day. So where is the line drawn as to who can visit and who should you exclude at such a difficult time?

Last year my cousin Clarry, who I loved very dearly, suddenly found out he was riddled with cancer and it was quite a shock to the whole family. Clarry spent all of the two months he had left, in hospital, and the immediate family declined all visitors. One of the things that affected me the most was his wife and children would give no information to anyone about his condition and I would have to ring his sister to find out anything at all. His sister was also refused access to him by his wife on his request as he did not want anyone seeing him in a diminished capacity. I had felt a little offended as I had spent many lovely hours with him throughout our lives, but I respected his wishes and settled for sending him some chocolate flower arrangement which I know he enjoyed. His sister on the other hand, bothered the family with phone call after phone call and finally turned up at the hospital unannounced, to say goodbye.

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According to research by Outstretched Hand Publications, “Dying people frequently have difficultly accepting their pending deaths and are additionally burdened by the discomfort of both symptoms and treatment as well as by a range of emotions which include despair, fear and resentment”. While they are going through these emotional adjustments there is a need for them to feel cared for and loved. However, do we really want people visiting who have not been around them for the last 15 years and are only coming out of curiosity. If they have not bothered to be active in their life, why visit now?

I found this problem to be rather widespread as when leaving work yesterday, I had a workmate Gail explain that she was taking a month or so off work, as her husband had terminal cancer.  She explained to me she was having difficulty with the number of people wanting to come and visit him while he was so unwell.  She indicated while he had been in hospital she could restrict access, however now he was home dying and lots and lots of people were wanting to visit.  She explained, some were helpful and would come and feed him and look after him, but a lot of people who wanted to visit had not even bothered with them socially in many years.

Gail’s long work hours were not enabling her to restrict anyone, however, now she would be home on holidays, we agreed living in a gated community was going to be a really good thing as she could easily control who could come and go.  She also indicated that she was now going to put some rules on the relatives and friends, as they were just completely exhausting him with their visits.

So do you think you should be restricting visitors when a family member is dying? Should you be broadcasting information on their condition? What experiences have you had?