When your dying friend or relative doesn’t want visitors 117



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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.

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?

Gillian Johnston

Gillian Johnston is a mother, grandmother, writer and hard worker based on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland. Born in 1951, she's a proud member of the baby boomer generation. Gill has set up http://www.60sux.com a website about the difficulties that arise over 60 years of age.

  1. Visiting times & restricted visitors are really important for people who are very week, or dying, & for new mothers in some instances. Visitors can be very exhausting. There are so many practical things that can be done to show you care, & Facebook & Skype can have a very big influence, without tiring the person out.

    2 REPLY
    • I’m glad you mentioned new mothers. The only visitor I wanted was my Mum. Husband asked if the hospital would put a no visitors sign on the door and they said no. I know everyone was happy for us (after years of trying) but I was worn out mentally and physically.

  2. When this happened to my late husband, it was always his decision if anyone was to visit. I asked people to phone me first and then I would ask him if it was ok. Some days he felt better than others, so on his good days visitors were welcome. It worked out well for all of us.

  3. I had this problem when my late Husband was dying. He was at home and when he was tired and feeling too ill for visitors I left a kind note on the front door informing people that he was too unwell for visitors that day and then on the day that he died his brother was there from overseas, some workmates had flown down to see him and I knew he was going to go soon so I asked them all to please go and have lunch together somewhere close and I would call them when I needed them, which I did. It left us time together for the last moments and I am forever grateful for that, and they all understood.

    6 REPLY
  4. Just had a huge loss in my life and my sister in law only wanted her children visiting. As I live in another state it was unbearable not seeing her. I sent flowers and my love and prayers in a card which she loved and received 3 days before we lost her to Cancer.

    1 REPLY
  5. I would just do what they wanted. Some people are not good visitors, they sit and look miserable and can’t control the tears. Or they go the opposite way and speak too loudly and try and laugh and joke. You can understand how that would be too much for most sick people.

  6. My grandfather was known for saying ‘Let’s go to bed dear and let these people go home’. This can work well as ‘I’m going to sleep now so you can go home’. As my mum was dying ( at my sister’s home) visitors were warmly greeted, shown to her room and gently told by my wonderful sister that she would ‘come and get them in fifteen minutes or so’. Enough time for a prayer, sharing some news but not enough to tire mum out.

  7. Being an aged care nurse for 25yrs, I really believe visitors should respect the wishes of the patient and immediate family. People seem to come out of the woodwork when someone is dying and many have little respect,

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