You and Your Health: ‘You Visited Me’

hands clasped in prayer

“I want to go see her, but I just don’t know what to say,” my neighbor told me when she heard that a mutual friend was diagnosed with cancer. “I think we can still call her and tell her we are thinking about her, praying for her,” I said. “I’ll tell her that if she needs anything to let me know and it will get done.”

When friends or family get sick, we are often in an uncomfortable position of wanting to know how they’re doing. We want to know about their surgery, treatments, and release dates, but we are hesitant to visit or call them. What is the proper etiquette for visiting or calling someone who is ill or dying?

Christ said, “[I was] naked, and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me” (Mt 25:36). We need to visit the sick.

Sister Faith Cosky, OSF, chaplain at St. Joseph Mercy Hospital in Ann Arbor, Michigan, says, “There is no pat answer on what to say to a person who is sick. There is little you can say to make it better, whether the person is dying or will not recover.

“Prior to death, I tell people to say, ‘Thank you, I love you, and I’m sorry.’ The bottom line is: What would I like to hear if I were the one sick? What would be comforting to me?”

She adds, “When people say, ‘I don’t know what to say,’ I advise that they tell the patient that. Most of the time a conversation will flow from that admission. Do not be afraid of sitting in silence with someone. They know you care.”

Be Present

When someone has a terminal disease, a get-well card is not appropriate. Greeting card companies are addressing this challenge of visiting and supporting the sick. Companies like Hallmark and American Greetings have encouragement cards that offer hopeful words designed to boost confidence and lighten someone’s day.

These cards truly reflect a need in our culture. Everyone has moments when they could use an encouraging word. It could be because of a life-changing event such as divorce, death of a loved one, or a serious illness. Or it could be for those everyday things like a rough patch at work or a bout of the blues. We do not have to buy a card for a friend, but the sentiments on greeting cards offer another way to support those who are sick.

Francis of Assisi inspires me. Thomas of Celano wrote, “Francis once took a certain sick brother, who he knew had a longing for grapes, into the vineyard and, sitting down under the vine, he first ate to give the other courage to eat.” Francis sat down with the brother and ate. He did not just send the brother the grapes. He was present.

Let us all share grapes with our sick loved ones.

Handy Tips

  • Make a short visit frequently. Bring cheerful news.
  • Pray for the sick person each day— pray during your visit.
  • A visit does not have to be filled with sound; silent time is helpful for everyone.
  • Before leaving, hold the person’s hand or place a hand on his or her head.

Next Month: ‘Blessed Be the Middle’

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