Here are some helpful tips to implement when visiting somebody in the hospital.
Even if the door is open, knock before entering and announce yourself. After this, practice a three-fold greeting that suits your personality. Here is mine:
- Howdy, howdy. (Here I am)
- There you are. (I see you)
- So, what’s going on? (I care about you)
With a simple nine word greeting, I have already communicated: I am with you, I see you, and I care about you. Making an intentional connection sets the tone for the entire visit.
The individual is facing a lot of things that are abnormal to them. Even if they are in the medical field, they usually aren’t the one in the bed. Between the IV, catheter, and various medical professionals coming in and out of their room; your presence is likely very comforting. You are from their normal world, not from this new unknown medical world.
Here is permission for you to be you! God made you like He did so you can comfort in ways that only you can (Ephesians 2:10). If you are naturally funny, let your humor shine; if you are naturally serious, be serious. Now is not the time to mix it up and add to the list of unknowns. Professional you, well, is still you. Take the pressure off of yourself by simply being yourself.
People know when somebody is not being real. Don’t act like you can relate to their pain if you can’t. It’s okay to say, “I honestly have no idea how you are feeling.”
Personally, if I’m going to do a visitation for somebody I don’t relate well with or know that I won’t be able to relate to their situation well, I will either: (A) send somebody in my place that can relate, or (B) have somebody come with me that can relate.
If nobody else is available to go themselves or come with, I know that Jesus is with me and He can relate to them (Hebrews 4:14-16).
* Even if you can relate to the situation, remember that your feelings during your trials are not the exact same as their feelings during their trials; you can know what something is like, but you can never know exactly what it’s like for somebody else. *
Embrace the Silence
It’s inevitable, there will be at least one moment of silence, likely though, there will be several moments of silence. During these moments, do not become anxious and think, “This is getting awkward, what should we talk about now?” Instead, pray in your head, “God, help me be who they need right now, let them feel your peace through me in this moment, etc.”
These moments of silence are not your moment to become anxious, but they are your moment to pray (Philippians 4:6-7).
Pulling from my experience, when somebody that normally doesn’t ask theological questions, all of a sudden asks a theological question, they are asking it for a very practical reason.
The motivation behind such questions could be guilt, fear, or many other things.
A good principle to follow when asked a theological question that’s not in a Sunday School type of context, is to not dive into answering the question right away, but by following Jesus’ example of answering the question with a question (Matthew 9:14-15).
Here is an example conversation:
Them – “If somebody dies saving somebody else, do they automatically go to heaven, and if somebody dies committing a heinous sin, do they automatically go to hell?”
You – “What’s on your mind? Why are you thinking about that right now?”
Typically, it is better to have a brief visitation than a long one. For me, I have found a half-hour or less to be an appropriate amount of time. Of course, there are circumstances in which a longer amount of time is appropriate.
Before leaving, I announce that I will be going soon, let them know that I will be praying for them, and offer to pray for them in that moment. Most people will accept prayer in that moment. Afterwards, or if they do not want prayer in that moment, I say, “Keep me posted on things and I will talk to you later,” and then make my exit.
* Even if the person happens to pass away, it’s still true, you will talk to them later. *