What to say (and NOT say) when visiting a friend or family member in the hospital

From the Editor: There’s something about stepping into a hospital elevator that makes many of us feel uneasy.  So we asked our guest contributor, Maureen Otremba, to help us make a hospital visit as comfortable as possible, for you AND the friend you’re visiting!
My work as a church minister includes making hospital visits to members of our congregation who request such a visit. Over the last several years, here are a few helpful tips I’ve learned about visiting a friend or loved one in the hospital:

1) Make the visit for your friend—not for yourself. In other words, try to fill the need of your friend, and not your own. Does your friend need company, cheering up, spiritual encouragement, or even errands done? Make this the focus of your visit—NOT catching her up on your stuff.

2) Make the visit brief. Most people are in the hospital because they are not feeling well; so long visits tend to exhaust them. Don’t presume your friend will tell you when she’s tired. It’s always better to keep the visit short than to stay too long.

3) Respect her privacy. There may be things about her condition that she doesn’t want you to know. And by all means, do not share anything about your visit with others, unless you have permission from your friend to do so.

4) Be considerate of hospital staff. They are trying to do their jobs in tending to the medical needs of your friend. Step out of their way; offer to leave the room if necessary. And thank them for their work. (You’d be surprised how infrequently they get thanked.)

5) Pray. Before you visit, after you leave, and even while you’re in the room (if your friend welcomes this), call on the Lord Jesus, the Master Healer, whose touch brought wholeness while He was on this earth, and whose Holy Spirit heals through us. If your friend is comfortable with this, reach out and touch her arm, her shoulder, even her feet.

Should I bring flowers?
While you can, it might also be nice to send flowers later on. If they have an extended hospital stay, a fresh bouquet may be nice after others have wilted. Or, if they have headed home, you can send flowers there to remind them that they are still being thought of.
Of course, this list is nowhere near all-inclusive. And each visit has its own set of circumstances which call for sensitivity and flexibility. Above all, listen more than you talk. The gift of presence is sometimes most valuable when no words are exchanged at all.

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