As we enter the phase of our lives in which we lose our aging parents, we need to learn how to serve our families and the families of friends and loved ones in ways that are helpful and meaningful. Here are some things that I have learned.
SERVING THE SICK & DYING
As long as the towel is not being thrown in, medically speaking, we should continue to encourage and pray for healing.
When we pray for healing, we need to remember the following:
We ask for healing, we do not demand. Humility, never pride.
We should ask based on God’s grace, not on anyone’s merit.
When we are ministering to the sick and dying, we must be sensitive to the person's relationship with Jesus. While we want to be compassionate, and sensitive, we must not give false hope to anyone.
How do we minister to those who do not know Christ?
Pray for and seize opportunity to share the gospel.
Depending on their heart, from very hard to very open, we need to share as we would with any other person, yet with more urgency.
If a direct sharing of the gospel would be received—do it!
If not, try asking for permission to read scripture and pray. Most will allow this. Read portions that tell the gospel in terms as clear as possible.
Pray asking God to reveal Himself, and His love.
Singing (or playing) gospel music can also be effective.
If the person is able to respond, and is even politely receptive, ask for a response to what you shared.
How do we minister to those who do know Christ?
Encourage the person about the hope of the resurrection.
Read lots of scripture.
Pray with and for the person.
At home or in the hospital?
If it is at all possible, keep the person at home.
If it is not possible, try to make it possible. By not doing so, you may be setting yourself up for possible guilt later.
Contact Hospice. Though not all Christian, they are a big help.
Go see those who are sick. Avoid guilt for not visiting.
Be especially sensitive to the length of visits. Too long can be too much.
Do not be afraid to “just be there,” even if there is no conversation.
Do not limit conversation to sickness and dying. Enjoy humor. Watch a funny movie together.
While being sensitive to the person's physical condition, and their personality, touch them.
Cards are encouraging. Flowers are nice—even simple! They need not be fancy.
Talk about the person’s wishes concerning their body, services, etc.
Make arrangements for mortuary services as far in advance as you can.
Be patient. They may say or do things because of stress.
Guard the person’s dignity
Loss of dignity is as frightening, if not more so, than pain. Do all you can to protect it.
While not withholding any help they may request or need, encourage them and allow them to do for themselves as much as they can, for as long as they can.
Make modesty a priority.
Help them look their best and affirm to them that they look good.
Do not talk about them as though they are not there.
When the person is in a comatose state
Continue to visit.
Hearing is the last sense to go. Continue to talk, read, and pray. The sounds of familiar voices are comforting, even if sickness and drugs are clouding the person’s ability to understand details.
Identify yourself. Tell the person you came to see them and tell them you love them.
Continue to touch as is appropriate (so as not to cause pain).
When the person is near death, give them permission to go.
When a loved one dies
The old-fashioned way of keeping the deceased person in the home until the next day allows for healthy grieving, instead of sanitizing everything.
MINISTERING TO THE FAMILIES OF THE SICK AND DYING
Encourage them, too!
Even if you have been through a similar situation—don't say, “I know how you feel.”
You do not need to say much.
Ask how the sick person is doing.
Ask how the family would like you to pray.
Cards and calls are meaningful. (Don’t insist on speaking with the sick person. Ask if they are able to speak on the phone.)
Asking if there is anything you can do is usually valueless. Look for a need and meet it! Do not ask—just do it.
Food. Casseroles—in disposable dishes. Lunch meats & fixings, disposable plates, plastic ware. Be aware of what amounts of food are appropriate. Giving a single person or a couple a casserole dish that feeds eight people is too much, unless it is in small packages that can be frozen and eaten as needed. Pre-paid gift certificates for pizzas that can be delivered are good.
Child care, house work, yard work.
Escape from home, especially if they have been housebound.
Money. Cash comes in handy.
Caring for the Caregiver
See that they are eating and sleeping enough.
Provide relief—gently insist.
Remind them that they will be no good to the sick person if they make themselves sick as well.
Be patient. They may say or do things because of stress.
MINISTERING TO THE FAMILIES OF THOSE WHO HAVE DIED
The day of the death
If you have a personal relationship with the person or family, go to the house.
Do not say much. “I’m sorry” is sufficient. Do not say, “She is better off now.” Even if it is true, the grieving family is not always ready to hear this. Do not turn conversation around to discuss your problems.
Do not stay long.
A simple gift or card may be good.
Food is always helpful.
Bring house cleaning supplies and go to work (if you are close enough that this would not offend.)
If you are not so close that you would go to the house
Send a card right away. (Another card a month or two later reassuring the family that you haven’t forgotten their loved on or their loss is also extremely meaningful.)
Too many calls at the house of the deceased are not good, but calls to the homes of family members are good.
If you phone, do not say much. People often feel awkward talking. “I am sorry, you and your entire family are in our prayers.” is good.
Avoid a generic, “If you need anything . . .” The person isn't likely to think of anything. Instead, if you are close: Look for a need and meet it.
Yard care. Food. Child Care. House cleaning.
Ask, “Can I do this or that?” (Specific) Do not ask, “Is there anything I can do?” They can’t answer. Instead, say, “You know I am available to help. . . “
Be patient. They may say or do strange things because of stress.
If at all possible, attend the funeral or memorial service. There is no way to measure what this does to encourage the family that their loved one meant much to so many.
Do not play your situation down. It is a big deal.
Answer questions asked about the sick person’s condition, but do not go into gory details.
Ask for prayer.
Say, “Thank you for asking.”
Do not turn down help. You do not want to rob people of the opportunity to serve. (You do not have to accept every offer—especially if it wasn’t needed. But receive what people give and do for you.)
Keep a list of who did what. Thank them. It is good to affirm people so that they know their sincere efforts were appreciated. They will know better what to do next time.