But think for a minute, what’s it like from
the sick person’s point of view? Imagine the energy you need to
entertain a virtuous visitor, to make it all worthwhile for them. All that
having to biteone’s lip when they fuss around trying to wash the grapes and
arrange the flowers. How often, in your exhaustion, do you just long to tell
them to go – and possibly in a very rude manner.
I have been reproved for my cynicism. Such
inhumanity. And surely if those we love are sick we want to go and comfort
them. And in turn, be comforted.
Yes of course we do – mostly. And in my book you
don’t dump your friends (or relatives) just because they’ve gone a bit loopy
or dribble or have some scary disease.
The trouble is that as we get older, we get
sick more often, and our friends and family get sick more often, and we
build up an interdependency, a symbiotic relationship based on need. Last
time in hospital I had a great need for new knickers and my good friend
brought some in from Marks. Better far than grapes, and she does silence
very well so the hour passed quickly and peacefully.
Mainly, when I’m doing the visiting, it’s my
overworked sense of duty that creates difficulties. This is not seen as a
virtue by my daughters, who threaten to emigrate if I get involved with any
more of the old ladies living down the road.
I am painfully realising, through years of
visiting friends and elderly relatives, one of them in dementia, that
they are right. My motives are entirely suspect and go something like this.
Why do I visit? Because I come from a long line of missionaries, so it’s in
the family. I have worked as a social worker, and am obviously genetically
disposed to do good unto others.
But I don’t enjoy it. And in obeying my genes
I’m entirely ignoring the fact that people like to be helped in their own
way and not according to my own fixed agenda; which is, I am sorry to say,
get in, do good and get out as soon as possible.
My sister in law, even in the later stages of
dementia, can always be relied on to winkle out the worst excesses of my
patronage. Marching into her darkened room one sunny day, I flung back the
curtains. She reproved me severely for not asking her first.
This penetration of my defences let in the light
in more ways than one and, fortunately for the sick of this world, I am
learning to shift into a different gear before going in with my grapes. I am
learning, at last, to enter their world, the small enclosed world of the
sick room or hospital ward. I enter on their terms and need to be tuned to
their agenda. This is particularly true for people in dementia whose world
is often very different.
I am pretty proud of this example: ‘What’s
the baby called?’
‘Arthur’, I said, quick as a flash. Asking which
baby and explaining I didn’t have one would have distressed my sister-in-law
greatly and caused irritation in myself.
But has all this enlightenment eased my
antipathy to visiting the sick?
The answer, surprisingly, is yes. The process of
shifting into a different gear has improved the experience no end. I find
it becomes easier with practice; more fun, less disturbing and more
Of course, I can’t speak for the subjects of
my good intentions, but hopefully some of the above will rub off on
At the very least they get to eat their own