We cannot always be sure what someone wants from us, so the best way to find out is to ask. Even so, the answer may not be the same on Thursday as it was on Tuesday.
We may think we know a person well enough to make a good guess; but even then, it may be good to verify our intuition. A personal example follows:
Once, when making a visit to a man who was an elder of a Native American tribe, the patient said to me, "Could you not show me that face?"
He was an intuitive person, so I knew he had a valid reason for asking such a question; and he knew I valued his opinion, so when I said, "What face?" he was honest."... Each person may need something different ... Knowing this helps us accept the idea of asking the patient how they want their visit to go."
He said, "That sad face you come in here with sometimes. It doesn't help me. I feel bad enough, so if you are bringing that face in here, don't come to see me."
After I had his permission to stay at least for a little while with my face, we talked about what he meant and how I could comply with his wishes. We talked about many things that day, and especially about what kind of face he would like me to bring to his house.
He told me he loved to see visitors with a smile and a joke or a funny story. He said he would rather spend our visits laughing and enjoying our conversation and keeping it light; so I promised to bring a joke each time I came to see him, and he agreed I could return.
Needless to say, I think of him often and, because of his lesson for me, I try to be sensitive to the effect my mood may have on the person I visit; and if I am not sure how he/she wants our visit to go, I ask.
Each person is different and responds to hospice staff reactions in a different way. The patient mentioned above preferred we express our empathy with him by "cheering him up." Others may prefer a different type of "feeling with" them.
For instance: On a different occasion, a social worker and I were making a visit to admit a new patient, a young father of two small children.
As he was providing his history, I noticed tears on the face of the social worker. She apologized for crying, saying to him, "I'm sorry;" and he told her, "Don't be sorry. Seeing your tears makes me feel better."
These two examples are meant to show how each person may need something different and how each visit may be different. Knowing this helps us accept the idea of asking how the patient wants his/her visit to go.