When you stand next to the bed of a patient, you are on holy ground.
Sickness and death are huge stressors which involves family and friends. However, professional therapists can support the patient and the family by helping them to find meaning during this time in their lives. In therapy we refer to “meaning making” or the “sense of life”. If you do not have the help of a therapist, follow the guidelines below.
Throughout this time you would want to discover the meaning of the patients’ life story, their purpose and preferences. When visiting a patient make sure the person is comfortable and at ease. Listen not only with your ears, but also with your heart. Your role is to listen and to guide the patient with questions to discover the things that have brought meaning to their lives. Show honest interest and offer sincere empathy regarding their emotions, thoughts as well as their losses. Always keep in mind that the patient has sole ownership of his or her life story.
Communicate about their childhood, upbringing and family. Also talk about the people who had an influence on their life. Ask the patient about the people he/she had an influence on and what these people would say about them. Acknowledge their abilities, skills and heritage. Use this to enrich their story in order to bring some healing.
Lourens van der Post refers in a research amongst prisoners, that the biggest hunger other than for food, is the hunger for meaning. It is said that it is even more important than the hunger for happiness.