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Should You Visit a Loved One Who is Dying?

This is probably not the greatest title. I left it to the very end and couldn’t come up with anything better but I hope it does the job.

The initial dilemma

The news of the illness were surprising. They broke the last hope there was that maybe this was just a regular infection gone too far. I had a sudden wake- up moment somewhere between the regular calls and the waiting for the test results. I would come visit when she gets better and we would do all the things we did last time. There would be no fights this time and no useless thoughts distracting me from the present moment.

But then the news came and I remember being terrified by the seriousness of it all. At the end of the official part of my day- to day life, when the social obligations were over, I found myself sobbing in the living room. I knew I had to come see her one last time before it was too late. And yet, I was not sure whether or not I would be able to go through with it. I was scared of falling apart into a sad mess right when she needed me to be strong.

There was no doubt that this had to be done and yet something inside me was protesting. To make sense of the idea that our lives eventually have an end , I went online to see what experiences other people had with visiting terminally ill loved ones for the very last time at their sickbeds. There was less than I expected to find on such a serious topic. Ultimately, the opinions split between taking the last chance to spend some time together and remembering the person the way they were while still healthy, avoiding the additional stress of a final good-bye.

So here is one detailed version of how such visits go down:

Fear and doubt

I was determined to buy the ticket. When it came to picking the departure date I hesitated for a moment. Something made me believe that giving myself more time would make me ready for what was to come. I thought that delaying the visit would give me time to prepare. Yet, I got a ticket for the weekend of the same week and I am glad I did. Things seemed easier all of a sudden, once the decision was made.

Still, I spent the next day thinking about last words that should or should not be said. I couldn’t wrap my head around what I was supposed to say once I was there. Would it be expected of me to spend our last two days just holding hands? “Should I think of something to do?”, I asked myself and made a mental note to show her some photos of the last trips I took around Europe last year, just for us to pass the time.


On the day of my departure I did not feel the panic I was expecting. It was like any regular trip. I expected the desperation to kick in while familiar streets and buildings from my childhood started passing by the taxi’s window. I assumed that my voice would break when I saw her coming into the apartment. She looked as if she had aged ten years. It didn’t. I was happy to see her. I was happy that, if there is a God, he kept her alive long enough for me to come by one last time. The fear and the doubts were gone, and while the sadness still weighted heavily on me, the happiness of being in the same room with a person I love provided a much needed balance.

It was not awkward or intimidating. We did not have to sit there holding hands and cry together. We talked as we always did when I came to visit. Instead, we told each other stories from our lives and watched old Soviet movies on TV. That was all we could think of and in that moment it was enough.

I appreciated being in our old apartment, walking through the rooms whose interiors were older than myself. I indulged in letting myself being carried away by memories and nostalgia. Strangely enough, instead of breaking me into a million pieces, it made the present moments bearable. I understood that I had done the right thing by facing my fears.


She was tired on Saturday. It was clear that we would not be spending our time mourning which was not necessary to begin with. I went for a walk in town while she slept. As I walked around the familiar streets, passing by the apple trees I used to climb as a child, taking in all the familiar sceneries, I must admit that there was something strangely beautiful among all of this heavy sadness. Yes, she would no longer be able to take me to the theater or go to the market with me to buy forrest fruit by the bucket and my favorite pastries. As sad as this is, it does not mean that I cannot keep these things in good memory and eventually do them by myself one day, thinking of her as I go.

There were no last words or at least nothing unnecessarily dramatic. I showed her the photographs and asked her for her crêpes recipe that she made ever since I was a child. It is true that we both cried when the taxi pulled up in the yard where I used to play way back. Saying goodbye to a loved one will never be easy but having taken the chance to do so made the acceptance stage of the mourning process come quicker. My visit had made her happy and that was all I needed to know. It was a pain worth feeling in order to move on with my own life.

If you find yourself reading this for the same reasons I did, go see that person at their sickbed one more time. You are capable of far more than you think.

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