How many visitors should be in the room of someone who is dying?
I received a really good question recently: "Do Hospice facilities you work with limit the number of visitors to a room? Just wondering. I didn’t think Hospice was a place with rules like this."
This is my response:
This is a great question, and while I cannot speak for other hospice agencies, I can speak from my perspective, which is that I think less is more… for many reasons.
If your loved one is in a hospice house, care facility, or hospital, most places do limit the number of visitors, especially since COVID. But before COVID, I have always advised that people take turns and not fill the room. There is so much to consider in these moments, such as the patients and families in the other rooms… they too are having an experience that deserves respect and it is important that we are mindful of that. Think about the person who has no visitors, or the family member who is saying goodbye all alone.
And while the rules are less in a home setting, I think they should be the same. This is so hard for large families, because everyone wants to be in the room, and I get that. But it is a lot of energy for the person in the bed. Some might actually want that, so again, I cannot speak for everyone.
I have witnessed increased agitation and anxiety when the room is filled with people. I can’t help but wonder what it must feel like to be lying in that bed, knowing you are going to die, and feel all the energy everyone else is having, hearing their conversations, the sadness, the tears, and even the arguments which happens a lot with larger groups. Everyone is trying to make room, chairs are being dragged across the floor, people are talking over one another, cell phones are going off, and so much movement… all of this does equate to love, but it can also be really distracting for the person in the bed.
If you limit your time to just a few minutes, and perhaps only 1-3 people at a time, preferably 1 but I know that is not always easy, the energy in the room is calmer, and this allows the person in the bed to feel a sense of peace. Rotating people in and out allows everyone to have a chance to visit, to say goodbye, to pray, and to just be with them.
When I am lying in that bed, I want everyone I love to be there. I want to have the chance to see their face or hear their voice, I want to say goodbye, or at least hear their last words, but I do not want them all hovering over me while I am dying, watching my every breath. I do not want to die feeling the energy of each person going through their own reaction to my death. I want to have had last words before my last breath, I want to already feel their love for me way before I even get in that bed.
When my brother was in the ICU there were a few days that I was allowed to split the time with his daughter, so we each took a half a day. But even when it was my turn, I stepped away from his bed, I sat in complete silence, and I let him be. I kept thinking that he would not want me hovering over him, staining his bedding with my tears. I was there but I gave him space. And on the days only one person at a time was allowed, I sat downstairs in the waiting room for hours as his daughter sat with him, and I mentally sent him love…knowing that he felt it, however far from his bedside I might have been. One day I went outside and lit a candle for him in the snow… I sat their watching the flame (crying of course), sending him love. I had to make peace with the fact that I might not see him again, and know in my heart that my first day at his bedside, he heard my words and that is what he would take with him.
This is when that conversation is so important to have before. Do you want every family member at your bedside 24/7 or do you want less people in the room, allowing for some privacy and quiet time as well? What do you want? You need to say it now so that those who love you know, and they can honor and respect your wishes. And if you are visiting someone in a facility, be mindful of the people in the other rooms, and if there is a limit to how many visitors, please comply with it.