There was a time when I visited a hospice patient. The family seemed concerned that he had withdrawn himself from a lot of family activities. Joe used to be very outgoing but as his illness progressed, he begun to withdraw from a lot of social activities. He often declined visits from neighbors and friends. This new development worried his family deeply.
Social withdrawal is a natural part of the dying process and is not a judgment on others. It’s often related to profound weakness and limited energy that affect the ability to remain alert and to communicate with others.
Socal withdrawal is often a slow process. The patient may lose interest in much of what’s going on around them. Patients may even begin losing interest in people, even those they were closest to.
Their thoughts begin to focus inward, and they may begin refusing visitors or simply spend most of the time sleeping. They may feel less need to talk, and remain quiet most of the times.
During this time, chaplains and hospice staff can encourage family caregivers to be supportive and let the patient have as much peace as possible.
While the patient may appear to be sleeping, it is possible that much internal “work” is taking place. The patient may be processing his/her life, weighing its meaning and value.
In some cases, it may be helpful for a chaplain to visit the patient and see if there are things the patient would like to talk about. The patient may have something personal to talk about or to confess before death.
All in all, social withdrawal is part of the ritual of dying. We let go of our attachments to this world.