All You Ever Needed to Know about Hospital Waiting Rooms

We’ve made lots of trips to the hospital recently to visit family members. We spent time in ICU waiting rooms not knowing. Praying. Everybody’s okay, or will be soon.

Mother called this morning. “Remember when somebody brought us a watermelon? It was July 1983. Right before your daddy died. The woman almost dropped it coming in the front door. We got so tickled, we doubled over laughing. It felt wonderful. I thought I’d never laugh again.”

“Yeah, I’ll never forget. I took one sweet bite and my mind left our circumstances. At least for a few minutes. I thought about childhood. Barefooted summers. Sprinklers in the backyard.”

“That was the moment I began to believe everything was going to be okay,” Mother said. “And somehow, life would go on.”

We chatted some more about how to help a family through sickness. About what matters most…

1. If you can laugh about anything, laugh. Difficult situations don’t always have to be somber and serious.

2. Bring someone a really good cup of coffee or a fountain drink with crunchy ice and a straw. Don’t ask first. Just do it. I love Starbucks Sumatra, real sugar, and half & half. 🙂 A bag of Hershey’s kisses is wonderful too, or a few pieces of fruit. Something small with lots of love.

3. My friend Robin from All Things Heart and Home suggests toothbrushes, toothpaste, pretty wash clothes and face wash for those who spent the night in the waiting room.

4. Share a happy memory–something you both remember.

5. Smile with your heart. The nurses who helped us never stopped smiling–genuine smiles from way down deep inside. The kind that lingers.

6. It’s not about what you say, but how you listen.

7. The tiniest things matter most. I promise. A four dollar watermelon brought hope.

Any other ideas?




  1. You came when Mom was spending her last days in the CCU, you sat with me held my hand for a moment…there was such empathy in your eyes. I knew you were all in. Feeling some of what I was feeling. It’s costly to ‘go-there’ when someone’s hurting. To let yourself feel the uncertainty and even a bit of the fear. But it’s comforting to know someone’s right there with you.
    I love your suggestions J- you’re good at being there.
    love love love u

    • How do I write something worthy of your comment? Beautiful, Robin. I love you too. You’ve been my “waiting room friend” for life.

  2. Anna Haney says:

    I am fully convinced that God has decided that your mission field is the pen, or, in your case, the keyboard and internet. This is a beautiful article. Again, you have gotten me all weepy on a Wednesday morning. Thank you for sharing. These are things that when we are not in that situation make perfect sense, but at the time, we don’t always think to do because we are feeling so helpless. This past fall, a former student, who is now in 8th grade, lost her father.. She was in the ICU room with him when he died. I felt compelled to just go there to let Callie know that I was thinking of her. I am so glad I did. Just seeing her tear stained face break into a smile knowing someone was there for her made me realize that it’s the little things that matter.

    • Good morning, Anna. Every time you comment, it goes so deep. It’s like the Lord whispers, “Keep writing. I’m with you. Stop doubting.”

      You’re so right. We feel helpless it waiting rooms. And I can tell. You made such a difference to this precious student. It really doesn’t take much. Just that we care.

      Love you, my friend.

  3. Beautiful. Little things make a big difference, and genuine smiles can be the best gift of all. Just last night i was looking at old photos and ran across one of my youngest child with one of his NICU nurses. After 21 years, and even though the photo is blurry, I remember her name (Susan) and her kindness to a stressed-out family.

    • You’re so right, Meg. I remember one particular nurse too. Just think the difference a smile makes. And a watermelon that we remember almost 30 years later!!

  4. Great reminder and suggestions Julie! Thank you! I need to do a better job of doing and not asking!

  5. Great reminders and ideas, Julie! Those little extras mean so much. When my husband was in the hospital two years ago (ICU then regular room), several church members gave us gift cards to area fast food places. It was great to be able to hand my teens a card and say go get your supper. When my mother died just before Christmas, my children were still little. Someone came over and wrapped gifts for me while I was out doing funeral preparations. It was a perfect gift.

    • Great idea, Lorna. I’ve never thought of gift cards to eat out!! Love it. And wrapping presents. Something soooo small but would mean so much. Thank you! XOXO

  6. I remember cleaning out my scarf drawer and taking a bunch of them to a teenager in the hospital. She had a blast with them, thinking of what they’d go with and what she could do with them, taking her mind of her circumstances for a while.

  7. Thanks for the reminder that it’s the little things that mean so much: a penned note just to tell someone you are thinking about them (leave it propped next to the bed), a vanilla shake or cheeseburger and fries smuggled into the hospital (when the person can eat solid foods of course) can mean so much. And for sure, laughter. It helps us all to feel SO much better.
    Love you.

    • So true, B.J. I LOVE “real” notes. You’ve made my day over and over with them. 🙂 And who could turn down a vanilla shake and fries! Love you too.

  8. My, you always have a way of “slicing” right to the heart of a matter, so the “juiciest” parts of life remain forefront. Another great post!

  9. Oh, Julie. This is precious. I can almost taste the hope in that watermelon. You’ve brought tears to me eyes with this. Hugs, my friend!

    • Thank you so much, Carla. It would work well in a novel, wouldn’t it? It’s SO the little things. Love you, dear friend.

  10. Leigh Ann says:

    When my son, Will, almost drowned last summer, my best friend showed up at the hospital (in supernatural record time) with a comfy pair of sweatpants, a camisole and a soft t-shirt. It was among the most thoughtful things anyone has ever done for me. (And she alone has done a LOT.) She also brought a toothbrush and toothpaste, granola bars, bottled water and what seemed like an endless supply of People magazines. It made me feel so loved during that loooong night in the hospital during the worst time of my life. I love the reminder you give here to not ask, but to just do.

    • Okay, Leigh Ann, I’m tearing up just thinking about this friend of yours. She truly has the gift of giving. She knew exactly what to bring you, and did it with the sweetest heart.

      I’m remembering the things she brought, and more than that–the love she shared. Unforgettable!


  11. Arie Strobel says:

    Sorry for whatever has taken you to this recent ICU waiting room experience, Julie. But the resulting article is perfect. What a great list and so were the contributions from the commenters. I took a thermal pot of hot chocolate into hospice one time and never gave it another thought. My girlfriend still mentions it on occasion when we talk about those memories of her mom.

    Love, Arie

    • I know, Arie. Something SO simple stays in your heart forever. You took the perfect gift. And look–now we’re spreading the love. I’ll remember to take hot chocolate. 🙂 Thanks, my friend.

  12. Sandra Walker says:

    Great post! Especially the part about “”just do it, don’t ask!” Wonderful suggestions by you and all the people who commented!

  13. You’re right, Sandra. Every single time I’ve asked first, people say, “No, thanks. I’m fine.”

    You don’t realize you’re hungry/thirsty/tired. You just keep on going ignoring how you feel. Thanks so much for reading and writing! XOXOXOXO

  14. Great reminders, Julie. I’m not always the best to think of what people need, so your article was written just for me! Glad to hear everybody’s going to be okay.
    Love you!

  15. Hey Vonda, I know–me either…I wasn’t sure what waiting room people needed and how to help in a practical way. Thanks so much for reading and being such an INSPIRATION to me.


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  17. Laurie says:

    Several years ago my son was in the hospital. One of my sister’s friends brought us a large shopping bag full of everything you could think of! Fruit, snacks, magazines, crossword puzzle and word search books. It never would have occurred to me to take something like that and it was the sweetest, most thoughtful thing for her to do.We were there in intensive care for 7 days and certainly helped a lot. I have tried to “pay it forward” and do the same for others.

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