Hospitals, like funeral homes, have become social centers for human contact.
I don't want this to be a downer but in this age of virtual contacts through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social media, we often see family and friends only at hospitals and funeral homes.
Church attendance is declining but, by golly, we need our hospitals and funeral homes for obvious reasons.
Now that hospitals are becoming more specialized, often places that patch you up and ship you out, we tend to visit our family and friends in the big city and that means people who live many miles from us come to see our loved ones, too, and we get real hugs and real handshakes instead of the virtual ones through your computer or phone.
We don't like to think of our loved ones being in those places but if there is an , it is the human contact we get.
Usually, visiting people in those places is mentally exhausting. Sometimes, it is physically tiring, especially if there aren't enough places to sit and people play musical chairs as they rotate between the seats.
I was at home on a Saturday night many years ago. A friend of our family called and said, "They've taken Sally to the hospital and she's not expected to make it through the night. It would be nice if you went there."
So, I went to see Sally (not her real name) and the family at a hospital about 20 miles from where we lived in the country.
When I arrived, not only were Sally's husband and children there but so were about 20 other friends of the family.
Poor Sally was semiconscious and everyone was crowded around her bed.
I didn't know what to do! I could have walked out and explained the situation to her husband later but I thought he wanted me to be there.
Soon, people started visiting and talking and even laughing. Not long after that, her husband came around and started us out of the room so Sally could get her rest.
Were people being inconsiderate? I don't think so. Like myself, they wanted to be of help but often a person just doesn't know how to best handle the situation.
I think people who plan a wake after the death of a loved one have the right idea. Or, the more common funeral dinner. (I'm not sure which is more unhealthy, the booze or the gravy and pie.)
A hospital room or a funeral home visitation should be somewhat dignified and we should certainly respect the wishes of the person who is hospitalized and their immediate family, whatever the situation. If we want to relax and enjoy ourselves, some place outside the hospital or funeral home is more appropriate.
The last time I was in the hospital overnight was for a heart catheterization, also many years ago.
Our friends came to see me but I especially appreciated a lady who did not come in my room, but who sat with my wife during the procedure. That kind of support is always appreciated, but it should be respectful and not boisterous.
I don't think the situation will change any time soon. We are just too busy to just sit down and visit with those we care about except at Thanksgiving, Christmas and, perhaps Easter.
I know our family enjoys the Christmas together.
That goes back to when I was growing up.
Dad worked on the railroad and when trains were being scheduled to run, the dispatcher would call the next men on the list to make up the next crew out. Those phone calls paid the bills so dad had a phone installed on both floors of our house. We never knew when he would be called out and since my bed was just a few feet from the upstairs phone, I was jolted awake many nights by its ringing which also jangled my nerves.
If Dad left the house, it was always right after he came in from a road trip to Chicago. The only exception was Christmas.
"I will work Thanksgiving or Easter or New Year's, but not Christmas," he said.
I don't remember him missing any Christmases when I was growing up.
I certainly don't look forward to visiting in the hospital or funeral home but I know it will happen. I also know that if there is a positive side, it will be seeing family and friends we just don't see very often otherwise.