My husband recently had surgery (he’s doing great.). He was three days, two nights in the hospital, which is not an entirely new experience for us.

He’s already had both hips replaced, a pacemaker put in, knees scoped, cancer surgery ... and I’m probably forgetting some.

Someone said to me recently, “At this age, we have to keep up on our 3,000-mile check-ups and get a tune-up when the doctor tells us to!” So very true.

After the initial surgery, they had to go in again the next day to catch “a bleeder.” While a bit disconcerting, we knew he was in good hands, and we trusted our doctors.

So, this gave me the opportunity to spend many hours over a couple of days in the surgery waiting room, or family waiting room, as some call it.

There is no lack of diversity in a surgery waiting room. All ages, genders, shapes, sizes and colors are represented on any given day.

Some folks are by themselves, while others have a large family together. No one knows why anyone else is there, the seriousness of the situation, the relationship to a patient in surgery.

In the moment, though, we all have something in common: someone we care about is vulnerable, and the control is out of our hands.

A young mom with a very young toddler sat quietly, interacting sweetly. I’m amazed at how softly the child spoke. When he and his mom walk by anyone, he said, “Excuse me.” Way to go, mom.

A middle-aged woman was there with an elderly woman, who I guessed was her mother. The younger of the two was on her cellphone most of the morning. I felt sad for her companion and made a judgment about the younger woman’s choices.

Shortly afterward, the elder woman started needling her, and they giggled and then spoke intimately to each other for a long time. Shame on me. It was obviously a sweet relationship, and I had jumped to the wrong conclusion.

Another group of women was sitting together, smiling and chatting. Their pastor came in for a while and talked with them, and then prayed with them. It was a lovely moment, and each of those women seemed strong in attitude and in their faith. I was happy for them.

In the middle of the first day, an old friend came in with her daughter. I haven’t seen my friend since shortly after the funeral of her husband, a couple of years ago. We hugged and cried together, unspoken joy and memories of a bittersweet time. That moment was a great gift to me.

One family hears confirmation of their loved one’s cancer, along with a good prognosis for treatment. They were obviously a strong, connected unit, and their sense of peace was palpable.

There is a sort of camaraderie in that room, one that none of us sought. Not many make eye contact with others outside of their circle – even if it’s a circle of just one.

If my eyes met someone else’s, I tried to smile or in some way share some encouragement. I tried to be approachable, in case someone needed that.

Over the two days, I did have a couple of quiet conversations with strangers. Hopefully they sensed my compassion for them.

My husband’s outcome was great, and I am thankful. Others who were there no doubt have a wide range of outcomes.

When – not if – you find yourself in that situation, I hope you have room to hold compassion for others who are there. Avoid my mistake of judgment of another. And possibly make a connection, however, brief, with someone who may need your smile in the moment.

Pat Arter is senior volunteer program director of Region IV Area Agency on Aging in Southwest Michigan. Questions on age or independence services? Call the Info-Line for Aging & Disability at 800-654-2810 or visit The Generations column appears each Saturday in The Herald-Palladium.