What My Kids Taught Me When My Dad Died


My father died in December.

He had spent the last several years very unwell, and my mother spent a lot of her time taking care of him. That is a difficult situation for any family, but it is even more difficult when the person you are caring for continuously makes choices that contribute to their bad health. And so, although he was a loved man, the result was a team of fairly frustrated family members.

My biggest frustration was trying to understand why he didn’t make choices that would allow him to be involved more fully in the lives of his grandchildren. He adored each and every one of them. Every morning he asked my mother which of his grandbabies was going to visit that day.

He had frequent visits from his collection of loving grandkids, who called him The Gaffer. Kids would disappear into his man cave and they’d have the place trashed instantly – toys everywhere, cushions off the couches and the TV channel changed to their station. Every visit was a kid invasion into The Gaffer’s space. Interestingly, he was not at all bothered by the noise or chaos. He was never impatient with them and he certainly never snapped at any child. Visits ended with hugs, kisses and “I love you’s”.

I felt that relationship wasn’t good enough because he didn’t actually DO anything with my children. His illness made it so he couldn’t – that pesky illness that didn’t really have to be there. My dad never read to the children, and certainly never played a board game or did a puzzle with them. He didn’t take them out for walks or do any of the other things I see active grandparents doing with their grandchildren. It made me sad that he was missing out. And, so were my kids.

Apparently, I was wrong. A couple of weeks after his death, my 9-year-old daughter emerged from her bedroom at midnight to share a drawing of him. Included in the illustration were several messages and statements – one for each day since he had died. The most striking message to me was “I loved EVERYTHING about you”.

All that time I thought he wasn’t DOING anything with his grandchildren, he was very actively doing the thing that was most important to them. He was loving them.

And it was all they needed.

Julie Cole

Author: Julie Cole

Julie Cole is the co-founding vice-president of award-winning children’s label manufacturer Mabel’s Labels. She has helped her company bring their product to a worldwide market, gain media recognition and win countless entrepreneur awards. Cole is a regular television contributor, an influential and syndicated blogger and a mother of six. Follow her on twitter @juliecole and Instagram @cole.julie

33 thoughts

  1. Absolutely beautiful Julie. Its the little things to our kids that make the biggest impact on them. And he clearly did all that he did to make them feel loved.

    1. Thx Melissa – it is amazing the stuff they come out with. The thought of posy sitting there for hours with her sketch pad thinking about The Gaffer…..sniff!

  2. That’s absolutely beautiful. It’s always amazing to me how differently children and their parents see the grandparents. I still remember how perfect mine were in so many ways, and those very perfections were the wrongs my parents would complain about…so interesting. I’m so sorry for your loss, but I absolutely love the post…

  3. Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful. It’s reminds me of the advice we get all the time as moms: just loving your kids is the best gift you can give them.

  4. What a beautiful story (I think as I sit here bawling). My parents are my primary and often only daycare providers and I shudder to think of what their passing will do to my children. I’m fortunate that my parents are young & for the most part healthy but in this world nothing is ever certain. I myself think about my grandparents every day and often find myself talking out loud to them as if they are there (and openly wishing they were).

  5. Julie,

    This story says it so well about what is truly important in life, especially in our dealings with children and older people. Alot of times we think that we have to “do” something or “be” something to make an impression or impact in their lives. When in reality all we have to do is “be” for them.

    I am 61 years old and I remember time with my grandpa before I started school. I would follow him out in the fields which looked huge to me then but really weren’t that big. He and I would talk and look at the sky and listen to the birds. He passed away when I was 13 and I still remember those days with grandpa before I started school in the mid-1950’s! Today, the 18th is his birthday, he would have been 129 years old! Happy birthday, grandpa!

  6. I remember my precious Grandfather “Pops” to this day. He picked me up from school every day up to and including my high school years. It was his one job in retirement. I love him and miss him and it’s been over 40 years. Thanks Pops.

  7. This story brought a tear to my eye…it is unfortunate that we don’t see some of the important qualities in people in our lives until they are no longer with us.

  8. My Mother’s health has been poor and continueing to get wor se. She has been my daughter’s primary caregiver for the past 7 years. I had the same feeling as you Julie, I felt that both her and my daughter were missing out since the only trips that the took outside of the home were for Doctors/Specialist appointments and to pick up precriptions. For the past couple of weeks my inlaws have minded my daughter a couple a days a week as I wanted to give Nana some time to herself.
    I too learned that it is not about the places they go but the value of the time they spend together.
    My daughter has been fretting on the days she is away from my Mom and is on the phone every night she is not with her.
    The quantity of love and time together is enough for both of them. I now found respect for the love that they share.

  9. I just stumbled across this blog Julie and it touched me deeply! My Dad died in 2010 also. He was just shy of 91 yrs and I worried about the relationship my kids had with him and if it was somehow ‘enough’. They never had the kind of Grandfather who got on the floor and played with them or took them places (like their considerably younger other Papa can). He was just too frail to do that. It was quiet visits or loud visits with lots of family. I have tried very hard to keep his memory alive for them in the past 4 1/2 years and I realize now that love isn’t determined by activities or what a grandparent can do. They just loved him because he was ‘Grampa’. Thanks for reminding me of that!

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