After a parent or grandparent becomes disabled, how will a child react? We recently did a piece that offered advice from LA-based psychologist Bonnie Berman on how to talk to children about disability.
This was something I worried about after Don became sick—how will my grandchildren react when they see Don on a respirator and moving in a wheelchair for the first time?
Thankfully, they didn’t treat him any differently. He was just ‘grandpa’ to them, only with a new name, ‘grandpa in the wheelchair.’
Years later, I was curious what their internal reaction was when they first saw him. Was there something I didn’t know or could learn that could help other children with newly disabled grandparents?
Their answers surprised me with their innocence and love. Here’s what three of my grandchildren said about their reaction and relationship with Don:
Q: What did you first think when you saw grandpa in the wheelchair after his accident? How did you feel seeing him for the first time?
Grandchild: I felt sad but didn’t feel any differently about him. He was just Grandpa.
Q: Did his accident change your relationship at all, or how you felt about him?
Grandchild: He was hard to understand, so I had to have a nurse or someone else help translate what he was trying to say. It was helpful to have you and my dad there to keep the conversation going. He was still my grandpa and I liked being around him. And, no. I just accepted him the way he was. I didn’t even really think about how disabled he was. He was just Grandpa.
Q: What was your favorite thing to do when you were with Grandpa in the wheelchair?
Grandchild: When we went to the movies or out for a walk, I loved being able to ride on the wheelchair with him.
What kind of life lessons did you learn from him?
Grandchild: I learned that life is too short to get upset about the tiny things and also always try to have fun. You should try to have fun even when things aren’t going your way and especially when you’re with your family.
What do you think made Grandpa the happiest?
Grandchild: I think that he was happiest when he was with the ones that he loved, like his friends and family. His family was always there for him, and his friends are always nice to him and always there for him, too.
Q: What advice would you give other children or your friends whose grandparents have had a stroke and become disabled as a result?
Grandchild: Make the best of it. Be grateful that your grandparent is alive and that you get to spend time with him even if it is only to see him smile because you are there.