Father and child of DC widow blog writer Marjorie Brimley walk to school
Family & Friends

Grandpa Tom Returns

We counted down the days.  Tommy, unable to understand the days of the week, would simply ask, “is it tomorrow?” every day.  We cleaned the house and Claire made a cake.  We were so excited, and when he finally walked in the door after a summer away, all three kids screamed at the same time:


My dad was laughing.  He was tan, a result of daily rounds of golf back in Oregon, and his white hair stuck out at the sides.  He set down his bags and picked up each kid before giving me a hug.  “We’re really glad you’re here,” I said, in the biggest understatement of all time.

“It was time for me to come back to work!” he said, with a smile on his face.  He meant it as a joke, but it wasn’t one, really.  Being with three young kids is not for the faint-of-heart.  As he walked in, I was cleaning up the kitchen, and he immediately started helping me load the dishwasher.

I loved that – a man whose first reaction to entering a chaotic room is to load the damn dishwasher.  (I should put that prerequisite on my dating profile someday.)

The next few days were really full.  The kids’ first days of school.  My return to work.  Family photos.  It was also the week when Claire was going to see the head of pediatric dermatology at a nearby hospital, in hopes of starting her on a new medicine. 

The day that I had to take Claire to this appointment, I forgot to drive to work.  I had to send my dad to get Claire from school while I retrieved the car and I caught them as they were returning home.  “Get in the car!” I yelled at Claire.  I was worried we’d be late.

“Geez, mom,” Claire said, clearly annoyed.  She got in the car seat.  “Buckle your seat belt,” I said, briskly.

“Mom, I’m feeling worried” Claire said, trying to get my attention.  I was entering the hospital’s address into my GPS and I ignored her.

“Mom!” Claire said, again.

“Claire, buckle your seat belt,” I said, annoyed.

“Mom,” Claire said, “why can’t you be like Grandpa Tom?  I just told him I was nervous about going to the hospital and he made me feel better.”

I took a deep breath.  “You’re right,” I said, “this is a big appointment for you, and I know you are nervous.  That’s okay to feel that way.  I’m glad you could talk to Grandpa Tom about it.”

She huffed and puffed a bit in the backseat, but I think she was happy I admitted that I had been wrong.  We chatted about other things for a while.

When we finally saw the doctor, Claire was more nervous than I’d seen her in a while.  “What are the possible complications?” she asked the doctor, who was clearly impressed with her ability to voice such concerns.  The doctor tried to explain the side effects, but Claire was still really worried.  I could see it in her face and the way she kept asking questions.

Out of nowhere, she blurted out, “But am I going to die?  Could the medicine kill me?”

The doctor reassured her that it was perfectly fine, and she didn’t need to worry.  Side effects were very rare.

I finally had to send her to the waiting room so I could talk to the doctor without upsetting her.  The doctor and I talked about her reaction, and the doctor wondered if Claire was nervous about rare complications because her father had died of something that was also so rare.  I hadn’t thought about that.

When we were back in the car, I asked Claire about her fears.  “Do you think maybe you are worried about rare side effects because the way Dad died was really rare?”

“Yes,” she said, simply and forcefully.

I told my dad about it that night, as we were getting the kids ready for bed.  “Makes sense,” he said, in his characteristic understatement whenever medical issues are involved.

“I have to order a blood pressure cuff,” I said to him, “because the medicine could actually make her really sick.  Does that seem like something that should worry me?”

“No,” he said.  “This is a safe drug.  It’s just a precaution.”

That night, Claire couldn’t sleep.  She was still worried.  I couldn’t calm her and I was at my wit’s end.

“Dad,” I said, peeking my head into his room, “I have to put the boys to bed and Claire is inconsolable.  Can you please talk to her?”

He went to her room, and I tucked the boys in their bed.  I sat on their bunk bed and listened to the sound of his voice through the wall.  “Listen,” he said to Claire, “it’s fine that you feel nervous, but you really don’t need to.  I used this medicine as a doctor many times, on many patients, and I never had a bad reaction from any of them.  We wouldn’t let you have something that hurt you.  We’re going to take care of you, I promise.”

He said more comforting words to her, and instead of fighting his responses, I could hear her listening.  “Now lay your head down,” he said.

By the time I got into her room, she was asleep.  “Thanks Dad,” I said.

He shrugged. “It’s my job,” he replied.

Image Credit: Stefanie Harrington Photography.