Grandpa Tom and Tommy Brimley at school pick up after death of Shawn

Parent 2

My kids all came home after the first day of school with backpacks full of forms. “You have to fill everything out today!” Claire instructed. Even though I’m a teacher, I still can’t understand how schools make you fill out the same information a dozen times. Can’t they put all this stuff in a database or something?

Of course, I never minded it that much before, because filling out forms was merely an annoyance. But now that I have to look at the “Parent 2” slot each time I fill out one of these forms, it makes me sad. Last year, I started writing “no Parent 2” but that didn’t help me feel much better.

Sometimes I leave that side blank. But this year, I’ve decided to add “Grand” to the start of “Parent 2” and put my Dad’s information. He’s with us for the school year, so it strikes me as appropriate.

In fact, the other night as Claire was going to bed, she looked at me and asked, “Mom, how long until Grandpa Tom dies?”

Kids have a way with being direct, don’t they?

“Well,” I said, “we never really know when people will die. But Grandpa Tom is in great shape and he seems like he’s going to live to be at least 100.”

“Good,” she said, relaxing back on the bed, “because he said he will be here until I graduate from high school. He’s not our dad. But I like that he’s here with us like a dad.”

I got her sentiment. She doesn’t want to replace her father. She loves her father and has so many good memories with him. But she sees the value in my dad being a daily adult figure in the house – one who not only makes her breakfast but also hugs her every day when he picks her up from school.

So on each of the forms that I filled out on the first day of school, I added my dad as “Parent 2.”

After I filled out all of the demographic information, I moved to the portions on each of the forms where I was asked to tell the teacher about my child. Let me say that I have absolutely no idea what to put on these forms. I mean, I don’t know what my “learning goals” are for any of my children! On Tommy’s form, I actually wrote, “learn things that are appropriate for pre-K children.”

Of the three forms, Austin’s was the most extensive. “What are your child’s likes and dislikes?” the form asked. I wrote, “playing with friends” but he frowned as I wrote it, so I actually asked him what he wanted me to put. “I like Minecraft and I don’t like gross food!” he said.

I laughed.   But then he saw the last question: “What are your child’s fears?”

He looked at me seriously. “Um, spiders?”

Austin loves bugs, and he’s never been afraid of spiders.

But I know Austin’s biggest fear. It’s the same thing Claire fears.

In the box, I wrote, “He is afraid of people dying – especially people he loves.”

I bet the teacher doesn’t usually get that response.

I guess we all fear the death of loved ones. It’s just that most elementary school aged kids don’t think about it that much. My kids do. I know they think about it because if I am five minutes late to something, everyone starts crying. I know they think about it because if I so much as cough, I see their worried eyes. I know they think about it because they frequently ask me about when I will die.

The hard thing about being a widowed parent is that the usual reassurances (i.e. “it’s very rare for someone who’s 40 to die”) aren’t that effective.

Instead, I wrap my arms around them and tell them, “I’m very confident I’ll live a long, long time. And no matter what, I will always love you.”

There’s no Parent 2 anymore. But there’s a Parent 1 and a (Grand)Parent 2. This school year, we are going to make damn sure that those forms always get filled out and the lunches always get packed and the homework always gets done. More important, I know that my dad will always have my back when I have to do the much harder stuff of comforting my kids and reminding them that they are surrounded by people who always love them.



  • Gabe

    You and your dad are quite a duo! I’d pick either of you as a teammate in a heartbeat.👊🏻(Our school forms were all electronic this year! 🙌🏼)

  • Sheryll Brimley

    This blog reminds me of a prenatal class that I taught last spring. There was a young teenager in the class that brought her mother for the first three classes & then her grandfather for the last two. You could tell from their interactions with each other what a special bond they had. The grandfather had helped raise her & her siblings for many years. They all are a delightful family & are very much in love with a beautiful baby girl (especially the great grandfather) Bless Grandpa Tom…

    • Marjorie

      Oh, this is THE BEST thing I’ve heard in a long, long time. I can actually imagine my dad doing this – even though he’d be at least 90 when it happened! Thank you so much for this note!

  • Richard Geissal

    Marjorie, this moved me, and this also sounded very wise (and loving). I am glad you have your dad there, and glad for your kids having a grandfather they know and feel good towards. You are meeting an unusual and painful set of issues with a great amount of grace, wisdom and discipline. As the Aussies say, “Good on ya!”

    • Marjorie

      Oh, thank you so much for your kind thoughts and comments. I am SO lucky to have my dad for so many reasons, but the most important one is that he provides stability and love for my kids.

  • XO

    You are practically ahead of the “Matter of Fact” curve than i could imagine ever being . The Parent 2, Next Of Kin, In case of emergency etc are Fields that i mentally blur out every time they come around.
    Your writing is therapy and inspiration

  • Terry Clark

    Whenever I think I can’t be more moved by one of your blogs here comes THIS ONE about my incredible brother, Tom….father/grandfather extraordinare.

    • Marjorie

      There’s more to come! I have one more post that I’ll put out next week or the week after about my dad. He has been my saving grace over the past few weeks!

  • sherry gaulke

    Happy tears from here!
    Knowing your Dad is where he most wants to be, and is appreciated for his loving, caring
    ways, warms our hearts.
    YES, count Grandpa Tom in as a keeper on Team Brimley!

  • sherry gaulke

    Happy tears from here!
    Knowing your Dad is where he most wants to be, and that he is appreciated
    for his loving, caring ways, warms our hearts.
    YES, count Grandpa Tom as a keeper on TEAM BRIMLEY!!

  • Joy

    The kids crying if you’re 5 minutes late…what a gut punch that is. I cried at that line. You, your dad, and the kids are such a strong, unique, and beautiful family. Lovely post.

  • Mary Grace

    Your dad is one of the best men I know. Always there for the people he cares about and most certainly for his girls and grandchildren!