My youngest daughter needs a backpack for preschool so I find
myself searching the basement for a useable hand-me-down.
Under a pile of stuff I discover a small pink backpack. My
older girls used this one for play more than school, but the size
is perfect and the clean up seems minimal.
I unzip the top and am surprised to find a bag of coins.
Not just any bag of coins, but the coins my husband's stepfather
gave my daughter Jacey a month before he passed away.
I have not thought about these coins in a long time. The
last time I saw them they were on a shelf in Jacey's room.
Several times we explained that they were a gift from Grampa Rich
and were very special, but at some point they became toys and ended
up in a backpack.
I walk into the next room where Jacey is playing and show her
the coins. With a calm but obviously annoyed voice I say,
Don't you understand how special these are? Don't you
understand that these are not toys? We might have thrown
this backpack away and never seen them again.
I proceed to tell her that I would be putting them away so it
never happens again. Noticeably upset, Jacey walks upstairs
and into her room.
I remain at the bottom of the stairs and instantly know that I
handled the situation very poorly. Using don't you
understand? with a child is ineffective because if you are
using the phrase, the obvious answer is already no.
Unsure of what to do next, I start looking through the coins and
begin to wonder: What would Rich think about this moment?
Rich never had children of his own and when he married my
mother-in-law he embraced her children like they were his.
They were young adults when he came into the picture, but he never
called them stepchildren, they were his children.
He was all about giving. He gave emotionally and
monetarily and all he asked in return was time together as a
family. He loved holidays and events where he could grill
dinner or take us to his favorite Italian restaurant.
He was a great gift giver, but he always seemed more invested in
the occasion, the opportunity to have family moments.
Sometimes I watched him look around the room at the people he
loved, seeming so thankful just to be there. Like the rest of the
family I appreciated him and his generous nature. We all
loved him very much.
We were devastated when Rich was told that he had pancreatic
cancer. He was given a grim prognosis, but somehow he defied
the odds and made it to my husband's brother's wedding, our
wedding, and he was able to meet Jacey, his first granddaughter, on
the day she was born. He was quietly hopeful that we would
have a girl.
When Jacey was 5 months old he came to our house with the bag of
coins. He wanted Jacey to have them so she "would never be
without". I remember he cried a little. He knew
his time was limited and this was a going away gift.
To this day Jacey beams with pride when she sees a picture of
Rich holding her as a baby. Her sisters know who Grampa Rich
is and they know his importance in the family, but Jacey never
misses an opportunity to say, "Grampa died before you were born,
but I knew him and he knew me."
This was most evident the night he passed away. In the
middle of the night she woke up crying at the top of her lungs,
very uncommon for her. Ten minutes later our phone rang and
we were told that Rich had died 10 minutes ago. Their
connection might be deeper than we can ever understand.
I put the coins back in the bag and walk upstairs to find Jacey
crying softly in her room. I tell her that I am sorry for my
strong reaction and I know it must be hard for her to understand
why the coins are important to big people. I tell her that
playing with the coins and putting them in the backpack was not a
bad thing. Grampa Rich would have liked that she was enjoying
I suggest that we find a new home for the coins - a place that
makes us both comfortable. Jacey's tears dry up as we
collaborate on a new location. This feels right and we both
The coins are meaningful and they carry significance, but they
are not Rich. I don't want any of my children to think that
"things" carry that much power. I would rather share the
coins, the pictures and the stories. I would rather embrace
the message that Rich lived: Life is meant to be enjoyed
and it's much more meaningful when surrounded by the people you
Finding the coins was a gift, so with awareness I close my eyes
and thank Rich. It's been six years, but his generous spirit
is still willing to send an important parenting lesson my way.
Check out www.lustgarten.org - a
foundation to advance the scientific and medical research related
to the diagnosis, treatment, cure and prevention of pancreatic
Did you know Rich or do you have a "Grampa Rich" of your
own? Feel free to comment.
Cathy Adams is a certified parenting coach, yoga instructor and mother to three girls.
See more of Cathy's stories here.
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