When Grandpa is in a Wheelchair: Having Fun Through the Heartbreak


When grandpa is in a wheelchair, does it mean he can’t play with his grandkids? Of course not! You just have to know how. All it takes is love, positivity, and a little music.

December 3rd is International Day of Persons with Disabilities and I want to put the spotlight on grandparents with different abilities who may have small grandchildren running around. My friend Nikki will tell you children don’t see a grandparent with different abilities… they just see Grandpa or Grandma. And she knows from experience.

In 2015, Nikki’s dad had a hemorrhagic stroke at the age of 70, impairing his mobility on his left side. I know her family well and seeing her dad before and after the stroke is difficult to talk about, even many years later. Bob was larger than life – successful, fun and loved. He was extremely close with his daughters and had the model marriage. A scan of family photos would reveal scenes of weddings, dancing, laughter, cooking together, and hot days in the pool. Nikki’s parents even moved across the country to be near their daughters. However, not too long after the move, Bob had the stroke.

I’m close to my dad as well and I can tell you, if that happened to me, I would have retreated to a dark room somewhere, but not Nikki’s family. How they responded blows me away. Nikki and her family were hands on with their father from day one, helping in any way needed. Bob was now in a wheelchair and life would never be the same. I am sure they had dark days, but mostly what I saw from them was light – moving forward, forging ahead, positivity, and asking “What’s next?”

What was next was a baby. Bob became a grandfather when Nikki’s sister had a son in 2019. As the baby grew and became more aware, a special relationship developed between “Pops” and “Little Man”. The little boy didn’t see someone with different abilities; he just saw “Pops”. And you can read all about it in the book Nikki wrote.

when grandpa is in a wheelchair
“Little Man” reads book about himself and his grandpa!

Pops on Wheels” is written and also illustrated by my friend Nikki G. Stahl. In it, “Little Man” and “Pops” explore the world together: swimming, dancing and even racing, with Pops in his wheelchair and Little Man in his yellow kiddie convertible. The book shows how a child can have fun, laugh, and learn with a grandparent with different abilities.

Nikki says, “When we were at the beginning of our journey post-stroke, we had no idea what life ahead might look like. I hope a bit of our journey might help those at the beginning of theirs.”

The book is full of ideas and even a song Pops sings to his Little Man. On a personal note, I love the images of them dancing because it reminds me of seeing Nikki dance with her father at her wedding. He always loved to dance and kept up with his moves, even after the stroke.

Pops lived a full life and he didn’t let the stroke stop him from spending activity-filled time with his grandson. In fact, he lived to see the birth of his second grandson. Even with his passing, the boys will always have a book about their grandfather to tuck them into bed at night. How many of us wish we had that?

So, on this International Day of Persons with Disabilities, take a page out of Nikki’s book: choose positivity. Sometimes we need to look at the world through the eyes of a child – a child who sees possibilities, instead of a reason why not.