How Disney Helped Me Deal with the Loss of My Father

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Welcome to those of you joining me from Heidi’s Head and those of you just hopping aboard. I am the 4th stop on our Magical Blogorail.

The title of this article is different, I know. How Disney Helped Me Deal with the Loss of My Father. During times of grief and sorrow, watching Disney movies, listening to soundtracks or taking a trip to the “Happiest Place on Earth” might seem atypical.

To everything there is a season”  – Ecclisiastes 3 is a beloved Bible verse because it pretty much sums up life in a nutshell! There is a time for everything, including A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance”.  And in my case, laughing helped with the mourning.

How exactly did Disney help me deal with the loss of my father? Through Disney movie quotes (I’ve placed some of my most touching favorites throughout this article). By taking one final trip together with him as a family. By looking at old photos of us at Disneyland. And finally by going to Disneyland again after my father had passed and recalling my favorite memories throughout the years.

“All it takes is faith and trust” – Peter Pan

Five years ago my family was hit with the news that my dad had terminal cancer. The renal cancer had been in his kidney and five years prior to this diagnosis, he’d had the kidney removed. But there it was… the kidney was long gone but the cancer had gotten into his blood stream and attached itself to spots on his spine and ribs. The cancer was small at the time, only the size of a pencil dot on a piece of paper. But it needed to be treated immediately and his doctors put him on a daily radiation medication. Dad was given a diagnosis of one year left to live.

Disneyland 2008

Disneyland 2008

In the summer of 2009, my mom and I were planning our first trip to Walt Disney World in Florida. We immediately dropped all plans for a cross-country trip. Our first thought as a family was to focus on making memories for Dad and his young grandsons and we wanted to take a family trip to Disneyland. Disneyland has always been our favorite weekend vacation spot and we’d been together dozens of times over the years. San Diego to Anaheim is a short trip for us (only about 90 minutes north). We planned on staying overnight at the Paradise Pier Hotel at the Disneyland Resort and really making a nice weekend of it.

Dinner at Goofy's Kitchen

August 2008

We booked several concierge rooms and on the first day we swam, ate dinner at Goofy’s Kitchen and then watched the fireworks over Disneyland from the hotel rooftop. The next day we rented my dad a motorized chair to ride through the Parks. My dad had only been on his radiation medications for a few weeks but they were already taking a toll and he was tired and had blisters on his feet. He kept up though, resisting taking a mid-day nap and rode all his old favorites.

Even though my dad had been to Disneyland the very first year it opened in 1955, he had never had his own pair of Mouse Ears. We bought him a pair, embroidered with “Grandpa” on the back. As you can see by his photo, he was delighted with them!

You are never too old for your first pair of Mouse Ears!

August 2008

Today’s special moments are tomorrow’s memories – Genie, Aladdin

Taking that last trip with him and seeing the joy light up for him at going down Main Street USA, riding Space Mountain, holding his grandson on his lap during It’s a Small World and at watching the fireworks over Sleeping Beauty Castle, those were all priceless memories for us. We knew during that last trip that he’d never be able to come again and were thankful for this final visit with him.

“The only thing predictable about life is its unpredictability.” – Remy, Ratatouille

My dad fought, not just for the one year sentence the doctors had given him, but for five years after his initial diagnosis (we believe it was actually five years to the day!). His cancerous spots stabilized for four years and only in the final year did the doctor give him the news that the cancer was no longer responding to the treatment and that they wouldn’t be able to continue.


October 2013

“Don’t think and don’t worry. When the times comes, you’ll know what to do.”  – Helen Parr, The Incredibles

My mom and I discussed almost daily what was going to happen in the final days. Dad had stopped eating just after Christmas and was surviving only on small sips from protein shakes, certainly not enough to live on for very long. He continued to hang on for months, body diminishing, strength declining but steadfast. We talked to the children about what was going on.

Grandpa wasn’t just a far-off relative. My eldest son and I lived with my parents for five years after my divorce and even when I remarried, my new home was only minutes from my parent’s house. My mom and dad took care of my children during the day while I worked. For my son in particular, watching my dad drift away slowly was extremely hard. There were many questions, most of which I couldn’t answer. I wanted to know myself….what was going to happen?

Marlin: “I promised him I’d never let anything happen to him.” – Dory: “That’s a funny thing to promise.” –Finding Nemo

My dad passed away on April 5th, 2014. As he had one foot on Earth and another in Heaven, my mom said that he was staring up at the ceiling. She asked him what he was looking at and he told her, “Space”.  It was such a beautiful thought to me, that he could already see the beauty of Heaven from where he lay.

“To Infinity…and Beyond!” – Buzz Lightyear


The memorial was perfect. I made a collage of pictures with my dad through the years, including some of him at Disneyland with us when we were younger and with his Mouse Ears on. My younger cousins loved seeing my dad acting so silly and enjoying himself at his favorite place.

Exactly one month after he passed, my husband, children and I went to Disneyland for the day. The entire Park reminded me of Dad. We’d gone every year as a family, he loved it. He especially loved to pretend that he and my mom were taking us to school but then would take us to Disneyland instead!

My dad was a detailed person (he was a police detective for the San Diego Sheriff’s Department for almost 30 years) so he pointed out the little things that everyone else rushed past. Like the beautiful displays in the windows on Main Street, how the landscapers used edible foods in the planter beds, the real gold accents on Sleeping Beauty’s Castle and the Evil Queen peeking from behind the curtains in Fantasyland.

“No matter how your heart is grieving, if you keep on believing, the dream that you wish will come true.” – Cinderella


Each time we went to Disneyland Dad told us about the rides and attractions of the past. We got to the Park early and stayed until it closed. He would hide in the caves on (then called) Tom Sawyer’s Island to jump out and scare us. But when I cried on The Haunted Mansion he slipped me quickly out an emergency exit. Dad wanted to ride each thrill ride during the day and again at night because he was certain that Big Thunder Mountain Railroad was sped up at night!

My favorite Disneyland memory about my dad was on The Matterhorn…he insisted on riding in the front and would call out, “Lean to the Left! Lean to the Right” because he swore we could get the bobsleds to go faster if we leaned into the curves! You can be certain that when I rode the bobsleds on this last trip I had a smile on my face and tears in my eyes when I leaned into the curves.

“You know that place between sleep and awake? That place where you still remember dreaming? That’s where I’ll always love you… That’s where I’ll be waiting.” – Peter Pan

Dad walking with my kids, Disneyland 2005.

 Thank you for joining me today. Your next stop on the Magical Blogorail Loop is Journeys from a Follower.

Here is the map of our Magical Blogorail should you happen to have to make a stop along the way and want to reboard:

1st Stop ~ My Dreams of Disney – How Disney Helped My Grief

2nd Stop ~ In the Mouse House – Running the Walt Disney World Marathon for Charity

3rd Stop ~ Heidi’s Head – How Disney Helps in Healing

4th Stop ~ Saving Up for Disney – How Disney Helped Me Deal with the Loss of My Father

Final Stop ~ Journeys from a Follower – How Disney Helped Through My Own Life



20 replies
  1. Mickey
    Mickey says:

    Julie, thank you for sharing such heartwarming memories of your dad and your family. I am sorry that you lost him, but I also rejoice in knowing he is in Heaven with our Lord and Savior. I hope that this topic wasn’t too painful for you — I loved each and every word you wrote, and all of the great Disney quotes too. Thank you for sharing.

    • juliebigboy
      juliebigboy says:

      Thank you Mickey. I love speaking about my Dad and know that we were able to witness him crossing into the arms of our Lord. It was a blessing in so many ways to have him with us so much longer than we expected. He loved Disney and I only wished that I’d started my blog earlier so I could have shared it with him. He’d have been very proud 🙂

  2. Heidi Strawser
    Heidi Strawser says:

    Julie~ I’m sure you can rest in the certainty that your Dad is proud of you, with or without a blog! What a wonderful tribute to him. He sounds like an amazing man and a truly wonderful father. I especially love how you tied your tribute in with the Disney quotes. How unique and special! It is wonderful having you join the Green Loop with us this month. I look forward to getting to know you better over the months to come.

    • juliebigboy
      juliebigboy says:

      Thank you Heidi, he was always very supportive and interested in my talents. He would have enjoyed reading what I write about Disney 🙂 I am so glad to be writing for the Magical Blogorail and look forward to joining in future Loops!

  3. Jodi Whisenhunt
    Jodi Whisenhunt says:

    What a wonderful tribute, Julie! My mom & stepdad traveled to WDW with us on our 1st two visits. After Mom passed unexpectedly in ’09, we were leary of how subsequent trips would be, but we found out that the magic of Disney is truly healing. Now, when we visit attractions or see characters Moms loved, it makes us smile at the memories. ((Hugs!))

    • juliebigboy
      juliebigboy says:

      Yes, there is definitely magic in the memories. Going to my Dad’s favorite place after his passing has made me happy that I have so many special memories with him in this place. Thanks Jodi!

  4. Jennifer Kaufman
    Jennifer Kaufman says:

    What a beautiful tribute to your father! I know sometimes it can be difficult to make the first step into that place that holds so many memories… but I’m so thrilled for you that Disneyland was as healing as you might have hoped.

  5. Dawn Winston Cullo
    Dawn Winston Cullo says:

    Julie, I recall us talking before about how our Disney dads died on the same day. Your post is absolutely beautiful and the quotes within your post are so fitting, I can tell you put your heart and soul into this post. My favorite quote is the Peter Pan post and I am going to share that on Facebook today. Which of the quotes is your favorite?

    • juliebigboy
      juliebigboy says:

      Yes, I was thinking of you Dawn when I wrote this because I knew that your Dad had passed away the same day (which is absolutely blowing my mind). The final quote from Peter Pan is my favorite, “You know that place between sleep and awake? That place where you still remember dreaming? That’s where I’ll always love you… That’s where I’ll be waiting.” It reminds of when my Dad would carry me into the house after the ride home from Disneyland. I always pretended to be asleep because I loved when he carried me to bed 🙂

  6. Rosanne @ The Disney Point
    Rosanne @ The Disney Point says:

    Julie, nobody wants to remember the pain and suffering, but it seems like your family gets to remember your dad as a big kid who loved the little things in life and Disneyland. I’m so glad you got to celebrate his life. I’m sure you’ll never forget this.

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