Thousands of elderly family members and friends visited Waxahachie ISD campuses this past week in celebration of Grandfriends Week.

For one Dunaway Elementary student, the annual luncheon has taken on an entirely different meaning.

Thursday was just a little more special for Braydon Reese, 9, as his grandmother, Regina, 61, brought him his favorite McDonald’s cheeseburger with lettuce and ketchup. She also brought an extra side of nuggets to spoil him a bit.

The two were easily spotted on the stage in the Dunaway cafeteria with French fries in hand, "cheers-ing" to another happy day.

Regina described the role of a grandparent, but first explained how she is different than most.

“We are his parents too,” she said.

Regina and her 51-year-old husband, Mark, resumed responsibility of Braydon after the tragic death of his father.

“Part of me thinks that having to take care of Braydon made it actually — maybe it helped put the other aside and not think about it all the time because we were taking care of him full-time and trying to get him to cope and get him through it all,” Regina said.

On May 1, 2017, Braydon’s father, Brandon, 25, was headed to Italy on U.S. Highway 77 when he ran off the road into a ravine and hit a tree.

“They didn’t find him until the next morning, and it was pretty devastating when we found out,” Regina said.

The family coped together. Regina admitted the school was emotionally accommodating, and his teacher and counselor even let go of some balloons with Braydon on the anniversary of his father’s death.

As Braydon sat at the lunch table, he appeared to be on the quieter side but had a lot to say when he discussed the appreciation he has for his grandparents.

“They let me have a home and feed me,” Braydon said. “If I didn’t have a home, then I’d live with Raquel (mom), and she doesn’t have a lot of money and has two kids she has to take care of.”

Regina then asked him what his favorite meal is that she cooks, and Braydon proudly informed that it is pot roast and gravy.

Braydon tries to not think so much of his father passing, “because if I did, then I’d cry every day.” When he does remember him though, it’s the visits to Hurricane Harbor and Six Flags. At home, the two would play video games and sword fight with Nerf swords.

“I love him,” Braydon said.

“Yeah, we love him and miss him,” Regina added.

Regina described her grandson as fun, smart and a child with a passion for animals. She also noted, before the accident, he “didn’t hug and didn’t want to be touched. He didn’t say, ‘I love you.’ And now he’ll come up to you and give you a big hug. He’s not angry anymore. He’s a happy child. We’ve seen a lot of positives over the past three years.”

The parental situation where a grandparent raises the grandchild is not too uncommon for families in the United States. A total of 39.8 percent of grandchildren in the United States live with at least one grandparent who serves as the primary caretaker, according to a study conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau in 2012.

That same percentage was also reflected for 31 states, including Texas and Ellis County.

One-third of grandparents that were responsible for their grandchildren in 2012 also raised them without a parent present.

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Ashley Ford | @aford_news | 469-517-1450