Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Grandpa's Girl

A year ago today I lost one of the most important people in my life, my Grandfather, Jack.

 (Back in his glory days as a basketball player)

I grew up with my Grandfather being my male role model. He was not, by any means, your stereotypical run of the mill Grandpa. He was loud, a bit obnoxious, he had THE most inappropriate sense of humor, he was occasionally slightly embarrassing,  and at times he could be hurtful with his blunt honesty. He was not a perfect person, he made lots of mistakes in his life, but what made him great was that he admitted to them and ended up changing himself for the better - something that I think is extremely admirable and takes a lot of courage.

He died at the age of 77 from congestive heart failure. We all knew it was coming, he had been sick for quite a while. But no matter how much you prepare for the death of a loved one it still shocks and saddens you.

I remember when I first heard the news. It was Super Bowl Sunday, and I was in my bedroom in my apartment in San Francisco getting my laundry together. I was just about to head downstairs to my complex's laundry room when I got a phone call from my mother. I answered it in my typical happy voice, but immediately heard the sadness in hers. She told me he had passed away earlier in the morning. She was in no mood to talk about it so it was a quick conversation. I hung up the phone, felt the deepest sinking feeling ever in my chest and then suddenly, I went totally numb. I've never been very good at expressing emotions so this was no surprise to me.

 I sat on my bed for a few minutes in silence, not knowing what to do. Then I realized there was nothing I COULD do, so I got up and went downstairs to do my laundry, like I had planned. When I got down to the laundry room there was no one there except a neighbor of mine, a very very old little Russian woman. I had seen her around several times and always smiled at her, but we had never spoken. So I smiled at her like usual, pulled some cash out of my pocket, and went to the machine to load money onto my laundry card. But when I looked at the machine, I realized it was credit card only. I had lived in this complex for six months at this point and had stupidly made this mistake millions of times. It was such an annoying mistake to make, but I would usually just kick myself and then go back upstairs and switch my cash out for my credit card. This time however, was a little bit different. Apparently all I needed was one small thing to push me over the emotional edge of doom, because when I realized I had made this little mistake, I just started bawling. In the laundry room. With the little Russian lady staring at me in horror, not knowing what to do or say. And I'm not talking some small sniffles here, I'm talking full out 'I can't even breathe because I'm crying so hard' kind of tears. I tried so hard to stop myself but nothing was working - as I mentioned earlier, never been good at expressing emotions. The little Russian lady finally came over to me and with her thick Russian accent asked me, "What's wrong child? What can I do to help you?" I'm not the type to unload my emotional issues onto people, but I know I should have said "I just found out my Grandfather died." For some reason my brain was just NOT working, so I told her "I forgot my credit card upstairs." - WHAT THE FUCK ALYSE???? Epic lapse in judgment right there.

At first she looked at me like I was absolutely bat shit crazy, but then something switched in her and she must have looked into her inner wisdom and realized that wasn't actually what I was upset about. She helped me compose myself by telling me to breathe and then sat me down on the nearest chair. Then she took my laundry card, pulled out her own credit card, went to the machine and loaded $10 onto my card. She proceeded to hand my card back to me, grab her clean clothes, give me one of the warmest smiles I've ever seen, and then leave.

That was by far one of the nicest things anyone's ever done for me, especially a complete stranger.
We never spoke again after that, just continued to smile at each other when we crossed paths. Looking back though, I seriously think the whole thing is absolutely hilarious. I laugh thinking about her initial reaction when she first saw me burst into tears, and then I laugh even harder when I think about her face when I told her I was crying because I forgot my credit card.

My Grandfather's funeral was the following week. He lived in Reno, so I took a flight out and met my family there for what was potentially one of the saddest days of my life. That being said, being up in Reno made me remember a lot of fun stories about him. I remembered him taking me on his motorcycle to get lemonade around his neighborhood, playing with his two cats in the snow when I visited him in the winter, sitting on his big bear rug in front of the fire and chatting with him, driving to Lake Tahoe with him and eating lunch by the water. I tried to make it as positive of a day as possible.

To end this incredibly long post, I'm going to share a quick story that I shared at his funeral that shows the kind of person he was. His funeral was literally massive, he was a very popular and well known guy. I've never been very fond of public speaking but I made an exception for him.

It was Thanksgiving 2007. Thanksgiving is always a big deal in my family, and this one was particularly large, so we had maybe forty to fifty people of allll different ages over at my family's house. When dinner time came, everyone sat down to eat and went silent so that we could all say grace. My Mom, amidst this silence, asked my Grandfather if he would do the honors of saying it. He looked up at her with big eyes and said "No, no I will not." We all looked at him confused. Then he sat up nice and tall and said "I would much rather sing a patriotic song!!" At this point I look over at my mother because I know something ridiculous is about to happen, and I can literally see the horror in her eyes and read her mind saying "Oh, shit."

So my Grandpa sits up proudly and says "Yank my doodle. It's a dandy!!"

I literally spit out my water from laughing so hard.

(He and I at my 20th birthday party. As you can see, he was a very tall man. I'm 5'9" and he's slumping to hug me, if that gives you any idea.) 

His death reminds me that life is SO short. Don't waste your time on negative people or negative emotions. Don't be afraid to love, don't be afraid to do something you want to do, don't be afraid to say what you want to say. And always make sure to tell the people you care for how you feel about them, because you never know when they won't be there anymore.

Love you Grandpa. Miss you every day.

Jack Allain 

December 9th 1934 - February 5th 2012 

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