Choose Happiness: Lessons from my Grandpa

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How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard...
— Winnie the Pooh

So, I've been MIA. Other then new food recipes lately, I haven't posted much or worked much. And there's a reason for it. 

My grandpa passed away. He had been having a wonderful day with my grandma and was installing some drawers in their garage when he apparently collapsed.

My brother called me late that night. I had been playing soccer out in the sun all day and was winding down for some champagne and a sushi bowl when I got the call. I almost didn't answer. I was half asleep. But something made me answer, and as soon as I did, I knew that there was something very wrong. I could hear him crying. For whatever reason, my first thought was that he was joking. I knew he wasn't - I mean, why would anyone joke about something like that? He definitely wouldn't. But it was my first instinct to deny  that this had truly happened. 

His death was sudden, unexpected. He hadn't had any heart problems previously.since he is the first grandparent I've lost, it has been particularly hard.

The sudden passing of my amazing, 84-year-old Grandpa Don sent me home for about 3.5 weeks. A whole month, basically. I am blessed to have had the opportunity to go home for so long, both from a financial perspective and from a career perspective. Many bosses, let alone PI's of a graduate student, wouldn't have been so understanding. But she was. And I'm very grateful for that.

It felt very surreal for awhile once I got back. The idea that I wouldn't see him again, for whatever reason it didn't sink in. It felt more like he was on vacation, or that he was in the hospital like he was before. Not that he was gone and that I would never see him again.

And then we got to see his body one last time, and things really started to set in. Seeing my grandma - his wife of 62.5 years - cry along with my dad, my brother. It was hard. Really hard.

My month long trip home wasn't all sad. I had many good times too - golfing with grandma for her birthday to pick her back up, hiking with my good friend in the Cascades, going to visit another friend in Port Townsend, a Father's Day beer festival, being there for the birth of my best friends little girl, etc. There were so many great moments when I was back...

While I was back home, a number of other deaths occurred, some of people who I had no personal relationship with other than their social media or Hollywood presence. Christina Grimmie, who I've followed since her YouTube days. Anton Yelchin.

Only a couple hours after getting home from the hospital to meet my best friend's little girl Kennedi, I learned that Chris Moore from Barbell Shrugged - someone who was a role model to me in more ways than one - passed away from heart failure at the age of 36. And that's not a typo. He was 36 and had actually massively turned his health around. He'd just gotten a clean bill of health from his doctor, and yet, shortly after fulfilling his lifelong dream and moving his family to Amsterdam, he passed away. It hit me harder than I could ever imagine.

Not a week later, I found out that my soccer coach from high school was struck by a drunk driver on his way to work and was killed also.

Something was just relentlessly reminding me that (and pardon my French here) life is FUCKING short. And that if we're not living a life that we love, we better check ourselves. Because the next moment is absolutely not guaranteed. 

The emotions that followed

It's odd when someone passes away though. Somehow, in the moments that follow, there's a part of you that feels guilty every time you feel a significant emotion. Guilty for having any moments where I felt joy when I should've been grieving. Guilty for grieving because my grandpa would want me to feel joy. Guilty for anger because I had so much to feel blessed about in my life that I shouldn't feel any anger. 

It was like this insane cycle of feeling like what I was feeling I shouldn't have been feeling. And it was hard to navigate.

I think the saving grace of everything was the fact that I was primarily responsible for putting together a photo slideshow for grandpa's memorial service. At first, I thought this would be too difficult. But I really felt that reminiscing, going through all of those pictures, learning all about these aspects of my grandpa's life that I didn't know about...in many ways it was healing for me.

I knew my grandpa was a tremendous man, but these pictures taught me so much about all of these amazing things that he had done in his life.

Lessons from my grandpa Don

The hardest day, by far, was the day of his Memorial. The final viewing at the funeral home, his funeral with full military honors at Tahoma National cemetery, all of those things were emotional. But the day of his Memorial was hard.

It was so final.

But, the hardest part was hearing everyone tell stories about grandpa. My cousin, through tears, got up and talked about how Grandpa taught him that anything you want to do you absolutely can if you put enough into it. He was a Master Gardener and an award winning Chrysanthemum grower. He was an expert skier. He has numerous patents from his time working for Boeing. 

I wanted to speak at his Memorial. Well, more specifically, I wanted to describe one particular aspect of my grandpa to everyone. I didn't know if I could do it without crying, but I think I realized that day that no one expected me to not cry. So, I walked up on stage and looked out into the incredibly packed church before me and told them exactly what I remembered and loved most about my grandpa.

Grandpa was the epitome of an unbreakable spirit! He's the guy who, no matter what he is going through, is always able to see the silver lining. When I was in high school, he sawed one of his fingers off doing some woodworking. When we arrived at the ER, he was cracking jokes with the ER nurses. We heard him laughing before we had to ask what room he was in when we went to visit. Hisimmediate concern was when he could ski again. I'll never forget walking into the ER that night to hear him cracking jokes as they stitched him up, joking about how they'd never take away his wood working hobby. 

A number of years later, he had some health issues which landed him in the hospital for a month or so leading up to my brother's wedding. He definitely had his moments, but truly nothing could break his spirit. At the my brother's wedding, he was dancing, laughing, and dressing up in the boas and hats from the photo booth. 

No matter what, grandpa chose to be happy. He chose to enjoy life, to live life to it's absolute fullest. He chose cheerful. He chose happiness. He chose to just START something he wanted to try, despite of whatever fear or discomfort her may have felt. And that willingness to just start, just do, just be himself in any and every situation...that's something that few people ever have in their lives.

Life doesn't always give you exactly what you want. Life doesn't always give you perfect. But, you can make perfect out of whatever life gives you. And he taught me that.

I love you Grandpa! And I'm going to miss you so much. This picture is in my living room, and every time I look at it it makes me smile. You were one of the most amazing, intelligent, kind, and unwavering, positive spirits I will ever have the chance to know. 

As one of my grandma's friends from church said - God must have needed someone to tend his garden, and he only takes the best.

Truer words have never been spoken.