Monday, September 19, 2005

Someone Else In My Family Died

That's not a very creative title, but it gets to the point. My grandpa died.

Also known as: Ralph Jensen, Grandpa Ralph, Gunny Jensen, Gunnery Sergeant Jensen, That Guy Who Lived Through War and Alcoholism and Recovery and Five Marriages and Grandkids and Touched Literally Hundreds of People's Lives. He died of a heart attack at age 80 on September 12th.

I miss him. He was smart, funny and wise; he was relaxed and sociable and, wise. This man had lived, I mean really lived. He was 80 years old and a sage, with experience and mistakes enough to know so damn much more than the rest of us.

It's comforting to know he's with his wife now, who died suddenly a few years ago. Ralph was undergoing a multiple-bypass heart surgery, when his wife had an aneurysm in the hospital waiting room and died instantly. When he got out of surgery, he had to be told his wife of 30 + years had died. What a terrible way to wake up! He was devastated. This is the woman he stopped drinking for, after 30 years of hard drinking. This was his 5th wife, the woman who changed him so dramatically, forever. He didn't even get a chance to say goodbye.

What was cool was when he talked about going to Japan to have a service for her there with her family. She was Japanese, they met in Hawaii when he was stationed there as a U.S. Marine. I remember him talking about the memorial ceremony he attended for her in Japan. It was held in a temple, and there was a candle in the front. The priest would speak, the ceremony was lovely, and then the reached a silent moment where everyone prayed. At this moment, with no open windows or breeze of any kind, the candle flickered. Ralph said he believed his wife's spirit visited them at that moment. He said it felt like Harumi was with them, letting them know she saw what they were doing and was reaching out to them. He said he felt very comforted by that. I am glad he experienced that, although I cannot imagine the shock, loneliness and anger that would follow an experience such as that.

He will be missed. I think he knows it, too. While he was in the hospital after the initial heart attack, he was visited by over 200 people. I don't think I know 200 people, much less would take time out of their day to visit my ass.

Two years ago, he had his 30th anniversary with AA. The meeting was held in a church basement, and overflowed with people who showed up to pay tribute to this man who had helped so many of them on a personal level. He was a mentor, a friend, and a confidante. He understood you when you couldn't hold your shit together; He had been there. He could help you by reassuring you that it would get better, but he offered no promises. You had to do it for yourself, but you didn't have to do it alone. That's what Ralph offered: friendship. And love. And acceptance. I would take notes when we talked on the phone, because I could read them again later when I wasn't crying, and reassure myself with what he had said.

He grew up with his mother and a mean step-father in the midwest. He left home at a young age and eventually joined the Marines. He spent a lot of time feeling angry and depressed. He drank a lot. He got married and divorced 4 times. And then he met his AA sponsor, who listened to him, and he began to feel better when he could get all of his feelings out and receive understanding and acceptance from another human being. One day, he quit drinking. He got married for the fifth time and enjoyed a long, loving marriage. Long ago he taught himself to whittle, and carved these long chains out of one piece of wood, and lanterns with a little ball in them. He carved working pliers and all kinds of amazing things. He retired and he and his wife enjoyed their time together. He went fishing a lot, many times with my dad. He laughed a lot and told great stories. He was grateful to be alive and happy to help other people get through their struggles. He was loving and caring and understanding.

He is a testament to human strength through adversity. I don't know what else to say, because I just feel loss. I am grateful to have known him.

1 comment:

Andrea said...

So sorry to hear about your grandfather. Sounds like he had quite a life, and he obviously made a big impression on you.