Then later that evening I was served a huge dollop of perspective as I read the sad news that Jake had passed away whilst on his travels. From what I can gather, he was in Vietnam at the time. I know very little about what happened to him, except that some of his very last words to a friend were, 'I love you so much and FUCK IT, if I die, I die happy'. And to me that's all that matters, that such a beautiful human being would die happy with someone he loved by his side.
I don't want to sit here and write an obituary or eulogy about Jake. I didn't know him well enough to do it the justice he deserves. But neither do I intend to strike him off my list. So this is a toast, to the incredible man Jake O'Grady and although he isn't with us now to read it, I'd hope that he'd be looking down from the heavens and smiling, knowing that his love and kindness in the time that I did know him, was not overlooked.
I would like you to raise your metaphorical pint glass of your drink of preference (as anything smaller hardly seems an adequate tribute), to the legend that was Jake O'Grady.
I was lucky enough to work with you, Jake, for the eight month stint I did on the bar at Premier Inn, during my gap year in 2011/12. It was one of the three jobs I'd taken on in order to simultaneously gain some experience for my CV, whilst saving for my upcoming travels around the USA and South America. I was 19 at the time, had zero experience at working behind a bar or in a restaurant and to be perfectly honest, I kinda sucked at my job. I broke corks inside wine bottles and had to ask customers to open them, was always forgetting orders and was such a wuss I didn't dare try and carry more than two plates at once. However, it's fair to say that despite all this, I loved my time working at the hotel, mainly for the people and banter that every shift was bound to contain.
Jake, every time I checked the rota, yours was one of the names I would always look out for, hoping that we'd be sharing a shift, as I knew then I'd be guaranteed that infectious smile and newest crazy life story. I'd like to start by thanking you for taking a genuine interest in my life. You were always so curious, full of questions about my plans for my future and especially interested in my approaching adventure across the world. We often dreamed together about all the places we'd love to visit, how we'd rather travel our entire lives and never have to have a normal, boring job to tie us down. You raved about how one day, you'd be heading off to Australia and then the rest of the world, just as soon as you'd graduated from college and saved up enough money and I am so glad that you achieved that goal.
I'd also like to thank-you for always being there for me. Through the slip ups and silly mistakes (that, let's face it, were far too frequent), where you'd cover my back and help me to see where I'd gone wrong, to that one break down I had where I couldn't stop crying because life had just become a bit too much for me. I know you felt so awkward but that didn't stop you from hugging me and dithering about how to make me feel better. You were always such a gentle person, with a genuine concern for those you cared about. You were also the first person at work I came out to, which seems like a lifetime ago now. I will never forget your reaction of utter shock, '...so what, you're bi-sexual? Cool. I didn't expect that', when I attempted to casually drop it into conversation, which made all my nerves dissolve in the hilarity of the situation. After the laughter subsided you told me how brave and strong you thought I was and not to worry, nobody was going to judge me here.
And finally, I'll never forget the time before the Christmas work's do when I'd worked a shift and hurriedly got changed in the staff toilets before heading out to join the rest of the team. I'm pretty insecure at the best of times, let alone on my first night out with a group of people I'd only known a couple of months, all of whom I was younger than, after only having 20 minutes to get ready in the loo. I rushed out past the bar, slightly flustered and ready to down a couple of drinks to calm the nerves and all you had to say was, 'Wow Emily, you're beautiful. You should let your hair down more often.' I have never forgotten that moment and never will, as it gave me the confidence to go out that night and just enjoy myself.
There was never a dull moment with you Jake, whether you were blazing like the drama queen you were about a matter you felt particularly passionate about, or scheming with the guys in the kitchen about how to wind up other members of the bar staff. Whenever I think of you, I see you dancing like a loon with me at Rumes in Preston on my farewell night out, when we were the only two people on the dance floor and in that moment, had not a care in the world. That smile, that give-everything-you've-got-to-everything-you-do attitude and the love that just oozed out of every fibre of your being did not pass me by Mr. O'Grady. Although we haven't seen each other in some time, you've always remained close to my heart.
So thank-you Jake, for making my life just that little bit brighter. And for now, even in your death, teaching me something about really living life. It seems you really did manage to live every moment to the full, right up to the very end.
As a mutual friend shared in a status today, legends never really die. Sending so much love your way lovely, you'll never be forgotten.