My last memory of Grandpa Ric was when he was on his deathbed. He was fortunate to be in his own bed, in his own home that he himself had built, surrounded by his family as he began the process of shedding his mortal coil.
I remember the dim lighting, the quiet sobbing, the intimate embraces, and the hymns being sung, softly & gently at first, then growing louder & stronger as everyone tearfully joined in.
“Swing low, sweet chariot
Coming for to carry me home,
Swing low, sweet chariot,
Coming for to carry me home.”
The raspy gurgling sounds he made after he slipped into his coma were uncomfortable, but almost soothing in their constancy. He was drowning before us, and there was nothing we could do but be there for him, with him, with each other as he faded away before us.
I was 18 when I first witnessed Death. I am still ever so grateful for this experience. I am so glad I got to be with him, with everyone, as he passed from this world and into the next, escorted by the merciful Reaper who gets such a bad rap.
As an awkward teenager, it was difficult not only to be losing a beloved family member, but also to witness & share in the mourning of this devastating event that seemed simultaneously to go on forever, yet over too fast.
“Amazing Grace! how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me
I once was lost, but now am found
Was blind but now I see
Through many dangers, toils, and snares
I have already come
‘Tis grace that brought me safe thus far
And grace will lead me home”
I think this was one of the few times I bolstered myself into joining in with the “Masten von Trapp” family as they sang their farewells to the great troubadour & self-dubbed bard. I’d always been too shy and self-conscious to perform with them all at what was then known as Morgan’s Coffee Shop, downtown Monterey, near Alvarado Street. It was a yearly event they engaged in for a while that I’d missed out on, just like so many of the other poetry recitations & musical performances Ric Masten & his family participated in like First Night & the Thunderbird Bookstore readings.
I now lament my foolish teenaged egocentricism in retrospect, but I was too young to even appreciate what was going on & the depth of the words my grandfather wrote & recited. I even felt irritated that I’d be dragged along to such functions when I had my pubescent existential misery & self-loathing to wallow in. Oh, if I’d only listened properly, perhaps my myopic woes might have been assuaged ever so slightly by his profound realizations & poetic transcriptions.
I listened to him gasping for air that night, though. I listened to the grief & love that was thickening the air like a comforting blanket to ease his journey into the beyond. I wasn’t scared of death in this moment, interestingly enough. It wasn’t scary to see him this way, only painful thinking he might be suffering, desiring to see him finally get relief in sweet release.
When grandpa’s noises waned, my aunt who had been monitoring his pulse, feeling it slow and presumably stop, declared that he’d passed after a final moment of silence.
Only for him to breathe one more, rattling and incredibly loud breath, startling the whole room into laughter, breaking the reverent quiet.
“Oh Ric, always insisting on having the final say, surprising everyone, and making us laugh in spite of the harsh and biting realities of life.”
This eulogy comes too late as it’s now been over a decade since he left this world, but it’s only now as I near 30 that I really am starting to appreciate the gifts he left behind for us, for me. I am so glad I got to feel his spirit lingering in the room, bidding us all a final affectionate farewell, before abruptly leaving the room cold, letting us physically feel the loss of his presence before us.
His third (and final) installation of his self-published book series, “Words & One-Liners” entitled “Take Three (Not Dead Yet)” arrived the next morning. How apropos in some way. I helped another aunt make a death mask for him, touching his cold, lifeless face the way no one else would but her. Later on, when I missed him, I hugged one of the masks she made & wore one of his sweaters, simply to spend some time with him again.
The strangest thing happened that night after he passed away. He came to me in my dream. We were leaning on our arms on a table, gazing at one another lovingly, and he had a camera pointed directly at me. This was long before I decided to face my crippling fear of performance art & start to dabble in modeling, choosing to face the camera instead of continuing to hide from it. The dream, to me then, remembering it the next morning, signified that he was taking a piece of me with him, telling me he wouldn’t forget me. It was an artistic catharsis & one last goodbye.
Only now am I thinking about how funny it is that he, friends with photographers, but never really one himself, bid me adieu in such a manner. Perhaps, now that I reflect more on it, it was part of the reason I chose to step in front of the lens despite all of my panic & dread when it came to attention being directed at me. I muse upon it all now & think about how interesting and cyclical life and all of its nuances really are, and why his song, “Let It Be A Dance,” became known as his magnum opus, added into the Unitarian Universalist hymnal after he’d been ordained a UU minister.
Just as you said your final goodbye to me that evening, I say my final goodbye to you now, Grandpa Ric. I’ll see you on the other side, and until then, I’ll try my best to always let it be a dance. I love you ❤
“A child is born, the old must die.
A time for joy, a time to cry.
So take it as it passes by,
And let it be a dance.
Let it be a dance we do.
May I have this dance with you?
Through the good times and the bad times too,
Let it be a dance, we do.”