Aric Arthur Graf Dies


(Rick Goes to Become an Ancestor)

Donald L. Engstrom

July 11, 1995

The first night of the first full moon of Summer

I had smelled the scent of the power and love of the spirits in the dying room for the last two weeks. This last day was no different. As I lay there holding Rick, it was as if our bed were in the middle of a rose garden.

My sweet Rickie, my golden boy, my brave boy, lay in my arms for the last ten hours of his life. WE were able to hold each other firmly, tightly in ways that we had missed for so many months. The last six months and more had found Rick too frail, too delicate, to be held in my arms; I was afraid of causing him great pain. The slightest movement could send shivers of agony through his flesh. Now the morphine gave us back to each other one last time. AIDS simply would not be ale to steal these moment from us.

Rick was almost ready, but he was still unsure. Would I be all right? Were all the papers completed (he asked again and again)? Was the house done? Was everything in order? And yet, despite these doubts, he was willing to face death head on. Rick was so brave.

The support of our clan/family gave us the power to achieve our goals. The two most important of these were (1) for Rick to die in dignity and grace and (2) for me to be able to survive the fact that I would have my first morning alone - that is, that I would live the rest of my life without him. Our primary desire, though, was to have a successful death, a healing death, a death that would transform not only the two of us but our whole community. We knew deep within our heart that we could pull it off if we all worked together. The prayers, rituals, and spell-workings that went on before and during Rick’s death - that still continue today - remain a foundation of strength for me. I suspect that they also help to center Rick as he learns the new skills he will need to know as an ancestor.

Together we watched the approach of the Moon Boot of Death. Together we helped each other through the hard parts of the dying. We stayed together up to the last possible second. And our community was there with us. In fact, it has never wavered in its support.

In the middle of that afternoon Rick called out to us, “She’s such a fucking bitch!” I slipped into a trance and journeyed with him as far as I could go. The person who was coming for him in the Moon Boat (which looked like a translucent golden-amber gondola) was the bitch Goddess, Matron of Political Activists. She had dark steel-gray hair, which hung loose in long thin braids that danced in the breezes. The Goddess was dressed in a dark tunic and pants. She seemed to be wearing no jewelry or shoes. The deep, unknowable power that emanated from Her grew stronger as She poles closer to us. The Moon Boat was floating on something - a crystal-clear river, a dense wind, a stream of spirit? A cold clean wind of perfect air filled my nostrils. In the far distance stood mountains (hills, islands?). The only sounds were the songs of wind and water. The whole vision was supernaturally beautiful.

She slowly and surely brought the gondola to the while stone dock where Rick was expected to board. The Bitch Goddess looked stern but not cold-hearted, intimidating but not hostile. The Goddess was somehow obviously a Champion of Justice and Freedom for All. She waved her hand, signaling Rick to come to Her. He turned and asked me to go with him. I needed to take only one more step and I could  have crossed the line between life and death. I could have gone on with my sweet husband. But I had made a commitment not to kill myself because of Rick’s death; I had promised Rick earlier not to kill myself. I had also promised the Mysterious Ones that I would live on to fulfill my calling as one of Their priestesses.

It was not an option to crossover with my dear Rickie, even thought it did indeed break my heart to stay behind. I knew the best choice for me was to remain with the living. Was Rick’s invitation some kind of test? He seemed to so want me to come along. I am amazed I had the strength to let him go on without me. This bittersweet memory still fills my eyes with tears of wonder and confusion. I would have done almost anything to stay with Rick. But as we all know, a promise is a promise.

The Bitch Goddess got out of the Moon Boat and came over to the white granite bench we were sitting on. Rick got up and walked to Her. They stood facing each other. They began to wrestle and then to box. He would call out to me, “She such a fucking bitch,” and then laugh every so often as the contest continued. She said nothing. Folks who could see Rick’s face say that he wore a radiant smile throughout this time. I could see him hitting his hand with his fist repeatedly when I slipped back and forth between the worlds. He still did not want to go. I could not clearly feel why. but I could see that this match had a definite sacred purpose of some kind. Was it something beyond the powers of the living to understand? Whatever it was, they both seemed to be having a hell of a good time.

When the Goddess and Rick took a breather, Moonie, our beautiful golden cat, now dead some sixteen years, jumped out of the bow of the the gondola along with many other cat ancestors - domestic cats, wildcats, bobcats, lions, cheetahs, saber-toothed tigers, and many others. She came between the Goddess and Rick. The other ancestors formed a wide circle around us all. Without speaking, Moonie told the Bitch Goddess, in no uncertain terms, that no one was going to hurt her Summer Boy. She told Rick that not even a goddess could take him from her. She would never ever let anyone harm him. When the other cat ancestors signaled their agreement and support, Rickie visibly relaxed. I was clear that he felt  - no, knew - that he was completely safe with Moonie and the other ancestors who had come to escort him to the Apples Lands. Rick agreed to go on. He turned to me and smiled goodbye. He finally knew that everything was ready, done, complete and that I would be just fine. He became a clear golden light. His body, his soul, his being was now made of another flesh. He had left the flesh of Gaia behind and had taken on the flesh of Mystery. He and the others turned and prepared to board the Moon Boat.

Just before Rick stepped into the boat, I was thrown back into our room, with Rick still lying on top of me. The sky was a deep summer blue. The trees were a vital living green. I was back in the land of life. The living are not allowed to go beyond the point where Rick and I had said goodbye and expect to return. I had gone as far as I could go and still live.

It took three more hours for Rick to die.

Not long after our trance journey together, Rick lost the ability to use his throat and lip muscles. The last things he said, the words he repeated over and over until he could no longer speak, were “I  love you. I love you. I love you. I love you. I love you.” This was the profound, the mystical, the core message I was waiting for. No other words could have been so sweet, or so meaningful.

The room filled with the heavy scent of night blooming lilies.

Somehow I knew that Rick wanted to look at the sky. I gently turned his head and we both looked out across our yard into a beautiful blue summer evening framed by the lovely trees that we had planted with our own hands. We gazed contentedly out the window for a timeless season - that is, until Rick’s eyes quit working.

Throughout this time I sang Rick some of his favorite songs (“Summertime,” “The River is Flowing,” “There Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” and others) and chants (including “Hoof and Horn,” “There Is No End to the Circle,” and “ Dying Song”). I told him over and over how much I loved him. I named him my Brave Boy, my Golden Boy, my Sweet Husband, my Love, my Precious One. I loved him so much. It was terribly hard to let him go. It was the fucking hardest thing I have ever done in my life. But it was clearly time for rick to go on to the Blessed Lands.

After Rick’s eyes stopped working, his head relaxed even more onto my chest. I continued to tell him how much he meant to me, how proud of him I was. I kew that he could still hear and understand me, for at times of deep emotion he would cry without moving face or eyes. Tears streamed down his face to mingle with my own. We knew our love and bond would certainly survive death, but knowing that we would not be together for so damn long was almost unendurable for both of us.

Throughout Rick’s last five or more hours, particularly hard parts of dying came his way - sometimes physical pain, sometimes emotional distress, and sometimes simply not wanting to go. I could feel his body shake when these times came. And they came much more often as the actual death got closer. Rick, true to form, worked his way through each episode. I could not have been prouder. With each hard part he grew clearer. Eventually it seemed as if a visible golden light shone around his face.

The last hard part was deep heart pains. They brought subterranean guttural sounds from deep within Rick’s chest - groans that shook his whole body. We gave him more morphine and he was soon able to relax again. But I could tell that we were at the close of this part of Rick’s existence. Aric Arthur Graf would soon leave me and become one of the ancestors. Only the reptilian brain kept him tied to earth. Rick’s consciousness was just outside of his body. I whispered into his ear, “You can do it, Baby; you can do it, Honey. You can go now, my Brave Boy, my Sweet Love.” Over and over again I said these words.

By this time the room was literally filled with the ancestors. Some of them had been hanging out for over a month. And it seemed  that during this last part of the dying, many new visitors had arrived from the otherworld. There were so many! I sometimes became confused: Who were the living and who were the dead? But all of us were focused on Rick and his death. That was all that mattered to me.

At the very end I could feel Rick’s guts churning and his heart beating wildly. The folks who could see his face say that Rick’s eyes were focused and his face came alive. Rick fully entered his beloved body one last time. He clearly focused on the gateway in the northeast cornier of the room. Rick then simply shot out of his beautiful blue eyes and on into Summerland. He was gone. Rick did not hang around. There was no confusion on his part. Rick left this world with not one look back ... only a whisper: “I love you.” And as he died it felt as if my still living heart were being ripped from my chest.

Then a new light fell on us all. I turned toward its source to see that the full moon had just risen above the tree line. It was a beautiful night to die.

I became wild with grief. I could not let the body go. I held it so tightly that I could not breathe. Suddenly I had to get up from under it in order to touch, to pet, and to smell this once lovely and loving body. I tried to memorize every square inch. His eyes were still the blue of summer, but nothing else was the same. Rick had truly left me. I no longer had to be a priestess; I could now be the widow, and I simply became a mammal gone mad. I went out onto our balcony and screamed until the silence stopped me. The bugs had all quit singing, as if in recognition of some great and terrible event. I began to cry, wail, keen, scream even louder, overcome by pain, relief, grief and joy. When the neighborhood dogs started to bark, I knew that I was done screaming for a while; other jobs needed to be done now.

There were six of us gathered upstairs to tend to Rick’s death. There were maybe ten or twelve more folks waiting down below. The six of us became the death priestesses. We washed Rick’s body, blessing and remembering aloud the strength and beauty of each part as we washed it. We combed his hair and left his blue eyes open to the world. We put a clean deep-green sheet on his bed and a fresh black cover on his pillow. We dressed Rick’s body in his tux and burgundy velvet smoking jacket. His body was now ready to be presented to the folks waiting downstairs. When they came up, I went downstairs into the backyard to give them time alone the body and to give me a chance to be (for the first time in I do not know how long) alone.

I slept for the last time with Rick’s body in our room that night. It was hard to leave its side and go over to my own bed to sleep. But at last, thanks to a sleeping pill and total exhaustion, I fell asleep with moonlight streaming in between the blinds. In the morning I was awakened by a new light. Dawn sunshine illuminated Rick’s face. He looked healthier now than he had for the last few weeks of his life. The true gift  to the living, though, was the sweet smile that now graced the face of Rick’s corpse. The body appeared to be shimmering in a golden light.

Rick had become an ancestor, a resident of the Apple Lands. I had been truly baptized by flame and had become that most dangerous of beings, a Queer Priestess with Nothing Else Left to Lose. We both had passed through the fires of change and had emerged as new creatures.

I sang Rick “The Beauty Song” one last time before the coroner arrived.