Today I Lost a Friend

It began like a normal morning with roosters crowing in advance of the sun. I awoke with them around 5 a.m. As the sky brightened I checked the clouds, puffy white in a sea of blue, perfect. Ketut appeared with groceries from the market. “I’d like to go to Denpasar today. Are you busy?” He wasn’t.

A half hour later we were tooling through rice paddies and small villages in high humor. I’ve mulled on the fact that Ketut tends to speak little when I can hear him but becomes a regular chatterbox when the thick helmet, rushing wind, and surrounding traffic noise make it almost impossible to decipher his words.

The shop I wanted to see was in Kerobokan, but as we entered the Denpasar area I spotted an ACE Hardware Store. These are not like the Ace Hardware’s at home. Here you can find fake plants, ‘a plastic garden’ as Ketut puts it, bathtubs, and children’s toys as well as auto parts, tools, hinges and toaster ovens. Neither of us had been there before so we took time to check out all three floors of the massive building.

We were looking at the display of safes cleverly disguised as canned vegetables, when he got a phone call from his wife. Workers were repairing the floor in that vicinity of the store so Ketut moved to a quieter area to take the call.  When he came back he had a strange look in his eyes. I told him I was finished and asked if he was ready to go. Holding me in that deeply intense gaze he said, “I’m sorry.” My gut did a flip. Something was terribly wrong.

“What is it Ketut? What happened?”

“My father die,” he said. The bottom dropped out of my heart.

Ketut’s father was special. Whenever I was a guest at the family compound he sought me out to talk. He asked questions about my country and my family. He wanted to know about the seasons in Minnesota and how it could be so cold for part of the year and so hot at other times. His mind was sharp and quick to grasp the nuances of things he had never seen. Knowing him I understood where Ketut got his facile intellect and ready wit.

Not only did he possess a natural curiosity and a fine intelligence, but he was kind. deeply kind. That’s another attribute that Ketut inherited from his papa.

The ride back to Ubud was a teary one for me. I know that outward expressions of grief are not appreciated here. A ‘clear face’ is highly prized. Sadness is thought to attract negative energies and upset the balance.  I was glad of the dark glasses and the hour on the back of the motorbike to process my emotions.

Every so often Ketut asked, “You okay?” The dear man had just lost his father and he was still tending to me.

“Yes, I’m okay. You okay?”

“Ya.”

The motorbike bumped it’s way back to Ubud while Ketut told me the story of his father’s illness. He had been to the Balinese healer and a Western doctor. The doc told him his arteries were closing and surgery wouldn’t help. The Balian gave him a medicinal concoction to drink every day. Some days he felt strong. He drove his motorbike and cut grass for the cows. Other days were not so good.

“My father say he want big photo,” Ketut said as we reached the outskirts of Ubud. “For cremation.”

Bapak is survived by four older siblings. One sister had requested a photo for her cremation several months ago. I snapped a picture, had it enlarged and printed, and delivered it to her on a subsequent visit. It was a very big deal.

“Is it too late?” I asked.

“Oh no! Not until cremation.”

I have the picture. It captures this man, his elegant bearing, wise face and kind eyes. He looks far younger than his seventy years and for the hard working mountain farmers, that isn’t often the case.  I’m glad there is one last thing I can do for Bapak as his soul speeds on its journey. Goodbye, my friend. I’ll miss you.

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16 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Diane Struble
    Jun 30, 2014 @ 04:01:16

    I am sorry. It is a loss to the world when a good man dies. My sympathies to his family and friends. The photo reveals a special person.

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  2. Kathie
    Jun 30, 2014 @ 04:58:30

    So sorry to hear of your loss Sherry. My best to Ketut.

    Be well Kathie

    Sent from Samsung Mobile

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  3. shanemac
    Jun 30, 2014 @ 05:33:52

    Sherry, I know it is not only a loss for the family but also for you. The kindness you talk about shines from his face in the photo.

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  4. writingforselfdiscovery
    Jun 30, 2014 @ 06:15:13

    Have you ever met anyone who seemed to not quite belong in this world? Ketut’s father was like that. He was so present, so real, but there was something else that put him in another league. The term ‘heavy heart’ is the sensation in my chest tonight.

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  5. Nanci
    Jun 30, 2014 @ 09:05:15

    What a lovely tribute you’ve given Ketut’s bapak by remembering him in your blog. How sad to lose such a wise man. May your memories of time spent with him comfort you.

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    • writingforselfdiscovery
      Jun 30, 2014 @ 18:57:45

      They are comforting memories, deep philosophical discussions, walks through his gardens, lessons on the flora and fauna of Bali. Time spent with this man, whose experience of life was as polar opposite from mine as it gets, felt so familiar. He was a farmer, like my father. He loved to challenge his mind, also like my father. And he was so so kind. Yes. You guessed it. My father is the other kindest person I know.

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  6. sageblessings
    Jun 30, 2014 @ 09:18:42

    Oh Sherry, I am deeply sorry to hear of your and Ketuts loss. Your writing and beautiful photo honor Bapak. I am glad you were with him when he received word of his father’s passing. That motorbike ride may have allowed both of you to share the grief together as you returned to Ubud. Please offer Ketut my sympathy….or what would be acceptable to him. A very sad day.

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    • writingforselfdiscovery
      Jun 30, 2014 @ 18:51:01

      It seems strangely ironic that I took that photo the last time I saw him. He was dressed for ceremony and I think that’s how he wanted to be remembered. Ketut told me that Bapak was ready for me to take his photo and there he was, standing proudly, serenely, with that conspiratorial smile. I, too, am glad I was with Ketut when he got word. The shared grief was a controlled effort on my part and ingrained behavior on his. When he first told me, I wanted to reach out and wrap my arms around him to give comfort, but I knew better. So I rested my hand on his shoulder instead. It was enough, a respectful gesture that conveyed my full, sad heart and connected with his.

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      • sageblessings
        Jun 30, 2014 @ 19:34:25

        Strangely ironic or……..
        I’m not sure what gave you the strength to not hug Ketut but rather put your hand on his shoulder….perhaps living there and seeing and also the book you’ve been reading about Turbulent Hearts. Either way, it was all correct. This is one ceremony I know you won’t miss….and now you have new clothes as well….for the event.

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  7. writingforselfdiscovery
    Jun 30, 2014 @ 20:32:57

    The strength came from a huge respect for Ketut and his culture. The hug would have been for me, not for him. Balinese women hug and hang all over each other. Balinese men do the same with each other. But opposite sex hugs are only between boyfriend and girlfriend or husband and wife, in private. It signals something far different than friendly compassion. Had I hugged Ketut it would have made him desperately uncomfortable. I would have accomplished the opposite of what I intended.

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  8. Gigi Gloria Heitkemper Cullins
    Jul 01, 2014 @ 11:26:17

    I am so sorry for your and Ketut’s loss, Sherry! Bapak’s picture is wonderful! You can see what a kind and loving soul he possesses. I, too, am glad you were with Ketut when he received word. I’m sure your friendship means a lot to him and his entire family. I know they have become your family there. My thoughts and prayers are with you, my friend!

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    • writingforselfdiscovery
      Jul 01, 2014 @ 15:43:24

      Thank you. I was with Ketut at that moment for a reason, I have no doubt. Sometimes I just feel so ill-equipped to navigate the emotional complexities of this culture. It’s like unlearning everything I’ve been taught to believe is appropriate.

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  9. healingpilgrim
    Jul 04, 2014 @ 08:02:58

    Dear Sherry, There are no coincidences… of course you were with Ketut for a reason, many reasons perhaps. Friend. Extended family. Teacher. Kindred soul, despite differences in outward appearances and cultural histories. Platonic love, compassion and empathy may dress up in jeans or udengs, but they are merely two sides of the same humanity. Please tell Ketut that I feel sad for his loss and that I will say prayers for Bapak’s soul on its journey, xo

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    • writingforselfdiscovery
      Jul 04, 2014 @ 08:50:48

      Yes Amit, I will. Tonight he talked with me about his father for a long time. Listening to him process is a passageway into the Balinese mindset. It mystifies and fascinates me. I can offer up not even a wisp of wisdom, his reality is so distant from mine. But perhaps listening is enough. What a privilege.

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