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  • Writer's pictureBrandon Spars

The Death of an Inspiring Man

On Sunday, December 8 at 4 pm in Bali, Indonesia, my father-in-law, Ketut Rutus Daryana, passed away. He was taken into the hospital in a very weakened condition with high blood pressure and blood sugar. Doctors were able to bring the blood pressure down and adjust the sugar levels, but his condition continued to worsen in other ways. He needed to be put on a respirator, and then, within just a couple hours, he died.

My sister-in-law and my mother-in-law were with him when he died. My sister-in-law was holding his hand and, through tears, speaking to him. He squeezed her hand back, which indicates that he heard her voice. 

My wife and I bought plane tickets immediately, but it still took 48 hours for us to get there. We missed the cremation, and several times during our trip to Bali my wife burst into tears. As we waited for our luggage in Ngurah Rai Airport, pictures of the cremation pyre began rolling in. Our arrival at my brother-in-law's house brought on a fresh burst of sadness and grief. Between Tuesday and Saturday, we were able to attend several prayer/vigils and the Catholic mass that was held in his honor, as well as visit the place where his ashes were installed.

My father-in-law appears quite frequently in my storytelling, often in quite exaggerated, comic ways. With his passing, I thought of all the times he delivers incomprehensible diatribes or punts animals "outta the garden," and I immediately became quite choked up. In the evening prayers and vigils everyone was remembering a very strict, upright, and moral man who served as the head of Soverdi High School in Tuban, Bali, for several decades. I spoke with the athletics director, who was, in his own words, somewhat of a rough person when he was hired, but was given a chance by my father-in-law, and that was all he had needed. He had gone on to win the high school sports title ten years in a row. He told us how my father-in-law came to a chaotic mess of a school with many disciplinary issues and a lot of corruption, and how he ironed this all out with his consistent, courageous ability to face what is wrong. 

It just so happens I am currently preparing a long version of how I met and romanced my wife, Irma. Of course, my father-in-law makes many appearances where he always is in my stories, and where he often was in real life, under the mango tree in the family's compound in Sesetan. How many times was I there sitting next to Irma on the sofa when he would arrive late in the afternoon from school (the first to arrive and the last to leave). My mother-in-law would rush out to relieve him of his motorcycle helmet, and then rush in to prepare is afternoon coffee. Within minutes, he would appear in his orange sarong holding his newspaper to sit wherever the afternoon breeze was best. 

As I tell stories about members of my family or about acquaintances, I am deeply aware of how they are altered, or how their many dimensions collapse into just one or two. I would be embarrassed to tell my wedding story in front of my wife's family because of drastically my father-in-law and his mother are characterized... parodied is a better word. I can only hope that those who know me know that I process the world and those around me through story. When I am fascinated with somebody, I turn them into a character, and in this fascination there actually is a great deal of love and respect. 


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