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Belakang Panggung, the Musical

For International Women’s Day last year in 2020, my colleagues and I initiated Belakang Panggung the Musical as part of Lentera Sintas Indonesia‘s campaign of awareness towards sexual harassment. We staged 5 shows (plus an open dress rehearsal) on the weekend of 6-8th March at the French Institute Auditorium in Jakarta. The next day, Indonesia went into lockdown due to the Coronavirus pandemic.

I’m so glad we were able to “get away” with it, as it was a project I had been working on since 2017 after I met Sophia Hage.

The show gathered a huge amount of press recognition. Our main actress Mian Tiara, came out with harassment that was done to her in one of her recent films: Perempuan Tanah Jahanam.

Synopsis

A theatre company is staging the epic Ramayana. During rehearsals, sexual abuse issues surface and threatens the show and the reputation of its director. What happens when the main actress speaks up on the opening night?

Belakang Panggung was our critique of a society that judges, shames, and punishes survivors who speak up. At the same time, it was our plea to leaders in Indonesia to acknowledge this issue. They can start with approving RUU PKS, the proposed bill to eliminate sexual violence and support survivors.

We thank all patrons and individuals that supported us financially for the project. If you are interested to watch a recording of the musical, please contact me. It’s in Indonesian with English subtitles.

This year, I did a small campaign on my personal social media channels from the 1st of March until today, the 8th of March. It’s been a wonderful week of speaking up and advocating awareness surrounding an issue that is so personal to me. I thank all of you who have joined me with your voice, internet bandwidth, time, and resources.

Happy International Women’s Day!

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My #metoo Story

I am putting this down in writing so that there is a written record somewhere of the atrocious things that happened to me in 2014. In case I or anyone should forget.

There are two types of abusers: the stupid stranger on the street, and the brilliant psychopath who takes his time to groom his prey. I have survived both types. But this post is about the second type. (Trigger warnings for this post.)

When I moved back to Indonesia

I moved back from Fort Worth, Texas to Bandung, Indonesia in December 2011 after receiving my graduate degree. Upon my return, I worked in my church in Bandung as a music director. This was the church in which I grew up, so I had many childhood friends. One of them was a guy with the initials AH, who was the son of a respected leader in the church. To understand the whole picture, my father was the senior pastor of this church.

This church has many amazing people who supported me so much throughout my musical career, and also in the tragedies of my life. And yet, I do not attend this church anymore-I do not attend any church now. There are several reasons, the main one was having almost been raped by AH.

Grooming

He and his wife M were very friendly to me from the years 2011-2014. They picked me up, gave me rides, basically really went out of their way to help me run errands. Almost as if they didn’t have anything to do themselves. Back then, my back hurt a lot because I practiced piano for almost 6 hours every day in addition to my work in the church. I was not taking care of my body well and did not exercise regularly.

AH, and his wife M suggested for me to try ice therapy (also known as cryotherapy). They suggested for me to fill my bathtub with ice cubes and dunk myself in it, then get out and take a hot water shower. I told them that perhaps it might work, but there was no way I would be bothered to freeze that many ice cubes and then put them in my bathtub.

They said they would do it for me, at their house.

This might set off all kinds of alarms for someone who is thinking straight, but I was deep into the mental trap they had set out for me. They had invited me previously to their home several times- to have dinner, to just chill, even to practice aikido. AH claimed himself to be a certified aikido master. Plus this whole time, they were almost always together. The wife M was the enabler. Her presence made me feel safe-surely he wouldn’t try anything odd with his wife right there.

Testing the waters

That night M prepared all the ice cubes, and towels, while AH picked me up from my parents’ house. Upon arriving at their house, they told me everything was set up. They showed me to the bathroom and said I had to take off my clothes to dip in the tub. I hesitated. At this point, even the prey (me) knew enough to not feel comfortable. They assured me they had done this several times before, and to enjoy the full benefits of the ice therapy, I had to be naked. I thought that if that was the case, why was that information left out beforehand so I could at least have worn a swimsuit.

Seeing my reserves, AH suggested for me to keep a shirt on. And so I did. With a shirt on, I stepped into the ice-cold bathtub. A couple of minutes after, they gave me a hot shower. After that, they took me to their bedroom.

Then, they said I would need a body massage. M went off to make tea, while AH proceeded to give me a massage in his bedroom. I was not wearing the wet shirt anymore. After the massage was over, M served me the tea. Then they took me home.

This was the first time.

Several days after, they asked me how my body was feeling. I told them honestly it did feel a little better. To which they said, you should do it again. They would prepare everything. I agreed because I felt somehow indebted to them for all their “kindness”.

The second time

The second time, right I arrived in their house (picked up by AH), his wife M said that she had to help her parents do some errands, but she would be back soon. She had prepared everything. And so she left the two of us.

We repeated the whole process, except this time I went stark naked. I was in a mental limbo. Everything felt fuzzy and unreal, and yet it was real. I dipped myself in the ice and took a hot shower. Then AH massaged me in his bedroom. He touched and massaged everything, from back to the stomach to breasts to genitals. My mind was frozen, and I remembered I thought I would go crazy, so I played a song over and over in my head. I couldn’t (wouldn’t) acknowledge what was happening to me, and instead clung to the music playing in my mind. Later, some psychologists call this self-defense.

All during the massage, he told me that it’s better not to tell anyone, especially anyone in the church. Because I was the pastor’s daughter, and I had a boyfriend at the time, no one would understand this kind of “liberal” therapy.

I noticed that he was turned on, and I became even more afraid. I was already barely breathing and moving. If he tried intercourse, I would not have been able to move a muscle. For some reason unknown to me, he instead did push-ups. Looking back, it could be that he was holding himself back on purpose until the 3rd time. Or he changed his mind? I don’t know. I can’t tell you what’s in a psychopath’s mind. I can only tell you what happened to me.

After the push-ups, he suggested another shower. He helped me get up and proceeded to give me a warm shower. As in: he got into the bathtub and showered with me. Afterwards he helped me dry up and put my clothes on. Then he served me tea. Shortly after, his wife M returned and they both took me back to my house.

How the spell was broken

Upon entering my house, I couldn’t shake off the feeling that something weird, really weird, had just happened. At that moment I texted two of the people I trusted most in the world: JHL and KVC. I explained to them roughly what happened, and asked them if they thought it was normal.

JHL said she didn’t know what was happening, but she told me NEVER to go near them again.

KVC is a registered nurse in California. She asked me some more questions and warned me that I sound like someone who had just been raped. She asked me if there was any authority that I could report this to. I said I didn’t think so, precisely because my father is the senior pastor.

And so, I swept it under the carpet for two years until 2016, when the movie Spotlight came out. Note that after contacting JHL and KVC, I actively avoided AH and M. I stopped hanging out with them, and eventually stopped responding to their messages. After a while, they stopped contacting also.

Spotlight is a movie about sexual harassment happening in the Catholic church. Watching it 2 years after my experience, all the memories flooded in. I was in the theater, watching it with a date. This guy turned out to be a real asshole. When I confided in him, he told me it was my fault. Classic.

Speaking up

I then spoke out on my Facebook, leading to a conversation with several female church leaders. Through one of them, I found out that AH had preyed on someone else after me. Another girl in the church, in the year 2015. I spoke to her and found out we went through the same “process” of grooming, testing the waters, and being molested. So he was a serial. The brilliant, psychopathic type, because he knew that even if I reported, what he did would not be considered illegal due to Indonesian laws. According to Indonesian laws, only intercourse rape is illegal, and the victim needed a test (visum) to even prove it.

I have since then reached out to Sophia Hage of Lentera Sintas Indonesia. We collaborated and created a huge awareness campaign for International Women’s Day last year, in 2020. I’ll share it in my next post (to be released exactly on International Women’s Day this year). Of all the things, we chose to tell the story through the medium of a stage musical. A Musical, can you believe it!

But that’s for the next post. For now, I’m so proud to have been able to write this down. I hope it benefits #metoo research, campaigns, and efforts on this issue. Most of all, I hope it benefits my fellow survivors.

The Indonesian version is available here, in an interview with feminist psychologist Zoya Amirin.

If you need someone to talk to, you can also contact me.

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A Survivor’s Response to Theologian Ravi Zacharias Sexual Abuse Reports

Recently Christian religious communities around the world have been shocked and aghast by Ravi Zacharias sexual abuse reports. He was a superstar preacher and theologian, with many books on Christianity. Apparently, he had as many pictures of naked women as books. He died at the age of 74 in May 2020, after denying allegations by Lori Anne Thompson since 2017. Many people did not believe her and actively slandered her. The organization (Ravi Zacharias International Ministries) finally took action to investigate, and recently published a report on his many sexual abuse cases. (Trigger warning for the rest of the post!)

As a survivor of sexual harassment, one of my worst experiences was in a church setting, by the son of a deacon (church leader). Listen to the whole story here on Zoya Amirin Youtube Channel. It’s in Indonesian, but I’ll give an English translation in the next blog post. I first started speaking up on my experiences back in 2016. As a result of that, I met Sophia Hage of Yayasan Lentera Sintas Indonesia. This non-profit hosts private closed group discussions to support survivors. Lentera also actively campaigns about sexual harassment awareness and laws that need to be changed in Indonesia (RUU PKS). RUU PKS is a proposed bill focusing on the prevention of sexual violence in Indonesia while increasing victims’ rights. It was proposed in 2016 but dropped by DPR (People’s Representative) in 2020.

Back to the Ravi Zacharias scandals. I observed quietly as many people in my Whatsapp groups bravely attempted to digest this difficult news. I would like to share my voice here from a survivor’s point of view.

Not surprised at all.

All the signs were there-superstar, powerful, rich figure of patriarchal background. It is all too easy for someone in that position to abuse well, everything and everyone, really. Unless there are proper checks and balances set in place, then it’s just much too easy for him to do whatever he wants. Especially to village girls that have limited options in life due to poverty.

I wish discussions would be more empathetic and supportive of survivors.

Can you imagine how you would feel if your pastor was groping your thighs? Or how you would feel, if you were looking for a job because you desperately needed money to get through the week, and your boss offers you financial support in exchange for sexual favors? How would you react?

Statistics say that 1 in 3 women worldwide has experienced physical and/or sexual violence. They just haven’t spoken up about it. This is a staggering number.

What will you do about the issue?

Do not think your place is exempt from this social issue. Use the momentum of this news to bring it up to the leaders of your religious organization, workplace, school, to see if there are protocols set in place to ensure that everyone is safe. That people can speak up if they feel they have been mistreated. It can be as simple as an anonymous abuse hotline where you can report your case. Or an email where people can send anonymous stories to. Or let your family members (especially your children) know that if anyone ever touched them without their consent, then they can talk to you. You will not judge them. You will listen and believe them, and you will love them.

Let your children know that if anyone ever touched them without their consent, you will not judge them. You will listen, believe, and love them.

However you choose to act, my plea is this: do not stay silent on this issue. International Woman’s Day is coming up on 8th of March. They are campaigning for the hashtag #ChooseToChallenge. Speak up, use your voice. If you have money, find a campaign you like and donate to it. If you are in a leadership position, use your power to create better systems for your community.

What you do now will not be forgotten by your sons and daughters.

If you have been sexually abused, you can talk reach out to Lentera Sintas Indonesia, Zoya Amirin, or many other nonprofits and worldwide organizations. Have hope. The world is changing-slowly, but surely.

You can also talk to me. I’ve been there. You’re not alone.

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Towards International Women’s Day 2021

For International Women’s Day this year, I am so excited to be doing a campaign on my various digital channels. For each day from the 1st of March to the 8th of March, I will do one activity with the hashtag #ChoosetoChallenge. Here is my plan.

March 1

Publish a picture of myself with my hand raised, as suggested on International Women’s Day official website. I am going to tag 5 friends and see if any of them take up the picture challenge before the 8th of March.

March 2

I am going to research and choose 3 international nonprofits working towards women empowerment and gender equality and invite my followers to take a look and donate to the charities.

March 3

Publish a blog post as my response to the recent Ravi Zacharias scandals, writing from a survivor’s point of view.

March 4

Lobby at least one of the 5 friends I tagged to join the picture challenge. Hopefully one of them does! If you would like to join, please go ahead, and tag my Instagram.

March 5

Publish a blog post of one of my #metoo stories-the one in 2014 by a church member who turned out to be a sexual predator.

March 6

I am going to research and choose 3 local (Indonesian) nonprofits working in this field and invite my followers to take a look and donate to the local charities.

March 7

Make a TikTok video for Breaking the Silence- a 58-minute episode from the Leap Forward Podcast by the Global Network. I was one of the five people invited to discuss domestic sexual violence along with Sophia Hage of Lentera Sintas Indonesia, Kumudini David (Voice with Kumu), Jerry Winata (Bawa Anambas Foundation), and Ayesha Shaukatullah Awan (SEALA Network Manager).

March 8

I will be sharing the recording of Belakang Panggung the Musical, an original musical on the topic of sexual harassment which I initiated for International Women’s Day 2020 in Jakarta. If you are interested to watch the recording, you can contact me to request the link.

That’s my plan for this year’s International Women’s Day! #ChooseToChallenge #IWD2021

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Sketches and Regrets

Oky Kusprianto and I got married on the 25th of February 2017. He died on the 16th of June 2019 at the age of 42. Not a long life, and definitely not a long marriage for me.

He was an architect, quite famous in Bandung. In his short life, the number of designs he created was simply overwhelming. He was constantly sketching. One time we were caught in very bad traffic, and I asked him what he was thinking about. “I’m drawing in my mind,” he answered. That’s Oky for you.

During his funeral (it was a whole week-long process, one day I’ll write about it), his architecture friends gave me the idea to collect his designs in a book, as a tribute to his talent. They mentioned I would need the help of a fellow architect, curator, and writer: Setiadi Sopandi (commonly known as Cung).

Life has a weird sense of humor, doesn’t it? Because Cung and I hit it off and we got married in August 2020 (yes, a Covid wedding). The book? It happened, with the support of Realrich from OMAH Library.

Concept

The idea for the book evolved from an exhibition of Oky’s sketches and my writings, installed at Villa Gupondoro. The collection was curated by Cung, since the total amount of his work is still being collected even until now. Some of them were never built, some of them became spectacular icons in Bandung, for example, Babakan Siliwangi Forest Walk and Dusun Bambu Family Park. The title of both the exhibition and the book is Sketches and Regrets because throughout our relationship, there was one thing I regretted: that I did not experience his works more when he was alive.

But I do not wish to live my current and future life in this same constant regret. Now, I try to visit Oky’s creations regularly. I also try to visit Cung’s buildings. It’s fun. I enjoy getting insider info on how this pillar was not supposed to be there, or how the small interior details cost the client a leg and an arm.

Before publishing the book, Realrich said “I’m excited! OMAH Library has never yet published an architectural book from the perspective of the Mrs.” Don’t you just love that? I think it’s a real measure of Rich’s vision and open-mindedness for community.

Well OMAH, I’m still a Mrs. Architect now, so I hope I’ll continue to contribute a woman’s voice to your publications.

You can purchase the book here. If you happen to have read Sketches and Regrets, kindly drop an honest review on Goodreads.

With special thanks to translator Juhendy Setiawan and photographer Christian Nathanael.

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Series Review: The Book of Isle

After I finished all of the Enola Holmes series (check out that review), I decided author Nancy Springer must be on my favorite writers’ list. Imagine my delight when I saw that she also wrote my favorite genre: fantasy! In fact, she is more known as a fantasy writer than for mystery series. One of her favorite sets was the Book of Isle (in 5 novels).

I bought the Kindle boxset for 21.99USD – making it just over 4USD per book. GREAT DEAL readers! Alert!

The 5 books were my 4th to 8th reads of this year for the read 60 in 2021 Goodreads challenge. I finished the whole thing in 2 weeks. That should tell you how irresistible her stories were. The Goodreads description of the series called it a “classic epic fantasy in the grand tradition of J. R. R. Tolkien.”

Synopsis

On the island of Isle, gods, goddesses, and magical beasts lived together with humans. Some were good, some corrupt, some downright evil. Ellid, a lady as fair as the sun fell in love with Bevan, son of the High King and the goddess of the moon. Their relationship triggers events that resulted in the rebuilding of a peaceful kingdom. Generations and legends go by until the changeling Dair befriends the cursed wanderer Frain, and through their bond peace in the mainland is able to be restored. Ok, so it’s the usual fantasy plot. But isn’t that why fantasy readers read fantasy?

Ok, so it’s the usual fantasy plot. But isn’t that why fantasy readers read fantasy?

The magic is ancient good against evil, not unlike CS Lewis’ Narnia. It’s not children’s fantasy though. It’s for adults, although thank goodness she writes so much better than GRRM (Game of Thrones slowly became only about sex, war, and food). Nancy Springer delves deep into human nature, exposing love, lust, greed, ego, and a longing for death that is a constant theme from Book 1 to Book 5. Her battles were fast and action-oriented, but never more violent than is necessary.

A feminine epic fantasy.

One of my favorite things about the Book of Isle was how un-patriarchal it was. Goddesses were as powerful as gods, sometimes even more so. The One (the creator of the world) was genderless, never mentioned as “he”, nor “she”. In Book 5, a goddess gets the revenge that she sought because a human king had shamed her. This act was not seen as an act of revenge that spiraled out of control. Rather it was portrayed as a fair act because the king completely deserved it.

Like Lord of the Rings, the Book of Isle often used poetry form to communicate older myths that existed within the island. It worked very well, adding an air of grace to the tales. All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed my time reading the Book of Isle.

Do you like fantasy? Have you read this series? What did you think?

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In Vitro Fertilization – Podcast Episode 4

Elvina, Morgan, and baby Aerion (15 months old). In front of the Melbourne Star, Dec 2020.

Elvina Ingrid is one of my long standing friends – we’ve known each other since we were 12 years-old. That makes it more than twenty years of friendship! She moved from Bandung, Indonesia to Melbourne, Australia because her husband Morgan is a permanent resident in AU.

For seven years, Elvina and Morgan tried to have a child.

When nothing worked, they finally decided to try In Vitro Fertilization (IVF). Listen to her IVF journey, the painful shots and the crazy side effects, but most of all to her hope and outstanding courage. Elvina is a medical doctor, so she also shares perspectives from the medical point of view. Stay tuned for IVF jokes in the extras, though be warned because they are rather weird!

If you have any questions about In vitro Fertilization, or if you are going through this process now and you need someone to talk to, you can email Elvina at elvinaingrid@gmail.com.

Do you have a story to share with me? Contact me and maybe you will be featured in the next episode! My podcast can also be found on SpotifyApple podcasts, and other podcasting platforms.

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Bobo Lie, Part 2

Now, Bobo Lie (as the huge Efferin-Lie clan) calls her, can’t recollect clearly who she is. Due to her dementia, she has no idea what day, time, or year it is. She has no teeth. But she doesn’t need teeth anymore because her food is all soft porridge-like meals.

She was one good cook.

Around the time my parents got married (the 1980s), Bobo Lie was about fifty years old. She lived in a large estate which she turned into a boarding home, sometimes with up to ten boarders at a time. She needed the money from boarders to survive and care for her sons. She has four sons, plus two nephews that she took under her wing because their mother-Bobo’s sister-had died at a young age.

If a woman can manage a home, she can manage an office. If she can manage an office, she can manage a company. If she can manage a company, she can manage a country.

In her home, Bobo always made sure the best meals were set out for everyone: sons, nephews, boarders, eventually daughters-in-law, and all the grandchildren that visited. Her signature dish was rawon: black beef soup with turmeric, lemongrass, lime, and green onions.

She was one angry lady.

The reason she needed to turn her house into a boarding home was because Kung-Kung (my grandfather) divorced Bobo in her forties. He was a highly respected doctor in Surabaya, East Java. One of the first medical professionals in the whole province, in fact. After three children, he left Bobo (who was pregnant with a fourth child) to marry another lady. Now, I call her Granny Rika. I call her that behind Bobo’s back. I suppose reconciliation takes generations.

According to Bobo Lie, she never wanted the divorce. But somehow, in one of her angry emotional fits towards an unfaithful husband, it is possible that she signed the papers in exchange for ownership of the large estate.

She was one talented lady.

Before she got married to Kung Kung, Bobo loved to sing. As a teenager, she won singing competitions and even sang regularly on the radio. Being a radio star in the 1950s is like being a YouTuber with millions of followers in 2021. She was the belle of the town.

Bobo continued singing as a hobby, even when her mental capacities started to decline. Somehow, she managed to remember melodies and songs. Sometimes, she even sat on my piano and plunked out some tunes.

I suppose she doesn’t remember any of this now.

But I do. And now, you do too.

Bobo means grandmother. It’s a common term for Chinese-Indonesian families. Kung Kung means grandfather, another common Chinese-Indonesian term.

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Bobo Lie, Part 1

Bobo Lie

In November 2020, my 95-year-old grandmother’s health condition dropped. After clearing with the necessary checks to confirm that it was not Covid, we admitted her to the hospital for about a week. Honestly speaking, her 4 sons, 4 daughters-in-laws, 12 grandchildren, and 9 great-grandchildren probably all had the same thought: Bobo Lie (that’s what we call her) is going to die soon. Her sons even gathered in the hospital room, hosting a masked service. Just in case.

Well, here we are in February 2021, celebrating Chinese New Year-Zoom family dinners and all. My father contracted the virus and got better (see my reflections on that), the nurse contracted the virus and got sent back to her village but through it all, Bobo Lie? Despite her dementia, she’s still alive and virus-free.

She is one tough lady.

She now lives with my uncle who takes excellent care of her. About five years ago, she was still staying with my parents. I was there practicing piano, as usual, preparing for a concert. I remember I was working on a Brahms Rhapsody. It was a particularly loud passage, so I couldn’t hear anything else. After the forte passage, I heard the household helper scream. My parents were not home, so the helper ran to my piano room in a panic. All she could say was “Bobo, Bobo, blood!” 

I stopped the Brahms and went to check inside Bobo’s room. Bobo was lying on the floor, surrounded by blood. She was conscious though and calmly asked me to help her.

“What happened?” I asked, trying to help her get up.

“The scissors,” she answered vaguely. I saw there was a pair of scissors in the pool of blood, and there was a huge gash on her hand. I knew that she did her sewing, so it was likely that she lost muscular control and somehow fell while cutting her hand very badly.

She is one generous lady.

Bobo is much too old to go anywhere now. Ten years ago she was still able to go to church every Sunday. At that time, her dementia was just beginning. She dressed up as usual, and put some money in her wallet for the offering. The church protocol was for an offering bag to be passed from person to person as people put their money gifts in the bag. Sometimes there would be different colored bags for different purposes/projects.

When the bag reached her, she took out her wallet. There was the money she had prepared: a twenty thousand rupiah bill (equivalent to 15 USD), and spare change in the form of a one hundred rupiah coin (equivalent to 0,01 US cent). I suppose she originally meant to give the bill. However, she reached for the coin instead and dropped it proudly in the offering bag. Reactions from surrounding people included laughter and embarrassment. Perhaps in her mind, she was back half a century ago before the devaluation of the Indonesian currency. Back to a time when coins were still valuable while that particular bill had not even existed yet.

She is one beautiful lady.

When I was a child, my parents often took me to visit Surabaya in East Java. Bobo Lie lived in Surabaya until she was seventy. Then she moved to Bandung (West Java), where three of her four sons lived.

She introduced me to this amazing thing called nail polish. Her nails were always shiny with bright colors. She taught me how to cut my nails properly, how to patiently polish them, and also how to remove the polish when I got bored of the color. Bobo had a large collection of different brands and shades of nail polish. Manicure was an art form for her.

Sadly, I don’t keep up with proper care of my nails. I wonder what she would say now, if only she still recognized who I am.

Continued to Bobo Lie, Part 2.

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A Discussion on Coping with Grief

Last week I had the honor to be featured on Grace Tahir‘s Iso-Late Show Episode 30 with Grace Tahir and Intania Fajar from Janda Becanda (The Widow Jokes) Podcast. It was a rainy afternoon with bad internet on my part. The discussion on coping with grief was solid though. I didn’t know Tania (Intania’s nickname), and she didn’t know me, but we connected through our mutual experiences.

So many people have experienced losses recently. Thus I share some of our key takeaways with the hope that it will help readers who are processing grief.

Key Takeaway 1. Instinct before sudden death.

Some people have an instinct that their loved one is about to die. This was the case with Tania. She was in Manila, and Joel (her husband) was in Hong Kong about to fly to Manila when he got into an accident. He died in the Hong Kong airport. Tania was with her mother-in-law, and at that exact moment, she had an urge to call Joel.

This was not the case with me and Oky’s death. Oky crossed a road (on foot), got hit by a motorcycle going 90km/hour, and died there. It came as an absolute shock to everyone.

Key Takeaway 2. Five stages of grief.

The five stages of grief according to Kübler-Ross model are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. I didn’t go through the five stages of grief (mainly because I didn’t know what they were at the time). But I knew I was ANGRY. Even now, I’m still angry because the whole situation involved irresponsible people and corrupt authorities.

Tania believes strongly in destiny. “The good die young-Joel was as good as good can be, so he went young,” she said. Tania was very sad but there was no denying it. Joel died end of 2008, so it will be 12 years by the end of this year. And the feelings are still coming and going.

“The good die young-Joel was as good as good can be, so he went young,” she said.

Intania Fajar, Janda becanda podcast

Key Takeaway 3. Loneliness.

For Tania, that’s one of the main themes in Janda Becanda Podcast: that feeling lonely is not an experience exclusive to widowhood. We’re in quarantine now so many people feel lonely at this time. It’s always good to know how to cope with feeling lonely.

For me, there were two moments in which I felt utterly alone. I just felt an absolute darkness and I did not even know what to think. This mainly had to do with the circumstances surrounding Oky’s death with the crime and corrupted police and law officials of Bandung. At that time I reached out to some mentors and they helped me with frameworks of thought.

Key takeaway 4. Annoying messages from people.

For me, it was tiring because so many people continuously asked what happened. However, I would rather have people asking than telling me how to react. Many people told me to “forgive”, or “move on”. That was incredibly annoying because they said those words without any idea of what I was going through.

For Tania, there were some fundamentally rude questions that people asked her. She refused to even repeat it because it was so unsympathetic. Some people that didn’t even know her or her husband started asking questions simply because they wanted gossip material.

Key Takeaway 5. Support systems.

Tania had a very strong support system. The moment her family found out, they dropped everything and flew from Jakarta to Manila. By maghrib (evening prayers) that day, they were already able to be with her. They showed the same support during her divorce from her second husband.

I stayed tactfully silent because this is at the heart of my issue with my parents. (Look forward to future writings…)

Key Takeaway 6. Ways to cope.

Journaling was one of the ways I coped with everything that happened. From my journaling habit, the exhibition and book Sketches and Regrets was born. Not to mention this blog, my poems, short stories, and hopefully more books to come! A practical tip from me includes a breathing technique called box breathing to help stay calm in extremely stressful situations. Another tip is to be committed to taking care of your body: drink a lot of water, go on walks or routine exercise, get enough sleep, and eat well.

For Tania, it is important to have other aspects of life to be able to focus on. Career, work, and other creative projects. Her late husband was an amazing person and she honors it, but life has to go on, especially because at the time she was responsible for a 1,5-year-old baby. There are also many resources out there including the Janda Becanda community that she created.

The complete interview is available on Grace’s Instagram channel (it’s mostly in Indonesian, with English sentences here and there). I hope this article helps to make the contents of our conversation accessible to more people.

With special thanks to Grace Tahir.