Walter Folle, my brother in law, was truly well known and loved in Bali being a favorite expat icon. Walter would laugh about the day a group of 20 American tourists came landing off a bus and onto the doorstep of his home in the mountain village of Ubud. Sweating, with their cameras hanging off their necks, they asked in their strong Yanky accents “Show us the waterfall! The Balinese told us it was here!”. The driver had mistakenly led the bus to ‘Walter Folle’, already infamous among the Balinese locals.
Walter taught me the biggest lesson I have ever learned. That is to truly rever Life. Take it while it’s there. Lift up your heels and dance. Pirouette the night away. Kiss your loved ones each time you say goodbye. Who knows? It could all be gone tomorrow.
Walter, a German artist, fell in love with the Bali in the 1970’s and decided to set up camp and stay.
He set up Bali’s then only graphic design business. He later fell in love with a Balinese village girl. She was extremely beautiful and was painted in many portraits by the renowned artist, Donald Friend. They had two children, Ratna and Made. The marriage was not made in heaven and they were divorced six years later.
Walter had so much charisma. You would always find him at parties in a corner recounting secret long lost tales of the mystical Bali he knew so well. He was a lover of beauty and never could resist harmless flirts.
In 1994, Walter met my sister Stephanie. Stephanie was Australian and also shared with Walter a common love of Bali. Walter instantly fell in love with her the minute he laid eyes on her soul and wanted her for his own. Walter was twenty years Stephanie’s senior, however Stephanie soon succumbed to his persuasive charm. Two years later, Stephanie gave birth to a healthy boy, Sebastian.
Walters love for Stephanie and Bali were comparable. He never wanted to leave the side of either of them and was committed till the end. Even when Walter found out he had prostrate cancer and needed regular check ups in Australia, he was hesitant to leave the island and Stephanie.
After years of living in the heat of partying Seminyak, Walter and Stephanie decided to move to quieter Ubud, an artists village. His daughter Ratna and his grandchildren lived there as well.
Walter loved his home next to the bamboo forest and river being surrounded by family and beauty. My fondest image of Walter was of him sitting in his sarong in the garden, stroking Sebastian’s pet duck like an old Balinese Bapak (father) and his prize fighting cock. He seemed never more tranquil and composed that time in Ubud. It was as if he knew those were his last days.
I had flown over from Australia to spend time with my ‘Balinese’ family and had the pleasure of seeing all this happiness surrounding him. I noted that he was dressing impeccably and making various visits to many of his good local friends.
He invited me to go dance with him at the Jazz Bar in Ubud. Today I regret declining that offer as who would be to know that Walter died of coronary failure related to his prostrate cancer three days later.
Walter and Stephanie and I were out for a rare dinner in Seminyak with friends. We later sojourned at Alan’s house where Stephanie and Walter would usually stay if coming down into town. A few people passed by. It was a quiet night. Walter retired early to bed leaving Stephanie and I to mingle with Alan and a couple of his visitors.
An hour later Stephanie could hear Walter calling out to her. She ran to the room sensing something was wrong. He was writhing on the bed and clutching his heart. Stephanie yelled out to Alan for help. I had just left the house ( another regret of mine). Everyone was in a bit of a panic wondering what was happening. Unbeknown to them at that moment, he was in the middle of a fatal coronary attack.
Strange but true, right smack bang in the middle of his agony as though time had stood still, Walter sat up calmly and waved his palms down, looked to Stephanie and smiled and said ‘Everything is going to be alright”. Those were his last words.
He then fell back into pain and a few moments later passed away.
Walter’s love of Stephanie willed the attack to pause, and he had the power to assure his beloved mother of his son, that he would be ok and not to worry.
In hindsight for some strange uncanny reasons, those close to Walter agreed that he may have known beforehand that he was going to leave his body that night. There were too many signs that showed us all his death was not a consequence and that he timed it perfectly.
Firstly, I felt Walter made sure I was there in Bali to support Stephanie through the incident.
Walter, on the day before the dinner sms’d a lot of friends saying ‘come to a dinner tonight before my departure’. That was very uncanny.
He wore a red shirt at dinner, a colour he never wore.
He picked up the bill for everyone at dinner (a very rare occurrence). HA HA.
Last but not least, he chose an auspicious Balinese Hindu week to leave his body, where, according to tradition, one who died was lucky enough to be be buried and cremated in the same week, where usually one might have to wait many years for the right aspects of the Hindu calendar to do the same action.
Walter’s daughter, Ratna, perhaps gave her father the biggest gift of his lifetime (or death time!). Through her Balinese lineage and after lengthy discussions with the local priest, she arranged for Walter to be converted to Hindu and to be given a royal send off to the Gods, Balinese style. We all consented to this as we know that would have been what Walter wanted. It was possible because he died within this auspicious Hindu week. Amazingly this could be done after death! This was extrordinarily unusual and a tremendous privilege for a non-Balinese.
I have never been so touched, so graced, and so blessed to be a participant in such a beautiful ceremony. Where Western funerals are mostly austere and mournful, the Balinese throw funerals full of colours and smiles. Flowers were scattered everywhere. Prayer, silence and chanting laced the entire day. Naturally tears flowed as well however everyone present knew they were bonded by a very special man and a very special event.
At the beginning of the ceremony, a cleansing ritual of the body was to be performed by Walter’s closest male Balinese friends and family. However, someone forgot to buy soap and shampoo…Walter’s son Made dashed down the road to the closest warung (roadside shop) to get the goods. Ironically the brand of the soap he bought back was called ‘Lifebuoy’ and the shampoo “Rejoice’! I secretly smiled to myself.
Following that, Walter was bathed in holy water blessed by the priest and wrapped in a white sheet then adorned in a woven blanket of flowers. He was placed in the casket and the casket lid was shut. This was symbolic of the ‘instant burial’ that could be achieved on that one day. No actual burial was performed though. The casket was then reopened.
Walter was then dressed in a white costume. Many hands were working fast, each knowing exactly what to do. The priest and Walters Balinese friends put flowers in his ears, glass in his eyes (so Walter could have vision in the afterlife), flowers on his lips, flowers in his nostrils. Flowers were strewn into the casket along with any items that family and friends wanted Walter to take with him to heaven. Guests were asked to form a circle around the body and take incense in their hands and pray. You could feel the love pouring towards Walter.
His immediate family was now asked by the priest walk in a circle in an anti clockwise position three times chanting the mantra “Om Swastyastu” The mantra lifting Walter higher to the All creator and destroyer. We then kneeled while the priest chanted and conversed with the Gods. It was as though a real conversation was taking place. The priest was actually in negotiation with the bosses of the Heavens asking if Walter, Stephanie and Sebastian could all convert to Hindu. After some time, the priest turned to us. He had obviously the priest struck a deal. Walter and his family were now converted. Our beloved Walter could now be safely cremated to reach the Hindu afterlife. As the coffin was closed, we all bid our last farewell to Walter. The coffin was laid upon a metal sheet and was rolled into the furnace.
The noise of the furnace was haunting. The cremators were laboriously stoking the fire and fueling it with wood. We waited in silence. Sometimes words were whispered but no one wanted to talk. We had just seen Walter for the last time. The day was hot. Two or three hours passed. The furnace was turned off. The laymen rolled out the large metal sheet, Ratna poured holy water on top of the remaining bones to cool them down.
A funny thought popped into my head as I looked at the bones of my brother in law. I thought ‘I knew you well Walter, but I never thought I would know you this well!’
‘Who decides when is that time for us to go?’ I thought. Life seemed at that moment to be so random, a joke or a choice that made no sense. At the same time I felt overwhelmed by grace because I understood then how precious each moment is. Seeing Walter’s bones was such an intimate experience and it struck me deeply. Beautiful life. Reverent Death,
The priest asked each of Walters close family in turn to put on a coin bracelet and pick up a small piece of his bone with some bamboo tongs and lay it in a coconut shell. I was nervous and fidgety, terrified I might drop the bone in this delicate process, not understanding why or what we were doing.
The priest took the bones (36 pieces) to a table and made a replica of a mini skeleton with them. He covered the skeleton in a tiny sarong cloth, prayed and chanted. He put the bones back into the coconut shell. As I watched in amazement, we were again asked to wear the holy coin bracelet and help to take a pestle and grind Walters’s bones in the shell. This very macabre and to us westerners, alien rite, with help of Walter’s family was re-creating, according to the Balinese belief, the spirit of Walter.
Ratna carefully held the decorated coconut shell containing Walter’s spirit and led the guests. There was a procession of cars following to the Sanur beach.
Stephanie, Ratna, Made and I was led to a small jukung boat and sailed out to sea. Ratna emptied the coconut into the ocean along with the rest of Walter’s ashes, flowers and a released small duck to the water symbolizing eternal life.
The sun was setting, Mt Agung rose in the background and Walter’s spirit had been immersed into the waters he loved the most. What a send off!
Now Walter was not only known in Bali as well as the waterfalls but by the Gods also!
I thank my dear brother in law for teaching me the reverence of not only life but of death as well. Both are gifts that one should never question.
Stephanie, Sebastian and I do miss him dearly but we know that he is up there in style ‘A LA WALTER’!
Much love and laughter. Miss you Walter dear.