When Death Doesn’t Mean Goodbye

In a remote corner of Indonesia, the departed—and their corpses—remain a part of the family.

One night, a little before seven, Elisabeth Rante pulls a golden curtain back from the doorway. Together we slip inside. She speaks to her husband. “Papa ... Papa,” she whispers. “We have a guest from far away.” Behind us, second eldest son Jamie enters the room with a tray and walks up quietly. “Here is your rice, Papa. Here is your fish. Here are the chilies,” he says.

As we back silently out of the room, Elisabeth says softly, “Wake up, Papa. It’s time for your dinner.” I turn back for a moment as eldest son Yokke explains: “She’s taking your picture, Papa.”

A touching family scene. Nothing that couldn’t happen anywhere on Earth. Except for one thing. Elisabeth’s husband, a former clerk in the city marriage bureau, has been dead for nearly two weeks. Here, in the handsome, melon-colored concrete house of a respected and prosperous family, Petrus Sampe lies motionless on a wooden twin bed, a red patterned blanket tucked under his chin.

Read This Next

Battle to control America’s ‘most destructive’ species: feral pigs

How coffee can help forests grow faster

The forgotten fossil hunter who transformed Britain’s Jurassic Coast

Go Further

Subscriber Exclusive Content

Why are people so dang obsessed with Mars?

How viruses shape our world

The era of greyhound racing in the U.S. is coming to an end

See how people have imagined life on Mars through history

See how NASA’s new Mars rover will explore the red planet

Why are people so dang obsessed with Mars?

How viruses shape our world

The era of greyhound racing in the U.S. is coming to an end

See how people have imagined life on Mars through history

See how NASA’s new Mars rover will explore the red planet

Why are people so dang obsessed with Mars?

How viruses shape our world

The era of greyhound racing in the U.S. is coming to an end

See how people have imagined life on Mars through history

See how NASA’s new Mars rover will explore the red planet