Indonesia's former ruler, Soeharto, is gravely ill. Naturally the Indonesian media is following his condition closely. They seem especially obsessed with the medical terminology and procedures: the TV news is peppered with terms like Cardiac Resynchronization Therapy and Tissue Doppler Imaging.
Soeharto stepped down ten years ago amid widespread unrest due to the economic crisis. He was a dictator who killed, jailed and oppressed his opponents and impoverished his own people through rampant embezzlement. But I think a lot of people feel conflicted about his illness; there's definitely some nostalgia for the Soeharto era these days. Someone has even written a book called Thousands of Reasons Why People Love Soeharto. They're all the kinds of reasons you usually hear when autocracy gives way to democracy: Prices weren't so high then, we had a strong leader, there weren't as many problems. And all those things are true, in their way.
Soeharto's illness has an eerie quality for me, because it mirrors the course of my father's final illness: poor circulation and fluid retention, followed by failing kidneys and lungs. I can't help feeling sorry for his family, even though they were a driving force behind his theft. I remember taking part in those decisions about what medical procedures to do and what not to do, and they're not easy.
The irony is, the average Indonesian has no access to all these fancy treatments the media is yammering on about. Lots of people who live basically good and honest lives don't last long enough to see their hearts give out at age 86. They certainly don't have crack medical teams charting their every heartbeat. As my mom liked to remind us during our childhood squabbles, "life isn't fair." I suppose the same is true of death.