This page is dedicated to stories about Jody. As new stories are added notifications will be posted on the memorial blog.
Turmoil in the house had paused. It was the holding of breath in anticipation of something truly special, and for the first time in a long time everyone in the house felt happy. The father, mother, and sister sat in a circle on the living room floor to decide what name to give the new baby boy that would be arriving soon.
Each of the three had a different name in mind and strongly argued for their favorite. After a long and heated discussion a vote was taken and it was decided that Jody would be his name.
Jody was the name of a cartoon character whom his sister loved very much, from a show called Jody and Fodderwing. Based on the book 'The Yearling' it told of the trials and adventures of a young boy growing up in a far away place called America.
A Home In Depok
Jody was born in Jakarta, Indonesia on February 26, 1986. The hospital where he started life was nested deep in a city packed with millions of people, but his home was in what was at that time a small town called Depok.
Jody's home was a modest three bedroom house that was bought with the money his father had made from writing a children's text book. Becak men, who pedaled the taxis of the area, were always out front gossiping and smoking cigarettes while waiting for their next fares.
To the easy-going community of Depok it was only natural that the business of one person be interchangeable with the business of all. So when Jody arrived there everyone welcomed the new half Indonesian half American child as if he was their own son. And when things at his home inevitably fell back into it's pattern of violent turmoil he spent much time at other houses being showered with attention and food by neighbors. Jody soon grew to be a social child that loved to meet new people and sample different types of delicious food.
The marriage between Jody's parents was quickly dissolving. His father was a man strictly consumed by building businesses in preparation for the future that he had long planned for his children. There was no moving him from the vision that his daughter was to be a doctor and his son an engineer, expensive professions to dream for your children in Indonesia. And other future children yet to be born also had costly careers that needed to be saved up for as well.
But Jody's mother did not feel such things. She moved from job to job and finally realized that what she wanted in life couldn't be found through work, or anything that was in Indonesia. She wanted out of the marriage fast and soon put together her own plan for the future. Instead of a divorce she would simply take Jody and his sister away from Indonesia without telling anyone.
And so on a hot September afternoon Jody was moved in secret from his home in Indonesia and placed on a long flight to America. It was several days before anyone in back Depok understood that he was gone forever.
Jody's first experience in a homeless shelter was in Battle Creek, Michigan while his family waited on the list for government housing. The shelter was an old multi-story structure originally built to comfortably house one family but which now was overflowing with the homeless. This was a shock to Jody, who was only a toddler, and he would cry for hours as he struggled to cope with the new living conditions.
Over the course of the next year Jody's family moved into a townhouse in a low-income housing complex and the new routine of life in the US established itself. He spent his days at a daycare center and nights in a house that was mostly empty in the beginning except for one couch, a tv, and couple of beds. Food was often scarce at home but his Grandmother would take him for the weekends and treat him to trips to restaurants and big homemade meals.
One day a package arrived at his Grandmother's house, inside was a brand new Nintendo with a name and address carefully written in permanent marker on top:
Jl. Kalimantan 103
Whenever people found out that Jody was born in Indonesia they would always say What was it like? and Speak some Indonesian for us. But he couldn't remember anything about his old life, he couldn't remember his father and didn't even know what he looked like.
But now here was the Nintendo. On one hand it was a reminder of just how different he was from the kids in his neighborhood. On the other hand the address written on top was the closest he could ever remember being to his old home in Depok.
Jody played the Nintendo whenever he could, his favorite game was Super Mario Brothers and even though at that time he was still too young to understand the intricacies of the game he kept trying. This was the beginning of a lifelong love of video games for him.
Still he didn't know what the gift meant until one day a buzz of phone calls electrified the household. His father had found a way to come over to the US via a student visa and was pressing to see his children as soon as possible.
Court ordered visitations were a force that transformed restaurants from places to enjoy a good meal into battlefields. Any illusions that he might have been able to have about the future were quickly swept away with the first few sessions. The war between Jody's parents had begun in Indonesia but had long been simmering and was now waged across tables covered in half-eaten food.
Sadness turned to frustration turned to desperate anger in Jody as he struggled to break through to his parents, especially the father that he only got to see for an hour every few weeks. He would run around the restaurant, grab silverware off of other tables, pretend like he was going to pull the fire alarm. But the only responses he got were triumphantly spoken sentences like He's your son. and This is your time, you deal with him. Or his father softly trying to call his son back to the table, so as not to attract the attention of the other diners.
Over the next few years Jody's family was uprooted from the townhouse in Battle Creek and moved from apartment to apartment and town to town. He got used to putting his toys into boxes that would then be stacked in long hallways and carried out to U-Hauls. He even learned the best way to say goodbye to friends forever.
But Jody struggled to dodge the insults and accusations that ruled in his house no matter what the address was. Getting upset or resisting only seemed to intensify the hurtfulness. But reacting by going to play quietly in another corner of the house only had the effect of bringing in the insults from another room. The only place he could truly retreat to was deep in the world of cartoons and video games.
He would get up long before everyone else in the house on Saturday mornings and run out to watch his favorite shows: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Tale Spin, The Tick, Super Mario World. He knew every character's story by heart and was still happy to watch an episode even if he'd seen it a million times before. He poured himself into video games, which by now he played expertly, and when he beat a game he would trade with a friend for a new one. The only game that he wouldn't ever trade was his favorite: P.O.W. Prisoners Of War.
Meanwhile Jody began to notice that the twice monthly restaurant visitations had stopped. No more phone calls from his father. No goodbyes. What he didn't know was that his mother had become fearful that his father would suddenly take the children to Indonesia the way she had taken them to the US. His father was only allowed to be in the country until the end of college, so as the graduation date grew nearer his mother became more agitated. She decided once again to move the kids in secret and cut off ties with their father.
Jody was a boy who was now painfully aware of the lives of the other kids at school. After the bell rang they would go home to play baseball or soccer with their fathers in lush green
backyards and have big dinners in houses that they'd been living in for years. He knew not to talk much about the things in his own life, which was getting worse month by month. He lived for the sunny day trips to South Haven beach with ice cream afterwards or afternoons visiting animals at the zoo. But the increasingly frequent 'weekends at Grandma's house' made it obvious who was unwanted in his home.
One morning he woke up to hear that while he was sleeping his sister had brought home a cat to keep as a pet. He wasn't allowed to have any kind of pets and he burned with jealousy
as he loved animals and had always wanted a pet to call his own. Now this cat that had been so easily welcomed into the house would just be another reminder of how much he was unwanted.
Jody lay on the couch watching cartoons and trying to imagine what about this cat could be so great. When his sister finally woke up and happily trotted out with the cat in a small box
he was surprised to see that it was actually just a small black and white kitten. His sister had already decided what to call it, Joe Sox: Joe after the name that their father went by and Sox because the white markings on each of its paws looked like little socks.
The kitten had been found one afternoon after someone had thrown it out of the window of a car and onto a stretch of highway. He had miraculously survived and made it to a patch of
grass on the side of the road. Jody could see that the kitten was in bad shape, the bottoms of its paws had deep red cuts from the asphalt and it lay in the box breathing weakly.
Jody carefully picked the kitten up and cradled it in his arms. From that day on he did his best to help nurse Joe Sox back to health. He would encourage the small cat to eat by putting a bit of food in his palm and extending his hand out really slowly. There was medicine and vitamins that needed to be given and he would pet the cat to help keep it calm while taking them. Though his favorite thing was to do something silly to try and cheer it up while it was recovering.
Despite Jody's earlier doubts, Joe Sox grew to be as much his cat as his sister's. They soon became great friends and after Joe Sox recovered, he liked to follow Jody around the house and would often watch over him while he slept. But to Jody the best part was now he had a companion on Saturday mornings to watch cartoons with.
Hi All, this is an unfinished version of the story that I said I would publish back in September. I wasn't able to finish it yet because it was just too hard to think back to those times so I was giving it a break, intending to finish and publish it later.
Recent events have put a worldwide spotlight on the epidemic of tragic deaths at Fort Hood and that in turn has lead to a lot of people trying to find out more about the person that Jody was. Because of that I've decided to just put the story up in it's unfinished state since it shows an important part of his life. It was a very sad time for him because of the things that were happening at home but also happy because of the love and care that his grandmother showed him. The run on sentences and brackets are not what I had hoped to publish on this site but the facts are still there and that's what counts.
Jody was very close to his great-grandmother Florence Kohli and even though he only knew her for a few years he never forgot about her. He would talk about the time he spent with his grandmother to his sister over the phone. This is a story about the time they spent together.
Jody sat on his grandmother's couch next to a small pile of his clothes and toys. She was quickly straightening up a few things around the house and getting ready to go while making sure to ask him all the usual questions. How was school, how were his friends, what did he want for supper tonight? Okay, okay, anything. He shrugged her off and pretended to be interested in the tv show that was on. By now they both knew what it meant when he and his things were suddenly dropped off at her house and so he didn't feel much like talking.
The first order of business during these times was to take a trip to the grocery store down the road and do some major food shopping. Jody's grandmother would push the cart down each aisle setting up meals for the next few weeks and let him go from shelf to shelf getting whatever snacks he wanted. Pizza rolls, Spaghetti O's, ravioli, Mountain Dew, Oreos, chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream. He always pretended that he'd won a shopping spree on a game show and had to go around sweeping food into the cart before time ran out. Afterwards they hauled the massive amount of groceries back to the apartment, had a big dinner, and settled into the day-to-day of life together.
His grandmother was in her mid seventies and lived in a retirement community for senior citizens. It was hard to be a kid there because you had to be quiet all the time and the only area set aside for playing was a small cement shuffleboard lot. Every day after school he'd sit on the floor and watch that afternoon's set of cartoons with a row of snacks beside him and his grandmother would sit on the couch resting tired feet after her day at work. She'd take care of some knitting or thumb through a magazine and use the time to try and strike up conversations with him. But it was hard for him to keep his mind from wandering far away to the next phone call from home. Or to his friends who were probably at that exact moment finishing the tall snow fort they'd all been working on that week. And most of all he thought about his sister and mother. What were they doing back home and were they having a good time?
Still, his grandmother stayed patient and spoke kind words to him, treating every conversation like it was the first. She never seemed to talk much about herself so most of what he knew about her life came through the things around him. Her apartment was sparsely decorated but each room gave clues to her history. The living room had black and white photos of family members on it's walls. Over the couch was a large painting of a country scene with a father and son on a horse drawn wagon splashing across a river. He had never seen the vanity in her bedroom without the same worn silver mirror and brush set neatly displayed and the nightstand always had a new biography of some famous person on it.
But to him the most interesting part of the house was the storage room. He didn't get to see it very often but sometimes she'd need something that was packed away there and would open up the stacked boxes and shuffle through them. If he stood in the doorway and stretched on tiptoes he could get glimpses of the things that never seemed to leave the room. [ Boy Scout patches, yellowed newspapers, what looked like an old trumpet or bugle, a toy fire truck, he knew who these kinds of things probably belonged to but never could think of how to ask about it. ]
Going to Indonesia
The word Indonesia caught his attention. He and his grandmother were at one of their favorite restaurants in Kalamazoo, the one with the Chinese zodiac placemats that were the same year after year but never seemed to get boring to look at. While waiting for their food to arrive they would take turns thinking of birthdays and try to match people with their zodiac animals, sometimes with hillarious results. This time the conversation had wandered and his grandmother had mentioned Indonesia in passing. Indonesia - Jakarta - Depok, these far away places were a part of his past that always made him stand out anywhere his last name was mentioned. People would say Hey what was it like? and Speak some Indonesian for us. But he'd been very young when he was moved away from his birthplace and didn't have any of his own memories of life there. At home no one seemed to want to talk about Indonesia anymore, but he had become a secret collector of his history. He didn't want to directly ask her about himself so he asked what it was like for her to go to Indonesia.
She told him about long cramped hours sitting in airport and plane seats on the trip to meet her new great-grandson in Jakarta. She'd heard about him through phone lines that stretched under the ocean and echoed conversations between Michigan and Indonesia but was very anxious to see him in person. She said that it seemed like every minute of the trip was spent wondering what he would be like. And then she saw him: big for his age, already with a full head of black hair, and deep brown eyes. She said that he was very social and friendly preferring always to be around people. And even then he had a love for food and was never far away from something good to eat. When she got to his home town of Depok she could see that the whole community was excited about their new half American half Indonesian addition and there were neighbors stopping by to see him at all times of the day.
Jody listened from across the table trying to picture in his mind everything she was describing. It seemed so different compared to the way things were now that it was hard for him to believe. Was she making things sound nicer than they were or could his life really have been like that back then? He was so busy thinking about it that when she said the two words that he almost missed it and she was already talking about the next thing before he realized what had happened. She had said: like Gerald.
Eventually the conversation trailed off and the waitress delivered their meals. Now he was supposed to be eating but all he could do was look at his plate and push the food around with his fork. He didn't know a lot about Gerald but he knew that he was his grandmother's only son. He had died at the age of twenty one after his car hit a tree at that place on the highway where nobody in the family could go past without losing their words. He'd left behind a young wife and infant daughter, Jody's mother.
On the drive back to the apartment Jody sat in the front seat like he always did when staying with his grandmother. It was a small thing but it made him really happy because back home he was the youngest and had to sit in the back. He watched the large oak trees pass by the window and thought about the two words his grandmother had said. He thought about the death of her son and then her husband and how she lived alone now. He thought about the big painting over the couch with the father teaching his son how to drive a horse drawn wagon. He thought about the neatly stacked boxes in the storage room. And it was the same through the entire evening, through all the tv shows and after bedtime he lay on the couch and fell asleep thinking about how his grandmother considered him like Gerald.
For Jody things felt different after that day at the restaurant. Having to be away from home was still really hard but he felt closer to his grandmother now and knew that he’d always have a place at her house. He wanted to help her and did what he could, things like trying to carry all the groceries up for her or moving things around the apartment when she needed it. But what she really seemed to like most was just to spend time with him and talk.
They had a lot of fun together but the best times were when they would go outside and play boomerang. His grandmother had found a spot in the apartment complex where he could run around and play a little bit without the neighbors being bothered. The space was big enough that she was finally able to buy him the boomerang that he'd been wanting for a long time. It was an inexpensive plywood toy from the grocery store but it became their favorite thing to do in the summer.
Jody would fling the boomerang and try to get it to curve just right so that it would come back to them. But it was really tricky and it would sometimes end up going in wacky directions. They’d just laugh and he’d run to get it and try again. Nobody could understand how they could stand outside for so long just throwing and chasing a boomerang around. They would play and talk for hours during the summer staying out as late as they could until the sun went down. [ Jody never forgot about these times and kept the boomerang with him over the years. ]
Eulogy For Jody Wirawan
This is a eulogy for Jody Wirawan read by one of his sisters at this memorial:
I'd like to start off by saying thank you all for being here today. I'm not sure how to express how happy I am to be surrounded by so many people who have come to honor and celebrate Jody's life. I know that you and I might not know each other and we might not have even met before this afternoon. But you're here because you care about Jody and so to me that makes us family.
It's become clear to me that words can't adequately describe the meaning and value of Jody's short life. And when I think about everything he had to go through over the years it makes me want to be bitter at the injustice of it. But that's not how Jody lived his life. He faced so much adversity but he still chose not to be bitter. He chose to have a good heart and I want to honor that.
Jody Michael Wirawan was born on Wednesday, February 26th 1986 in Jakarta, Indonesia. At the time our parents were still together but their marriage was falling apart. They fought almost every night. And even though they had just had an adorably handsome baby boy, neither of them could keep it together long enough to give Jody the attention that he needed.
Not long after Jody was born our parent's marriage ended and Jody, Mom and I moved to the U.S. We lived in Michigan and Texas before coming to Alaska, the place he called home.
Growing up I couldn't have asked for a better little brother. I tried to teach him the important things in life: you know, like how to rollerblade and play baseball. Jody wasn't real crazy about those things but he'd do them anyway because he knew that I liked them. His favorite thing was to play video games on the new Nintendo that Dad had just sent him. Jody would spend hours playing Mario Brothers and perfecting each level. A lot of times I'd play too and we would each take turns using the one controller. Even though I'd be more cautious than he would and take a lot more time, he was always patient and would wait his turn without complaining. Those were some of the best times in my life and I spent them with my little brother.
He never lost that sense of compassion as he got older. As the years went on he was faced with more and more impossible situations but he continued to make the choice to be a good person. There were a lot of times in his life when food was scarce and he went hungry. But instead of becoming bitter about it he became someone who was more likely to share food with others. The last time I ever saw Jody he stayed at our house for a week, and the day before he left he came home with a bunch of grocery bags packed with food. He quietly went into the kitchen and stocked up our cupboards as a way of saying thank you for having him over. That was Jody.
When I talk to people about my brother the one thing everyone seems to remember most is the way he walked...you know what I'm talking about all puffed out and proud of himself. And he should be. When I found out that Jody had joined the Army I was really worried at first. But after talking to him about his job and how proud he was of what he was doing I couldn't help but smile. He told me that he'd visited Ground Zero and the Pentagon and had been moved by the experience. This was one of the things that made him want to join the Army. I told him that I was proud of him, and I still am.
Jody had wanted to have a big family. A few months ago we were having dinner and he asked me how many kids I was planning on having. I said probably just two and then asked him if he ever thought about having kids. He puffed up his chest in that way that he does and proudly told me that he was planning on having
I was really surprised and said well, that was a lot to take on and maybe he might want to try having 'em one at a time and see how it goes. He laughed but his mind was made up. He'd been thinking about it for a long time and wanted to have exactly six. When I asked him why, he said that he knew somebody who was a father to six kids and that it had inspired him. I thought it was amazing that he'd want to have any kids at all considering everything he'd been through in his own childhood. But that was Jody.
He knew that a person wasn't defined by the cards they were dealt in life, but by how they chose to live it. I was never so proud of him as when he said he wanted to have a big family and to give them a good life. I wish he would have had a chance to make his dream happen. Twenty-two is too young for anyone to die, but especially for someone who had survived so much and had wanted to do such good in the world.
Jody was the best brother I could have ever asked for. He was a good friend and a patient listener. I'll miss his sense of humor and how he could always crack a cheesy smile at just the right time to make you laugh. I'll miss playing video games and watching movies together. I'll miss picking up the phone and hearing "Heeey Anita, what's new with you?" But most of all I'll miss hearing him say "I love you Sis."
I Love you too Jody.
See more stories about Jody at the Interactive Biography page.