It was beauty killed the beast.

- Carl Denham, King Kong

They were driving down the highway from Laramie after visiting their son in college. They decided to take the back way, so as to get a glimpse of the breathtaking view of Wyoming that was only accessible via that road. It's not like they were in a hurry; they had all the time in the world. 

As they were driving down that lonely stretch of road, her hand in his, with the Beatles singing about only needing love in the background, she looked over at him - her man, her husband, the love of her life. And she smiled. 

It's one of Yong Hui Torske's favorite memories. It was one of their best, most romantic moments. But for a while that memory, along with countless other beautiful moments, were pushed to the back of her brain while she focused on the matter at hand.

Her husband was dying, and there was nothing she could do about it.

Irvin Torske was diagnosed with an Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm, commonly referred to as a 'Triple A.'

Irvin, according to his wife, had a couple surgeries in Casper to try and fix what was wrong, but the surgeries weren't successful. So the surgeon recommended that Irvin go see a specialist in Denver.

His initial surgery, once he was in Denver, was a success. But during the course of the procedure and throughout all of the follow-up treatment, they saw that Irvin had had multiple small heart attacks that went undetected. So he was scheduled for a Triple Bypass surgery, which would also be performed in Denver.

He never came home.

During the surgery, Irvin developed a blood clot in his lung and he ended up staying in the ICU in Denver for three months.

Throughout those months, those long days and those hard hours and those mocking minutes, Yong Hui barely left his side. Occasionally, she would go to her son's apartment to shower and change clothes, or she would take walks, or visit a museum but, for the most part, her days were spent inside of a hospital, sitting next to her husband.

It was during those long hours that Yong Hui would try to remember the beautiful moments.

Like how they met.

"Well, we made it almost 47 years," Yong Hui told K2 Radio News. "I met him when I was 19 years old. He was in a Korean military army station and I met him through a friend. We dated for a couple years and then he left."

But even though Irvin left the country of South Korea to return to America, he could not get Yong Hui's face out of his head. He missed her greatly. He would cross oceans of time just to see her again. And she would do the same for him.

So, the two started writing letters. And they fell in love with each other all over again. Eventually, they applied Yong Hui for a passport visa and she left her home country of South Korea and came to America. But per the laws of the time, in order for her to permanently stay in the country, she would need to be married within 90 days of the visa.

"We were young," she stated. "He was 23 and I was 21 and we knew that we were too young. We didn't want to get married but, there was the timeframe. I didn't want to go back [to South Korea] and he didn't want me to go back. So we got married and just decided to make our life in Montana."

And that's just what they did. They got married because the alternative was unacceptable. And so began their story. They spent 17 years in Montana before Irvin's job required him to transfer to Casper, Wyoming.

Yong Hui said that Irvin was a control center operator. He controlled all of the dams for various bodies of water, including several different lakes and the North Platte River.

His job eventually brought him to Casper, along with his wife and their two children - Leean and Jode. Both children looked up to the man in only the way a child could look up to their father.

"Dad was really funny," Leean said. "He always made everybody laugh. He had a great smile and he was always grinning. But he could also, just, do anything. He could build anything. He was like MacGyver that way."

Leean shared stories of Irvin turning an old water heater into a portable wood burning stove. She also said that he built their first house in Montana, handling all the carpentry, roofing, plumbing, electricity, himself. He was good with his hands but, to both of his children and to his bride, he was also good with his heart.

"He was a great dad," Leean shared. "He taught us how to do stuff. He made me rotate the tires on an old '85 Chevy Suburban before I was allowed to get my learners permit to drive. He wanted to make sure I had the skills to take care of things. But more than anything, he just made me laugh a lot. He was a good person."

Irvin's son, Jode, echoed that statement.

"He was extremely funny," Jode agreed. "We would have dinner parties over at the house and he didn't say a whole lot, but he would chime in with one-liners that would just set the rooms on fire."

Irvin passed down his ability to fix and create things to his boy and every time Jode repairs something, or builds something from scratch, he thinks of his father.

The family would take frequent trips and vacations, even if it was just for a day or two. Even if it was to an area that nobody had heard of. Irvin was a history buff and he was constantly enchanted by the stories that history told. He tried to share those stories as often as he could with his family.

And, for a long time, that was their life. It was trips and it was lessons and it was building and laughing and learning and listening. It was everything one could want in a family. He was everything one could want in a husband, and in a father.

And then he got sick.

And somehow, it happened quickly, but also slowly. Time slowed down but the moments passed quickly. Both Jode and Leean would visit when they could, as often as they could. But it was Yong Hui who was constantly at her husband's bedside.

Each day, the news would differ. The doctor would tell her that he was doing better and then,  a minute later, would say he wasn't going to make it through the night. It was an emotional rollercoaster that wreaked havoc on Yong Hui's mental health. But she never left her husband, save for a few walks around the block, or a trip to the Denver Botanical Gardens.

Yong Hui's children would actually plead with their mom to leave after she'd stayed at the hospital for three days straight. They wanted her to take a shower, to eat food that didn't come from a cafeteria and, most importantly, to clear her mind of the tragic surroundings that one must endure while sitting in an ICU room at a hospital.

"Staying there, I wasn't only dealing with his problem; every room surrounding us in the ICU, there were people dying," she said.

So, once in a while, Yong Hui would escape. Even if it was only to walk around the hospital.

"I would get out and walk around the hall," she stated. "They had paintings and things and I'd look at those. Jode lived two blocks from the Botanical Gardens, so we'd go there and you could just see things, beautiful things, and I would try to forget and just feel a moment of peace. And I would take some pictures, and then we would go back."

This went on for three months; clearly the hardest three months of her life. There were some dark moments, some dark thoughts. But she never stopped taking the time to notice the beauty.

Irvin Torske passed on January 19, 2020.

For a while after his passing, Yong Hui's children stayed with her. The pandemic had shut the entire country down, and neither Leean nor Jode were working. So they came back to Casper and stayed with her and maybe, just maybe, that was one of the few blessings of COVID-19. Yong Hui needed her children, and they needed her.

But eventually, the country opened back up, and the kids went back to work, and now Yong Hui had to face an empty house. She also had to face her own thoughts, and her own guilt.

"There were...'What-If' things," Yong Hui said. "Because I was the sole decision maker, I had to make decisions right away. I would have to sign these forms so they could perform different treatments. And I started questioning myself, like 'What if I didn't make the right decision? Would he still be okay? Did I make the right decisions for him?' And every time I would revisit that period of time, I kept asking myself if I did the right thing."

Eventually, Yong Hui realized that sitting in her grief was no longer productive. She would never, ever, ever, get "over" the fact that her husband, her man, the love of her life, died. But she knew that if he were still here, if he could say something to her, he would tell her to live. To pick herself up, to smile, and to get back to living. So that's what she did.

"For about a year, I didn't do anything," she said. "Then, after a year, I said, 'I can't just sit here and do nothing.' Then I said, 'Why don't I do what I like to do best?' And then I started looking at the photographs."

Those photographs were pictures that she took when she was in Denver. They were little reminders of the beautiful moments that were few and far between. For a long time, Yong Hui was left alone in a position that no person should be in. They were dark times. But, even in those dark times, she never stopped seeing the beauty around her.

There were the tulips that reminded Irvin of their garden. There was the Monet exhibit, or the Botanical Gardens, or the painting hanging on the hospital wall.

There was the Christmas tree.

During those cold December nights, Yong Hui would lay with her husband and they would look out the window. In the distance, they saw that somebody had put a Christmas tree on the roof of the building across from them.

"It was really far away, but we could see it," Yong Hui said. "And he said 'Oh, well, since we didn't have Christmas this year, that is our Christmas tree.'"

And so it was.

She went through her photographs of their Christmas tree, and of the paintings, and the tulips, and so many gorgeous sunsets.

"So I looked through those photographs, of that time period, and I said, 'Why don't I make something out of this?'" she said. "I had a lot of memories because of these pictures that I kept looking at. And I decided that I wanted to do something good, for him and for myself. I think more for myself because I wanted to do something...I wanted to remember some pretty things instead of only remembering how horrible it was. So I started creating pretty things."

Those pretty things turned into a collection of quilts; each representing a different photograph, a different memory that Yong Hui had of her time in Denver. Altogether, she made 14 different quilts, each of which represented her own journey through her grief:

  • Hospital Building
  • Vital Signs
  • Hope
  • Lily Pond
  • Green Parasol
  • Sunrise
  • Sunset
  • Jamaican Poinsetta
  • Red Powder Puff
  • Four O'clock Vine
  • Christmas Tree From Afar
  • Light Tree (Botanical Garden Christmas light show)
  • Light Balls
  • Final Peace

Each quilt is breathtaking in its intricacy. The designs are beautiful, with every stitch serving a purpose. And that purpose, she didn't find out 'til later, was for her to grieve through her hands, to create beauty from tragedy.

She chose to display her quilts at ART 321 in the hopes that they would inspire others, and offer them peace, as they had done for her.

"I realized I'm not the only one going through this traumatic experience," Yong Hui said. "There's a lot of people that went through it, because of the pandemic. So many people died. And so I thought that by creating this and sharing it with people, maybe they could be inspired. If I can inspire one person to do something, to find something out of their bad situations and make something pretty, something that would make them feel better, then I would feel better."

That's exactly what she has done. Her exhibit, Finding Beauty Amongt Beast, has been featured at ART 321 for a month already and it will continue to stay up until the end of October. Countless people have seen her quilts and heard her story. And they were all inspired.

"I just wanted to share with the people so that they can do something," Yong Hui said. "It doesn't have to be what I do, but they should find any medium, even if it's writing a poem or a story, and it will make them feel better."

Her last quilt, 'Final Peace,' is one of the most thought provoking. If life were a storybook, this is what would happen: Her husband would pass. The montage would begin with some serene song on in the background. She would get to work, making quilt after quilt until, on her last one, she would take one final deep breath, and wipe her tears with the corner of it, finally accepting her 'Final Peace.'

But that's not how real life works and the truth is, when somebody you love dies, you never feel complete peace. You can never go back to where you were before they died. You're never that same kind of happy, ever again. That peace never comes. It's a scar that never quite goes away. But that's okay. Because eventually, that scar simply becomes a part of you. It's something you stop resisting, something you stop trying to hide. That scar starts to look a little less beastly, a little more beautiful. And maybe that's the closest you get to peace.

"That quilt is not about my final peace," Yong Hui said. "It's about his. He decided after the final consultation with all the doctors and the specialists that he no longer wanted treated. So they sent him to hospice and in one of the rooms there was a painting. And I took a photograph of it and every time I look at it, I do feel peace because when he passed, he was at peace. There was no more pain. He didn't have to feel that pain anymore. He just took a deep breath, and went. And that felt like his final peace. And that does give me peace too, but my peace isn't the end. I have to keep going, because I'm still alive."

And so, she will. She will keep going. And she will keep creating. And she will keep laughing, and loving, and living. She will take care of her children and, eventually, her grandchildren. She will keep making things that will inspire others. And she'll do it all to honor her husband, but also to honor herself. To remind her that she's still here. That that beast, that monster, that 'Big Terrible Thing' did not win. She faced the beast and, like David with his slingshot, she took down the giant.

But she didn't do it by herself. She had her children, she had her friends, and she had her art. She had her husband, too. Because even though he's gone, there will always be a part of him that is standing right next to her, telling her to keep going, to keep fighting, to keep creating. He will take her hands and he will help guide them as she creates her next piece, and her next, and her next.

The beast of death is a scary one. It's big and it's dark and it's powerful. It can be overwhelming to some. But if you have the right tools, like Yong Hui Torske did, you can take it down, little by little, until it's not so scary anymore. Those tools look a little different to everybody who yields them. To some, it's words. To others, it's a painting, or a photograph. Or a quilt. But they all get the job done, if you let them.

Yong Hui Torske realized something, in her darkest moments; something that not everybody always does. She realized, as she went through those photographs and began the task of turning them into quilts, that maybe it wasn't a slingshot that took the giant down. Maybe it wasn't an army that subdued the monster. Maybe, just maybe, Carl Denham was right. Maybe it really was beauty killed the beast.

It's not like they were in a hurry; they had all the time in the world. 

As they were driving down that lonely stretch of road, her hand in his, with the Beatles singing about only needing love in the background, she looked over at him - her man, her husband, the love of her life. And she smiled. 

After driving a few miles, and seeing that they had the vast roadway to themselves, he pulled the car off to the side of the road. She asked him what he was doing, but he didn't reply. She figured he was just going to the bathroom - that was his favorite trick. 

Instead, he walked over to her side of the car, opened the door, extended his hand and asked her a simple question.

"Can I have this dance?"

Photos from 'Finding Beauty Amongst Beast, Art Quilts by Yong Hui Torske' can be seen below. The exhibit is currently open at ART 321 and will be up until October 29.

Finding Beauty Amongst Beasts: Casper Artist Creates Quilts to Express Grief Over Husband's Passing

Yong Hui Torske's husband died in January of 2020. And despite her overwhelming grief, she never stopped taking in the beauty around her. To honor her husband, and to express her own grief, she made 14 quilts, based on photographs she took of the beauty around her while she sat at her husband's bedside.

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