A Modern Tragedy

Atop Schweitzer Mountain in Sandpoint, Idaho.

Shakespeare’s tragedies are among the most well-known and well-loved literary works in history. They often involve cunning conspirators, double-crossings, and always death. Death of course is why it is called a tragedy. And not for the death of an up-in-years supporting character. No, the death is always that of the primary character(s) before it was their time.

And so is the story of my own personal tragedy. It may not involve mentally unstable monarchs or star-crossed lovers. It didn’t occur due to a fatal flaw or hubris. But death did come. And he came for one of the most loved players in my own life. My brother Barry.

In all fairness, he waited to fetch my brother for 44 years, just. But it was at least 44 years too early. And I know that nearly everyone who reads this will have lost a loved one at some point in time. I know I’m not alone in experiencing the dark acts of life’s playbook. I just wish I hadn’t experienced it at all.

Barry holding baby Wendy (me).

You see Barry isn’t just my brother, he was my best friend. Certainly that wasn’t always the case. We had a tumultuous relationship during childhood. His happy-go-lucky take nothing seriously personality greatly conflicted with my ultra-serious quick to anger and tears demeanor. Barry knew just which buttons to push and he played me like a piano.

Wendy 34
An early photo of the two of us.

But time and maturity changed us both and we actually became friends by our teenage years. Add in some differences of religious opinion with most of the rest of our family in which they broke off ties with the both of us and we became exceptionally close during adulthood.

Barry always bought me sushi. What more could one ask of a brother?

It didn’t matter that we lived very different lives with me moving across the world and Barry staying in our home state of Alaska. I being a wanderer and him a highly respected police officer. We kept in touch, got together whenever we could, and were there to support the other’s dreams and aspirations. We were each other’s own personal cheerleaders. And we were immensely proud of each other.

He was an outstanding uncle.

And then one day in early October of last year I received a message from him informing me that he had cancer. He’d been medevaced from Anchorage to Seattle and was beginning treatment. Initially, it was thought to be leukemia, but turned out to be double-hit lymphoma.

I’ll spare you the details on his treatment, on my struggles to get tested as a bone-marrow donor here in Ecuador, and how difficult it was to be halfway around the world when he was at his most vulnerable. None of that is relevant now.

What is important and applicable to future blog posts is the fact that he’s now gone. On December 20, 2016 Barry Odin Hetlet passed away.

I said that Barry was my best friend. But I’m not the only one to say that. He made everyone feel like they were important and meaningful and he had many people who considered him their best friend. I also said that he was a highly respected officer. That’s true. And it’s because he had a genuine concern for other people. He wanted to truly help. Sometimes that meant taking those who would hurt others off the streets, but sometimes it just meant being there to listen to people, to talk to them, and reassure them. Here’s an excellent video that shows just what kind of a man (and officer) he was.

I’ve tried writing this blog post dozens of times and I’ve deleted and rewritten and deleted and rewritten. It’s not a post that I wanted to write…not one that I ever imagined I would need to write…but I really can’t move forward until I’ve got this one out of the way. Maybe someday I’ll put it all down in words in a more eloquent detailed fashion. But not today. Four months on it’s still raw, still unreal, and it still hurts like hell. I love you big brother.

4 thoughts on “A Modern Tragedy”

  1. It took incredible strength to write this tribute. Very touching, though I never met Barry, he appears to be a solide police officer whom I would have loved to know and to partner with. Rest in Peace Brother.

  2. Dear Wendy, 10 days before you wrote this I left Ecuador for Fort Lauderdale to see about life possibilities including visiting a good friend also fighting with cancer. Everyone prays for him, but his life really is in God´s hands now. My heart goes out to you and yours. God Bless.

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