Thursday, April 19, 2012

Tim Hetherington - A Gaping Hole That Won't Completely Heal


Tim Hetherington at OP Restrepo
December 5, 1970 to April 20, 2011

"There is no way to express my devastation and sorrow at the death of my dear friend, Tim Hetherington in Misrata, Libya. Tim was one of the most courageous and principled journalists I have ever known. The good that he accomplished – both with his camera, and simply as a concerned person in some of the most devastated countries in the world – cannot be measured. I can’t believe he is truly gone." Sebastian Junger; April 20, 2011

The morning of April 20, 2011 I received the following text message, "Is Sebastian in Libya?"  I replied that he wasn't and asked why.  A text came back, "We're getting information that Tim (Hetherington) has been killed in Libya." 

From that point on the rest of the day is a blur for the most part but I do remember picking up the phone and calling Sebastian.  When he answered I knew from the tone of his voice that it was true but I remembering asking, "Is it true?"  I clearly remember his response, "yes." I also remember the remainder of our short conversation which I choose not to share here.  I hung up the phone and, as many others were also doing, I wept harder than I have in a long, long time.  As hard as I was crying I still kept thinking to myself that it could not possibly be true.

By 11:00 am CNN had Tim's face all over their website with the news of his death and that of Chris Hondros.  I didn't know Chris Hondros but everyone I knew who knew Tim was in a state of shock and saddened beyond belief.  It just could not be.  The loss of both of these men resonated around the world - literally.

By Thursday night Tim's and Chris's bodies had arrived at the port city of Benghazi, Libya where international journalists and photographers along with Libyan Rebels held a memorial for them.  Tim was laid to rest on May 13, 2011 in Great Britain.

Last known photo taken of Tim in Misrata, Libya

On Tuesday May 24, 2011 a Celebration of Life Departed was held for Tim Hetherington at The First Presbyterian Church in New York City.  In his eulogy Sebastian Junger said, “He was terrifyingly brave, and he made them (the Soldiers) laugh. If you can do only those two things and not fall behind on patrol they [the soldiers] are good to you.”

Junger said, “Tim changed the world with his work, and the world changed him. He was seeking those changes.” He said Hetherington “allowed people access to his heart.” In his work in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Afghanistan and Sri Lanka, Junger said, Hetherington was a better journalist thanks to his openness to experiences and people.

Brendan O'Byrne, one of the Soldiers Tim spent time with at OP Restrepo, spoke on behalf of the Soldiers in attendance and all of those who couldn't be there.  As he spoke three other Soldiers who were at OP Restrepo, Marc Solowski, Santana Rueda and Aron Hijar, stood solemnly behind him.  Brendan said, in part,  "He came a stranger and left a brother" said O’Byrne. “He went out there again and again and again. He didn’t have to.” He noted, “If it weren’t for him, our stories would have been lost in the chaos of war.”

O’Byrne said Hetherington continued their friendship after their time in Afghanistan. “I came home with a massive amount of PTSD. Tim let me stay in his house,” and asked for nothing in return. “He said, ‘Get your feet on the ground, and don’t drink.’ ” O’Byrne said he had no words to describe what Hetherington meant to the platoon. “We cared about him so much.”

The love of Tim's life, Idil, said "many mourned him as a talented photographer, filmmaker, teacher, colleague, friend, “and brother from the front line.” To Ibrahim, however, Hetherington was, among other things, “partner, love, future, friend,” as well as “movie star,” “preferred dance partner,” “poet,” and “fashion stylist.” Though she said, “I mourn the loss of our future together” and “the children we’ll never have,” she noted that shortly before Hetherington left for Libya, they had a conversation about death. “I’ve truly lived,” Hetherington told her. She said Hetherington “exuded joie de vivre,” and was “the most brilliant person I know.” She said, “He taught me most about love and for that I’m truly grateful.”


And Tim's sister, Victoria, shared with the over flowing crowd in the church,  that Tim's energy, curiosity and desire to engage with people were evident even at a young age. Both siblings emphasized that Hetherington, who was born in England, “loved his life in New York,” and in particular, Victoria noted, “the lifelong friends” he made there. Victoria noted how much Hetherington enjoyed the company of his friends’ children and his own nephew and niece. After she informed her children of their uncle’s death, she said, her four-year-old daughter worried that God wouldn’t let him into heaven: “Because he’s the naughtiest person. He throws us in the swimming pool with all our clothes on.”

Victoria quoted a line attributed to Abraham Lincoln: “In the end it’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years,” and expressed her gratitude that her brother had experienced so much in his 40 years.

 was one of the kindest, funniest, most caring and deeply loving people I've ever know despite his own personal struggles. I have missed Tim deeply every day since his passing and doubt that emotion will ever subside. I hope it doesn't. Tim was one of those people who made me a better person.  I'd give most anything to hear his laugh one more time, see his smile one more time and for one more hug.

Tim filming in Afghanistan:

One of my many favorite photos of Tim:

CSM Caldwell, me and Tim at Fort Campbell's screening of Restrepo

Tim's life continues to be remembered and celebrated in many ways through exhibits of his work, a program developed by Sebastian Junger and others to train journalist and photo journalists on combat first aid and through other avenues.  His spirit will live forever in the hearts of people from countries in which he made such a difference such as in Liberia.

These are for you Tim.  We love you and miss you every single day.  Please continue to watch over the Soldiers, journalists and photographers and legion of other friends who consider you their brother.

One Love by Bob Marley

Redemption Song by Bob Marley

Rest in peace dear friend.  You are missed beyond any words I know of to express the loss we continue to feel.

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