How Dallas punk icon Barry Kooda found comfort on Facebook after wife's cancer diagnosis and death 

Posting about it allows him to spread the pain a little, to share an anguish he couldn't otherwise shoulder alone.

Laura Huebner never went to the doctor. Mostly, because she never got sick. But also, because she could not afford health insurance. The only reason she went to the clinic on Nov. 1, 2017, was because she could no longer do everyday things — like, just walking up a few stairs — without becoming winded, utterly exhausted. A trip to the clinic had simply become unavoidable.

By day's end, Laura, then 61 years old, was at Parkland Hospital, told she was bleeding internally, then subjected to battery of tests that in a few days' time confirmed the worst. A massage therapist who specialized in treating patients whose limbs had swollen following damage to or removal of lymph nodes because of cancer, Laura was diagnosed with cervical cancer. Doctors said her tumor, undetected for so long, had grown too large for surgery.

Three days later, Laura's husband of 41 years — Barry Huebner, better known as musician Barry Kooda — took to Facebook with a lengthy post detailing every test, every scan, every procedure. He wrote, too, of the "gigantic, debilitating gut punch that sends you to your knees unable to breathe." That post bore the headline "The Worst Day of My Life."

But there was far worse to come, especially in the last couple of months. There were surgeries that turned Laura inside out, and dementia that came from nowhere as the cancer raced toward her brain. Kooda wrote about every one of those moments, too, in Facebook dispatches from their Oak Cliff home, from hospital rooms.

Laura Huebner and Barry Kooda at Six Flags Over Texas in 1979, when they were just kids
Laura Huebner and Barry Kooda at Six Flags Over Texas in 1979, when they were just kids(Courtesy Barry Kooda)

Every day for almost two years he has posted something — at first, just to keep their friends updated, to share the bad news all at once. Kooda said his wife hoped, too, that someone might take something of value from her battle with cancer — "learn from it," he said. Perhaps these posts would spur someone to see the doctor they had long been avoiding, to find out what causes that mysterious ache that doesn't go away. Or maybe Barry and Laura could provide comfort to others traversing the horrific terrain.

"Because this is a long, arduous, grueling process," he said Thursday. We were sitting in the back room of the couple's home near Sunset High School, surrounded by the couple's dogs and cats. In front of us, on the coffee table, sat a black box from All Texas Cremation in Plano, inside of which are Laura's remains. Kooda said he keeps it there because his wife liked to watch television.

On Aug. 17, six days after her 63rd birthday, Laura Huebner died in her sleep, wrapped in her husband's arms. Moments after she died, Barry posted to Facebook a brief note. It ended: "My love is gone."

Until Thursday I hadn't seen Kooda in a long time; we hadn't even traded messages for months. Yet for almost two years he has been ever-present in my online life, sharing the sort of awful things I kept to myself after my own cancer diagnosis in the summer of 2017. I wanted to know why, and how Laura felt about having such a personal pain made public.

"It was because I didn't know how much time she had, and she didn't know how much time she had," Kooda said. "I asked her multiple times, 'Is this OK?' Like I've always said, my life is an open book that I continually read aloud regardless of whether you're interested or not. But she said OK. She was reluctant. But immediately, she said yeah."

Laura Huebner in Costa Rica, where she and Barry Kooda imagined they would one day move.
Laura Huebner in Costa Rica, where she and Barry Kooda imagined they would one day move.(Courtesy Barry Kooda)

And now, in the days since Laura's death, Kooda shares something every day. Photos of her belongings uncovered during housekeeping, entries from her journals, sometimes just a reminder he's still here, still "plodding along," after losing the woman with whom the 66-year-old shared most of his life.

Only now researchers are beginning to study how and why people grieve on Facebook — how such public mourning can "break certain taboos surrounding death" and help people "process their emotions [and] find meaning in the death shortly after it happens," according to a recent Vice story. But for Kooda, there is a simple answer to why he posts and posts and posts.

Because posting about it, he said, allows him to spread the pain a little, to share an anguish he couldn't otherwise shoulder alone.

"It wasn't to drum up sympathy," he said. "I've always had a group of people around me for support, then I narrowed it down to one person. And now there's a big chunk ripped out of the boat, and to make that patch took a lot of people. The support you get from others, that really helps a lot. And this kind of relationship, after 41 years ..."

He paused, as he did often while we spoke. To catch a breath, to wipe away a tear.

"Losing a spouse is terrible," he said. "I had a lot of myself invested that's never going to recover. Every day I don't put my gun in my mouth is a good day. If it were up to me, we would have died together in a car crash."

Barry Kooda (left) and the Nervebreakers opening for the Sex Pistols at the Longhorn...
Barry Kooda (left) and the Nervebreakers opening for the Sex Pistols at the Longhorn Ballroom on Jan. 10, 1978.(Courtesy barry Kooda)

Barry Kooda was once a soldier, an Army gunner in the early 1970s sent to Korea during the war in Vietnam. Years later, in 2014, he organized the first-ever Open Carry Guitar Rally on a bridge over the Trinity River; it was his finger-in-the-eye at gun owners who strap on their assault rifles in public. Kooda expected dozens to attend, but hundreds came out, from daylight till dark.

But he's best known as a musician — beginning in 1975 as a member of the Nervebreakers, alongside Mike Haskins, Thom "Tex" Edwards, Carl Giesecke and Bob Childress. They began playing roller rinks and foosball parlors and VFW halls, then the punk clubs — Studio D, DJ's, the Hot Klub, Zero's. In time the Nervebreakers recorded a few singles (including "My Girlfriend is a Rock,"  as close as they got to a hit record) and opened for the Ramones, the Police, the Clash and, most famously, the Sex Pistols when the band smashed into the Longhorn Ballroom on Jan. 10, 1978.

Somewhere I have a copy of the Rolling Stone in which there's a photo of Kooda biting into a fish while onstage; seemed wild at the time, I guess. But that image, now more than four decades old, always seemed to define Kooda — for me, for most — as someone just a bit larger, a bit tougher than most. Rifleman and rocker, a man who performed in military helmets and leather masks. Kooda spent an hour Thursday evening dismissing that perception.

Laura and Barry in Hawaii, a long time ago
Laura and Barry in Hawaii, a long time ago(Courtesy Barry Kooda)

"People ask me, does it really help having all these friends and acquaintances and people you don't know reading all this?" he said. "And it does. It absolutely does. I may be extra needy, I don't know. But I couldn't have done it without that."

I ask if he was surprised by how, well, needy he found himself becoming in recent years.

"I was the third kid," he said. "I've always been starved for attention — but don't get too close." Finally, for the first time in our conversation, a slight laugh. "I wouldn't be in music if I wasn't needy. But, no, it didn't surprise me. It surprised other people."

A memorial for Laura will be held Sunday evening at the Kessler Theater, near the couple's home. Then, there will be more posts; and, after that, still more. If only so Barry Kooda can remind us, and himself, he's still here, still plodding along. 

Before I left, he told me about a post he'd written Thursday, which said, "The last words you say to someone may be the last thing they ever hear from you so make it good." But he thought it sounded too preachy, so he deleted it. By Friday morning, he had changed his mind.

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