My good friend Harry died last weekend.
Now I know what you are saying to yourself… didn’t you just lose another friend?
Yes, I did. There is a superstition that death happens in three’s. Harry was my third.
It’s taken me a few days to absorb the reality of this news let alone report it. It’s not that it was a surprise. He died at 83 of a classic case of old age. His heart was held together with duct tape or something like it after having a major heart attack 11 years ago. He needed to watch his sugar intake too as a diabetic and often had to measure his blood to keep things running smoothly. In the end, his body just wore out. Weeks ago he called me and said he’d be leaving this life any day. I was sitting in a parking lot in Rhode Island when we spoke and rather dryly asked, “Harry, do I need to speed down 95 right this moment or do you think we have a day or two before you go?” He laughed with a roar and I could hear Paula, his wife, in the background ask what the two of us found so funny. Harry and I started joking about death when it looked like I might beat him to the grave.
I made chicken soup from old bones I had been collecting in my freezer. This was a particularly rich and flavorful broth and I brought it for lunch when I visited Harry and Paula that following Sunday. It was good for the soul and perfect for a chilly winter afternoon. We laughed as we usually did and spent a delightful few hours together. I am as close to Paula as I am to Harry but for different reasons. When I am alone with Paula we talk about books and family. When I am with Harry we talk about photography. When it is the three of us, we talk about everything and there is always laughter.
We knew it was our last visit with the three of us together and yet our spirits weren’t dampened by this knowledge. We spoke as we always did about photography and the this and that of life. Nothing earth shattering. Just the love of images and family. He showed me his latest work. Photographs of the Washington Bridge taken out the window of his hospital room during his most recent stay. They were lovely and he gave me one. I cherish it not only because it was a gift but it showed how even illness couldn’t stop his creativity.
I met Harry in a photography class ten years ago. He was born in Park Slope, Brooklyn in the 1920’s, worked in the family hardware store there, sailed around the world in his boat, moved here there and everywhere to end up just a few blocks away from where his life began. He was my mentor and friend in photography and life. Harry was the first to admit he wasn’t a nice guy in his 40’s. In his 80’s, he mellowed into a wonderful man with a wealth of wisdom and a pureness of soul.
Harry lived a few weeks after my visit. He declined steadily and reported by email that he was very happy the way he’s been able to say goodbye to everyone. Even at the age of 83, he felt he was leaving this life too soon. There was still so much more he wanted to do. The High Line here in Chelsea was his muse and he loved to come and photograph it. That’s why I’ve put photos of it here. His family gathered around him early on Saturday morning to witness his last exhale. We all gathered last Wednesday in his apartment for what we called a Goya-Shiva. For those of you who don’t know, a Shiva is what a Jewish family does to mourn their dead. They have a week when friends and family stop by their home to mourn with them. Harry, raised Catholic, wasn’t religious so his family decided they would emulate the Jewish tradition and have a Shiva of their own. Harry would have loved it as it was all his friends and family gathered together telling wonderful stories about him.
I will miss my friend more than any of you can imagine.
Here is his work: http://www.harrytarzian.com/