It's never easy when a friend dies. When my friend Bill Harsh was diagnosed with cancer last year, he made it his job to fight it with everything he had. I remember meeting him for lunch at a specific restaurant that could accommodate his special cancer-fighting diet. I was impressed.
Without hesitation, Bill proceeded with treatments of radiation, chemotherapy and surgery. His wife, Marilyn says Bill endured it all without a single complaint. By April the cancer had spread to the brain. After ten days of brain radiation and two more rounds of chemo, Bill couldn't regain his strength. On August 3rd, it was determined that the drugs were not effective and Bill decided to to end treatments. At that time he was given three months to live. Marilyn had arranged for Kaiser’s hospice care to support her caregiving at home, which kept Bill comfortable and pain-free.
Cancer is a tragic way to die, but at least it gives us a chance to say goodbye and tidy up our lives. Bill was the hardest working artist I've known, so of course he did way more than tidy. He knew his time was limited so he prepared a retrospective show of his paintings, with hopes of attending the opening.
Timing is funny sometimes. Bill's paintings were scheduled to be delivered on the night of October 27th. As Bill's condition quickly worsened, Marilyn enlisted the help of our mutual friend William Berg to deliver the paintings to the gallery in Oakland. When the truck was loaded and ready to roll, Marilyn asked William to park the truck in front of her house overnight, so Bill could be as close to them as possible.
Bill died the next day.
As William prepared to depart with Bill's artwork, he told Marilyn, "Bills body may be here, but his spirit is going with me to Oakland." I believe that Bill's energy went with his art.
I've witnessed evidence a release of energy that happens when a person dies. It seems to go out to those close to the departed. The day that Bill died, Katie (Williams wife) had a recurring poem rattling in her head. She wrote it down and named it "The News". The opening reception for Bill's show was just two weeks later. When Marilyn read Katie's poem at the reception, she said Katie had written it as if it came from Bill. That is the first poem that Katie has ever written.
At the reception last weekend, I overhead more than one person say that Bill was definitely there... and I have to agree. While looking deeply into my favorite painting, the one with a dramatic red shield... I swear I could see Bill's grin smiling back at me.
I always thought Bill's artwork was under-appreciated. He was never one to draw attention to himself so I was happy to see everyone enjoying Bill's work. The launch of DeWitt Cheng's book on Bill's art gave me confidence that Bill would finally get the recognition he deserved.
The place was packed, with so many familiar faces from our tight art community, sharing warm embraces, comfort and tears. I was amazed at Marilyn's strength and perserverance through it all.
I feel lucky to have been friends with Bill, to have worked with him and painted with him. The thing that made him a great instructor was his warm soft-spoken manor. He was humble, witty and truly gracious. Bill was extremely educated, he was like an art encyclopedia. Despite his artistic genius, his 'aw shucks' demeanor always put everyone at ease.
Along with the rest of the Benicia art community, I am truly heartbroken. I do take comfort in the thought that Bill and I will meet in the next life. I've always found it funny that when someone dies, we say we lost him. I can tell you, Bill is not lost... he is safely in our hearts where he's always been.
Note: Katie's poem "The News" is pending publication and will be made available soon.