Friday, April 03, 2015

A Gentle Passing

A favorite picture of me and my brother Max in 1995
A week ago, my brother Max died. No no, don't feel badly for either of us. It was not unexpected; in fact, he kept plugging along through various treatments far longer than his doctors anticipated ("resilient" is how they described him after multiple hospitalizations). He was quite philosophical about it, knew his chances of survival and what lay ahead from the outset back in 2012, would not rule out a miracle but didn't expect one either. Frankly, I expected him to rail against whatever higher being had dealt him this hand, but he did not. 

Last time together in 2005
We've lived on opposite sides of the country most of our adult lives so didn't get together often, but the last phone conversation we had was sweet, openly talking about his condition and treatment, comparing frustrations of our bodies letting us down when we have so much art we wanted to make, how it would have been nice if so many miles had not separated us all these years. I know he died peacefully with his son and close friends with him. I know one of his concerns when he came out of surgery was that I knew what had happened so I wouldn't worry when I didn't hear from him. We had our rocky moments, but I do know that he loved me, and some of the personality traits that had kept me at arms length for years had tempered - a silver lining to his illness. So, yes it is sad to have him gone, but no, I would not have wanted his suffering extended. It ended well.

The young Max who broadened my world  
I have other brothers, each different and playing their own roles in my life. Is it odd that these are the things I remember about Max from my youth? He introduced me to Aaron Copeland (probably concerned I was only listening to bad pop music). He shared books about religions of the world (probably concerned I'd become a blind follower of Christianity) While in the Navy, he wrote letters to me in addition to the ones he wrote our parents which made me feel pretty special (mom saved them and I retrieved them after she died - no doubt treasure there when I read them now).

Mission-style Plant Stand by Max Mahanke
Our real connection, though, was the fact that we were the artists in the family, both dabbling - I with my textiles and he with his woodworking - until opportunity later in life allowed us time to get a bit serious about it. We had lengthy talks about following our muses, how neither one of us wanted to create for a market because what we really wanted to produce wasn't very mainstream. We compared working styles and discovered more similarities in technique and process than either of us would have thought. And yes, we groused about how we could never recoup our time, pricing always a conundrum. 

The Dragon Coffee Table by Max Mahanke

I'm hearing now that he was very proud of me pursuing my art. I knew there were pieces that he really liked, just like I liked so many of his, but that he was proud of me? Well, that reminds me a bit of our dad who found it very hard to compliment me to my face but told everyone else about what I was doing that made him proud. Go figure - a guy thing I guess. But now that I think about it, he may have done the big brother thing of ridiculing me over a lot of things, but he never disparaged my art efforts. He was nothing but supportive when it came to that.

2007 Journal Quilt - Sheila Mahanke Barnes

You may remember him from my thread sketch journal portrait. I chose a photo from many I took of him during our last visit in 2005 (had ideas of how to incorporate him in quilts as his visage had started to remind me of Tennyson And Walt Whitman). I had this idea inspired by a poem he shared by T. S. Eliot, using one of these images altered to swirl his long hair and surround him with the mermaids at the end of the poem. No, I have not attempted more than a quick sketch of the idea. 

Blending Mission style with Japanese influence

One thing that does sadden me is that no more of his quirky but beautiful furniture will go out into the world, and that we will never have the opportunity to have the joint exhibit I dreamed of. But I can continue on creating my own art, in my own quirky way, to honor his life, his memory. I can make that mermaid quilt and more.

Past, Present, Future Clock by Max Mahanke

I'm thankful that I badgered him into making one of his Mission-style plant stands for me, and that we talked enough about where some of my inspiration came from that he surprised me with a pen he made from birch wood. I have a few other small pieces like the turned corkscrews, and to my absolute delight, he sent me his ultimate quirky piece - the Past, Present, Future Clock - for my birthday last year. Every piece he made for me has wood chosen for its meaning for me. I am also thankful that I made him a quilt for his bed full of quilting designs that would have special meaning to him (back in 1999), a prayer shawl to stand in for me wrapping my arms around him while he tried to heal (2012), and more recently sent him one of my art quilts he'd mentioned he really liked. As this sentiment from the 1800's so aptly puts it, "Life is short, And we do not have much time to gladden the hearts of those who make the journey with us. So...be swift to love, and make haste to be kind." We could have been kinder and done more to gladden each other's hearts but I am so thankful we did what we did.

Possibly Max's last & best completed table
In this week since I learned of his passing, I've been flipping through my collection of poems and quotations, finding a few like the blessing above, that seem to speak to my feelings, or perhaps reminding me of hard truths, something I might end this post with. But instead, the perfect thing showed up in my feed reader, words from "Pyramid Song" by Radiohead. Not a group I follow, nor do I think my brother followed them, but I sure can place him in these lyrics. 


The song's melody is quite haunting and with these lyrics, I think it is a perfect send-off. Swift journey, brother. There is nothing to fear and nothing to doubt anymore.

Dapper Max in 2011


11 comments:

The Inside Stori said...

Teary eyed, I read through your heartfelt tribute to your brother. What a talented artist! May your happy memories keep your heart warm!

Olga Norris said...

You found such a wondrously apposite quote to mark this sad milestone. I hope that you continue the joyous reflection during the quiet time of contemplation.

Lucia Sasaki said...

Dear Sheila, thanks so much for sharing about so personal things. it makes blogging a actual community. reading your post makes me think about my own brothers: although all of us live in the same city, we are a bit distant.
i liked your brother's woodworking pieces of art, they are very beautiful.
and yes, boys apparently cannot express feelings very well, i see this with my relationship with my dad.
Besides all, my condolences.
Thanks again for sharing your life.
You make the world a more human and communal place to live.

Susan Sawatzky said...

A loving, moving tribute....

Connie Rose said...

So sorry for your loss, Sheila, even if it was timely for your brother. His work was gorgeous, how lucky you are to have some of it. And your relationship sounds like it was very special, regardless of the normal ups and downs between siblings. You were truly blessed to have this man in your life. Have a good weekend. Hugs.

Jeannie said...

What a beautiful tribute to your brother. I am so glad you both found each other again and were able to share in each other's beautiful artwork. Your brother's abiltiy to transform would into things of beauty are much like what I see you create with cloth. Sending my condolences and hugs.

Michele Matucheski said...

My thoughts are with you, Sheila. Sorry for your loss. Looks like your brother was quite an artist of wood in his own right. I did recognize the thread sketch as him. This post is a nice tribute to him. He would have appreciated it.

Sherrie Spangler said...

What a beautiful tribute to a loved and very talented brother. I'm sorry to hear of his passing.

The Idaho Beauty said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
The Idaho Beauty said...

Thank you for your kind words, especially about Max's woodworking. It means a lot to me. He let me know that even if he was not e-mailing or calling, he did follow my blog so felt he was somewhat up on what I was doing. Only seemed fitting to talk about him here - I agree that he would approve and appreciate it.

Felicity Grace said...

I'm so sorry for your loss, Sheila. This is a beautiful tribute to him. He sounds so much like one of my brothers, who works in wood too, it's quite spooky - maybe I said that before. I second what Lucia wrote above, thank you so much.