My Sister, Mac Miller, and the Gift of Leaving Art Behind

mac-miller-hand
Courtesy of Warner Records

When Mac Miller died, he left behind music that the world would long remember him by. An artist who had a knack for wordplay and a poignant yet laid back-style of rapping, Mac found his success early in the music scene of Pittsurgh, PA and was taking the world by storm by the time he was 18. He released six studio albums, two extended plays, thirteen mixtapes, forty-one singles, two live albums, and sixty-two music videos over the span of his career. His music can be found on streaming platforms everywhere and you can see a lot of his videos in different corners of the internet.

When my sister, Monica, died six days later, she left behind many pieces of art that she could long be remembered by. An artist who had a knack for creating limitless worlds with the stroke of a brightly colored pen or pencil, Monica found her success as an artist by the time she was a teenager living in the suburbs of the San Francisco Bay Area. She created drawings of objects made with a vast array of colors, shapes, and lines, pieces of jewelry crafted with care and integrity, and paintings of different things reimagined in her own, unique way. Her work can be found in the homes of many different people who loved her and some things she made can also be found online.

While me and Monica both enjoyed listening to music, we didn’t often discuss what was filling our ears on a day-to-day basis, a conversation that I wish we would’ve had more of. I know that when we were very young, she used to practice hitting the same notes that Christina Aguilera could hit (she could always sing much better than me). I know that she used to frequent EDM concerts where she would dance her way through the night. I know that one time she rocked out with me seeing The Movielife at Slim’s in San Francisco (RIP), which would be our last concert together. But I don’t know what Monica thought of Mac Miller or what her last concert was before she passed away in 2018. When a loved one dies, a lot of time can be spent ruminating over all the negative space that’s left from their passing, both from the past and the future. All the events never attended, all the missed conversations, all the hugs never to be felt again, all the future places never to be visited together.

Monica and I never talked about Mac Miller’s death but, then again, we only would’ve had a few days to. The last time we communicated was when I was heading to visit friends in Boston during that Labor Day weekend, a thread which has unfortunately seemed to have since disappeared from my phone. When Monica died the next week, Mac Miller’s passing was thrust into the back of my mind, for obvious reasons. It’s extremely hard to focus on anything other than the gaping hole that’s been burned into your heart, especially in the immediate days, weeks, and months following the death of someone you love. That’s just the reality of grief.

It wasn’t until recently that I realized just how many things Monica and Mac had in common with each other. After hearing a song sampled in Miller’s “The Spins” playing in public (Empire of the Sun’s “Half Mast”) and doing a Google search on it, I went down a Mac Miller rabbit hole and discovered that he shared many similarities with my sister. In addition to passing away within six days of each other, they were both the same age (26) at the times of their deaths, died due to drug-related incidents, left behind one older sibling and two parents, were both proud to be Jewish, shared the same initials, had a large group of friends who adored them, and, of course, were both extremely talented artists in their own ways.

After learning of all the commonalities between Mac Miller and my sister, I became more intrigued with Miller’s work than I had ever been before. In fact, I can’t recall a time where I intentionally listened to Mac prior to learning more about him and what he shared with Monica. While there is an underlying sadness that comes with visiting Mac’s work, the comfort I find in sitting with his music outweighs the sadness. And that’s the thing about living with grief — it’s about learning how to handle the particular weight of a sadness that never goes away.

One of Monica’s drawings that lives on my desk

I consider myself lucky to see my sister’s art every day in my apartment, where I am able to hold work with my hands and touch parts of it that she once touched. I consider myself lucky to be able to look at her drawing framed on my desk as Mac Miller’s “Thoughts from a Balcony” plays from my speaker. I consider myself lucky to be able to find comfort in a deceased stranger’s words who was very good at what he did in a way to better feel connected to my dead sister. This is probably my favorite form of living amongst ghosts.

While my sister did not die of an overdose, she did have a body that was gradually shutting down due to past drug use. My sister was a miraculously talented and generous person who struggled to feel okay in her head and her body most of the time. And like Mac Miller, she lived her life as fully as she could even when it was a struggle. And like Mac Miller, her work lives on in the rooms of those who loved her.

“Dear people on earth after I die, whats the weather like?
1, 2, 3, 4 , 5, 6, 7, 8, and I ain’t perfect but I try
Hey, I wonder if I’ll maybe get a second life
This time I’mma get it right”

-Mac Miller