Eulogy for Maxwell Defiance Landbeck
July 25, 1993 - July 13, 2014
Read at his memorial service, July 25, 2014 by his sister, Emmalyn Landbeck Ritchie,
In 1993, Maxwell Defiance Landbeck was born to Jennilyn Babcock Landbeck and John Stewart Landbeck, III, Brigham Young University students. Their graduation pictures include him as a 3 week-old baby in their arms.
The first thing you need to know about Max is that he barged his way into our family. Our parents were earnest about being parents. They were willing to have many children, but purposefully intended to have five kids, spaced out relatively evenly. Stewart and I were almost exactly two years apart, so it was a huge indignant shock that Jennilyn found herself pregnant again, with Max, only seven months after baby # 2.
We believe that each person existed as a spirit before they were born. Coming to earth to be part of a family is an important part of God’s Plan for each of us. We don’t know how families come together or the whys of timing. His parents know that Max belonged in our family and that he picked us specifically, knowing what mortality held for him. He knew the difficulties he would encounter, and chose to come anyway.
If Max picked his parents, they at least got to pick his birthday: Concerned with how big he was getting, the doctor suggested he should be induced a week early. July 24th is Pioneer Day, a BIG Utah holiday to honor the Mormon Pioneers. Mom wanted to see the parades and fireworks. And honestly, she didn't want to miss her extended family at a big fish fry that afternoon, either. So July 25th was chosen.
Maxwell Defiance Landbeck was born in Payson, Utah, at Mountain View Hospital. He was a healthy 9 lbs 9 1/2 ounces, 21 1/2 inches. He had long, silky white blond hair. Max grew to 6 feet 1 inch, 217 lbs. with dark hair and a reddish blond beard.
His initials spelled out MDL, which he thought was hilarious, since he was one of the middle children, surrounded by siblings: older sister Emmalyn and brother Stewart; younger siblings Suzanna, Samuel, and Roxie.
Max loved word games and wordplay. He insisted that his Dentist Appointments be scheduled for 2:30. (Point to teeth) Tooth. Hurty.
Everyone asks about his name: His older brother inherited John Stewart Landbeck IV, a strong name. So, what do you name the 2nd born son? The name Maxwell comes from Mormon Apostle Elder Neal A. Maxwell, a firm and eloquent speaker his parents admired. Maxwell was also the first name of one of John's favorite missionary companions.
In the 1800's people named children for characteristics the parents hoped the child would emulate. Charity, Providence, Faith, and so on. The middle name Defiance comes from the notion of defying expectations, defying wicked or evil influence. From Genesis: "For God having sworn that every one ordained to the Melchizedek Priesthood should have power, by faith, to break mountains, to divide the seas, to dry up the waters, to turn them out of the their course: To put at Defiance the armies of nations, to divide the earth, to break every band, to stand in the presence of God; to do all things according to his will, according to his command…and this by the will of the Son of God which was from before the foundation of the world.”
In Max’s baby blessing his Dad said: "We give him a blessing that he will understand what his name means; that the things he should defy in this world, are those things which are ungodly, those things which pretend to be true but are not…"
Before he was a year old his family moved from Utah to Havre de Grace, Maryland. Max attended pre-K through second grade in Meadowvale Elementary, exactly ten steps from his front door. After we moved to Forest Hill, in fourth grade Max had to pick a music-related class. With characteristic stubbornness Max resisted all options that involved home practice. So, chorus it was!
Max was contrary and Max was charming. Once, in a church children’s class taught by his Aunt Sara, he crossed the line once too often by refusing to stay in his seat. His Aunt gently threatened to take him out and let his Dad punish him. Without slowing down, Max crossed the room, took his Aunt’s face in his six-year old hands, and crooned, “Oh Auntie Sara, I just wanted to get a closer look at your beautiful blue eyes.”
School boundaries changed and Max was shifted back and forth from North Harford to Southampton Middle School three times in three years. Max’s Southampton choral teacher, Mrs. Louise Ballard, noted his talent for singing, and recommended he audition for the Maryland State Boychoir.
Mom drove him down to an audition in Baltimore one Saturday in the Fall of 2006. Max protested nervously all the way that he didn't want to do this, getting angrier and more nervous right up until he walked through the audition doors. He sang "Battle Hymn of the Republic" and after that the hymn was his go-to audition piece.
Max was awarded a position in the Tour Choir, for his beautiful tenor voice. To his great consternation, he was almost immediately required to perform with them on a local TV special. Our family still has it saved on a TiVo.
Julia Mattson, a fellow MSB mom said, "He spent a third of his life with the choir. I remember talking with Max about Boychoir and seeing his face light up saying ‘I love those guys-they're some of the best people I've ever known-and I know I am a better person for being a part of it.’" As his voice got deeper and deeper into the bass range, he moved into the Changed Voice Choir.
His family moved to Aberdeen where Max graduated with the class of 2011.
He toured China with the Deer Creek Chorale, and travelled to Bermuda, Canada, and dozens of American States with the Maryland State Boychoir. He sang with his school, All-County and All-state choirs. In college, Max sang with the BYU Men’s Chorus. He performed on-stage at Aberdeen High School as Daddy Warbucks in Annie. He shaved his head for months and practiced looking boorish and rich. He did not need to practice the soft heart.
Max was proud of his work with the Harford Community College Phoenix Theater in “Evita,” and especially proud of his recent part in the barbershop quartet in “The Music Man.”
Max broke more things than most teen-aged boys. He broke every bike he ever rode. And not just snapping off reflectors, Max crashed into trees, cracked axles, bent handles. He melted the blade on one of Mom’s favorite kitchen knives trying to pry something out of an electric socket. He broke a friend’s van door, trying to make it close faster. Once, he broke a ceramic dish while doing the dishes, and carefully cleaned up all the broken pieces. Unfortunately Dad emptied that bag of garbage, a piece stuck out and sliced Dad’s middle finger and hand, leading to a dozen stitches.
He became notorious for things breaking, sometimes just by being nearby. He leaned against a wall in the building where the Boychoir practices, and a section of plaster fell down. Max was holding a hamster and the tail fell off! After that the Konstans did not let Max touch any of their pets. Max loved animals.
Maxwell had a scoundrel’s sense of adventure, but was an absolutely terrible liar. He never got away with anything. Max once successfully snuck fireworks into our house and then (air quotes) “accidentally” lit them in our basement. In. His. Hands. This lead to not just the first but also the second of many emergency room visits.
When told he was not allowed to eat food in his room, he snuck some down anyway. Max brought an entire yellow onion downstairs, which he ate like an apple, and was caught by his obvious onion breath.
Once, Dad refused to buy him a particular candy. Later, when he was caught eating the candy, Max insisted that a boy choir friend (whose name he immediately forgot) just happened to give him that *exact* candy.
Max loved to play. He tried cross county running team, for a day. Tried wrestling like his older brother, for exactly one day. But quit when he threw up after his first match.
He was however a champion Rubik’s-Cube puzzle solver. He could twist and turn and consistently finish the puzzle in under two minutes. Once he stood on stage with Emily Perry Canady to demonstrate their solving skills. Then, as the music swelled, they gracefully traded cubes by tossing them to each other. Max won the contest, but it’s likely because Emily had thoughtfully oiled her cube so it would spin easily, while Max’s was terribly gummy and tough to turn.
Max would never characterize himself as “lazy” but rather as “efficient.” Why should he fold and put away clean laundry, when it works perfectly well to leave it in the basket, and wear it from there?
He was always the last one to show up. If HE was early, then he would waste HIS time waiting for everyone else. During the months leading up to the performance of “The Music Man” the quartet was nicknamed “Where’s Max?” because when it was time to practice, they had to track Max down.
He could be very childlike. He loved little kids, jumping on the trampoline with them, watching movies with them, making funny voices with them.
Max loved to fish with his Grandpa Landbeck. Max loved high adventure with the scouts. Once instead of riding his bike he was TOWED on a broken bike.
He liked audio books better than hard copies.
Max learned to make homemade granola, and cinnamon rolls. He learned how to make homemade spaghetti sauce, which he regretted, as he became the family’s official spaghetti maker.
It was hard to take pictures of Max. He would play to the camera with funny faces. But ironically, Max insisted that he hated to do solos. The solos we have of him singing are precious. We are grateful that he sang "Martha" by Tom Waits accompanied by Jeremy Harvey at a church talent show, and “When You Say Nothing at All” in his freshman year at North Harford. Even if getting him to do these solos took some convincing. We are incredibly grateful for the footage we have of him singing from “The Music Man” and love that he would turn and sing right to the camera.
Maxwell loved to argue, loved to be right. He was happy to debate anyone about anything. He would do anything to keep the argument going, switch subjects, make up facts, and demand proof of others.
He always had poor impulse control, which made him both likely to break things, and liable to be the first to volunteer whenever someone needed help. He helped move a million people in and out of their homes as part of the Landbeck muscle men. He helped Daryl Leonetti decorate Havre de Grace and Aberdeen for Christmas, and entertained dozens of people by wearing his “Blue Man Suit” on Halloween.
For any who don’t know, a little over three years ago, Max was diagnosed with bi-polar disorder. In the previous year, he had begun to struggle with substance abuse. It is now obvious he was self-medicating. The burden of bi-polar disorder is swinging between depressive and manic episodes.
For Max, when he was Manic, he would become delusional. Delusions of a different realities with grandiose visions and fantasies. He was never violent, but pursued the bizarre notions that would occur to him, no matter how strange or dangerous.
When Max would use drugs, any drugs, he became even more delusional. Many friends and family tried to help him. Max was easy to love, but difficult to live with. Addiction is a terrible burden. He could not resist the draw of trying drugs one more time. Each time Max was certain that it would help. Each time he was terribly wrong. He spent many months living in a sober half-way house, where he hoped to be able to eliminate the drug-use from the equation.
This year, it seemed his effort was beginning to succeed. He was admitted to a residential treatment program where he could concentrate on both sobriety and mental stability. Maxwell was sober for most of 2014, earning his four month coin and relapsing only once. He navigated the demanding practice schedule for performing in “The Music Man,” something he was immensely proud of, and we were too.
The day before Max died, Saturday July 12, was his little sister’s birthday. He spent the afternoon at our family’s home, with his Grandparents and Great-grandma Billie. He had cake, sang “Happy Birthday” with our second verse. Max hugged and kissed everyone, saying “I love you” just like he always did. He teased his little sister until he got scolded for poking her. He had plans to join Mom at a Boychoir concert the next day, and have dinner with his family Sunday night with the Wainwrights. He put in his Birthday meal request for his favorite birthday food – Pad Thai for dinner and chocolate cake with pistachio pudding frosting. He arranged to attend an “Ironbirds” baseball game with his Grandma Sandy and Grandpa John, taking his little brother Sam and little sister Roxie Jane with him.
That normal birthday Max was planning never happened. Today Max would have turned 21.
Later the 12th, Max became delusional. He began sending strange texts to friends and family. In the very early morning of Sunday, July 13, Max left his home and walked 4 blocks to the Amtrak line in Aberdeen. He was killed instantly by a freight train.
We miss him so much. We love Max so much. We have heard regrets from many people, who have wondered if only they had called him back, or stayed in touch, or reached out again.
Maxwell’s life has been saved many times by the love, attention, friendship, and care of hundreds of people these last few years.
We ask that you remember what was best about Max. Learn the lessons of his mistakes. If you could have done more, do it now. Serve the people that are still here. We all need friends. We all need to be loved.
Maxwell was our brother, our son, and our friend. We are grateful that he now rests in peace.