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Should be, can’t, and doing

It’s the first day of Spring and I know I “should” post something. I should be recapping (what my body feels like) the zillion Kid Art Commissions over the past 10 days. I should be sharing the process, the magic, and all the creative “things” in my colorful brain.

I can’t. It feels so forced. I’m stuck on my own head and fighting"spring survival mode" by desperately protecting our family time because so much gets piled on.

Also, my Nana died. Social media makes me feel like I must post to properly memorialize our beautiful matriarch. But I couldn’t. Another day would go by and I would wait to “have time to sit down and give her the words and images she deserves”. Life and grieving happened. Here’s the thing…I don’t know how I grieve. I do know that my therapist told me I deflect negative and sadness by always “thinking on the bright side”. I keep rolling my eyes at myself when I hear “Aw, it’s okay. She lived a long, full life for 92 years. And I still have 2 living grandparents!” Why do I do that?!? I don’t want other people to feel sad either. Do I even know how to be sad?!?

Then, it hit me hard—my dad. We talk about birth order and sibling dynamics all the time in the studio. It’s heartwarming, entertaining and fascinating. My father is an incredible son, and I was riding a high of knowing how close and blessed our family was to support each other at that time. Until I remembered he’s a firstborn son. I remembered how dedicated of a son he was and how well she took care of his mama. I remembered my own son’s voice telling me he loves me like clockwork and the pride that tears up in my eyes knowing he will care for someone the way he loves me one day. I can’t handle my dad being sad. I also can’t fix it. It’s a weird situation I’ve never been in.

A silver lining to ADHD is “out of sight, out of mind” and takes off the edge of grief. I probably compartmentalize in a way that isn’t totally healthy, but I also have trouble understanding what is “lost” or gone. There is often no visual for that, so my brain seems to not connect the dots. Or maybe is a coping mechanism. I don’t know and don’t slow down long enough to think about it. I remember what I have visuals of or core memories associated with the person. The incredible thing is, I have countless visual memories with my family and grandmother so I think I feel “okay”. (Is that okay to say?) Similar to my son, we think in stories, pictures, songs, and sound effects- and mine are pretty happy (thank you, modern medicine and psychiatry).

I have a point to all of this, so stick with me.

Many brilliant minds have said similar statements, but I’ll start with Banksy (because he’s awesome.) He’s quoted, “I mean, they say you die twice. One time when you stop breathing and a second time, a bit later on, when somebody says your name for the last time.”

The stories we tell, songs we sing, expressions to coin, way we laugh, signatures scents to claim, colors we bask in, activities we share, meals we warm bellies and hearts with….THAT’S immortality how we treat people in a way that makes them share your sparkle later. How we show up or silently support in a way that makes others feel like their best selves.

Nana’s not going anywhere! (Or she’ll knock a knot on us!) We worked hard to foster a relationship with our children and their great grandparents, so they can share their memories (and versions). She lives in me, my immediate family, cousins, and aunts & uncles. (Heck, even my in-laws, because that’s what kind of family we are.)

Keep the content coming. The important content. Not “Happy Spring, everyone!” Come together in person and work hard to keep family close, strong, and inclusive. It’s hard in this phase of life, but make it a priority.

That baby boy is a heck of a son because he showed his adoring daughter (and other kids) how you take care of family. And my baby boy told Daniel this the morning Nana passed,

“Daddy, I'm sorry to explain this to you….but… (whispers to me) what’s her name again?….(Nana)….Nana passed away. But she’s in the sky now in heaven and will help us when we are sad.

…I’m a little nervous about what’s going to happen when she comes into my dreams at night…”

I had to SPRINT to stop him from breaking the news to my daughter that morning at 6:30 am. She sobbed and physically mourned for a couple of days. God bless the firstborns- you are so wonderful and carry so much. Makes me love and appreciate all of our intricate brains and hearts.

Sadness. Silver Lining. Core Memories. Adoring Sons. Firstborns. And Content.

(I will say that he remembers NOBODY’S name and has “so many old grandpas", so this makes the quote even better.)


And, now, my own kind of Irish blessing in the form of memories with Nana that will never die:

  • Blueberry Mountain Camp was grandparent counselors with the cousins for a week. Nana signed us up for a watercolor class and it changed everything for me. I realized how hungry I was to learn and I was very good at it. She and my grandfather invested in me as an artist and always encouraged, boasted about, and supported my artistic endeavors.

  • Nana and Papa helped me get to Italy to study abroad for a Sketchbook Intensive. I’m having trouble putting into words how crucial that time away, alone and focused on art-making in a foreign country was for me.

  • True love. Now that I know I pretty much married a younger version of my grandfather, I am honored to have witnessed one of the greatest love stories and marriages. Nana’s patience, humor, grace, and southern “firmness” apply to my daily life now:)

  • Respect. When you’re the wild, middle child pre-ADHD diagnosis, this can be misunderstood as “strict”. Later, I appreciated the level of respect Nana modeled. From demonstrating exceptional table manners and beds made so well a dime would bounce, she set the bar high for her grandchildren. “Good” behavior is also another form of respect for others around you and yourself. Older Kelly appreciated this foundation set at an early age:)

  • Elegance. Holy cow. All the cousins prayed for Nana’s skin. My mole removal count is proving to be more McGinnis than Long, unfortunately. Just the picture of glamour and poise (with a hint of boss in there to keep you on your toes.) I will forever associate her with a cornflower blue color cashmere sweater. That’s all I wanted when they started cleaning out her closet. Nana had a signature color with those crystal blue eyes.

  • I always said I wanted to get married in the gazebo at Nana & Papa’s mountain house with yellow roses. She would just smile. Years later, I was still adamant, even sketching what I wanted, and asked if I could paint the gazebo white when the wedding day came (ya know, decades later). She said “no”. I was shocked and mortified. She responded, “We can do much better than that.” That was that. But I got it. Fast forward to an epic wedding at a North Georgia Vineyard, Nana leans in to whisper with chardonnay in hand, “I’d say this is better than a gazebo wedding.”

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