Joy of Life Parade
Updated: Mar 21, 2019
For 86 years, Jim Gray has been making memories; in his own mind, and in the minds of those who have come to know him through his artwork. Over the past 6 years, due to the onset of Dementia, Jim's mind has been able to retain fewer and fewer memories. Having watched his father live and die with Alzheimer's, Jim recognized early on that something similar was beginning to challenge his own memory. He quietly began painting his memories of some the people, places, animals and objects in which found Joy. Technically, they are not among his strongest paintings. Yet the case can be made that from the standpoint of "art" created for the pure Joy of the person creating it, these three canvases may well be his Masterpiece, his Opus, and perhaps his most meaningful legacy.
In the spring of 2016 and no longer driving, the time had come when Jim and Fran could no longer live the independent life that they had enjoyed together since marrying in 1953. The decision was made to move to an apartment in Nashville Indiana, to be close to son Matt and family, who could check in on them each day. The furnishings of Fran and Jim's home and studio were moved, and for nearly three years this arrangement worked. Yet Jim's journey with dementia created ever increasing challenges.
A fall and hospitalization of Fran, in August of 2018, seemed to set in motion her own journey down a similar road. That autumn, when visiting each month from Maine, son Chris began talking with Jim about the Joy of Life Parade, seeking to piece together just who all the characters were, before all memory slipped away. It was obvious that Jim was still finding joy looking upon these paintings, producing clear memories of old friends, and even telling the back-story involved in some. Chris wrote notes and also audio recorded Jim telling these stories, knowing a treasure for all of our family was being gathered in the process. The canvases had an A, B, and C, on the back side. Somewhere there must be a key written down. Every visit revealed more about the paintings, and also about the increasing need to have additional help in caring for our folks.
On January 4, 2019, our family worked together to move Jim and Fran to Jill's House - Memory Care Assisted Living, just 20 miles away. Chris stayed in their old apartment for three weeks in January, helping them settle into the new living arrangements. Returning for a week in February, he found on the back of a bottom shelf in the corner of Jim's studio, three rolled sheets of clear plastic with outlines traced and numbers placed to identify each and every completed feature of the paintings! Rolled inside were three lists with the headings "A" "B" "C" and nearly 75 answers to the mysteries contained in the images! Additional spiral notebooks and yellow legal pads with Jim's handwritten stories further unlocked evidence that every brushstroke Jim painted was done so purpose.
That he painted these canvases for his own Joy is wonderful. That he then documented them was evidence that he wanted to share his Joy. However, like the recording process in his brain that has been put on hold by Dementia, there are portions of these paintings, and the stories behind them, that are also incomplete. Jim's Joy of Life Parade, when paired with the handwritten notes, and then further processed through the collective memory of family and friends, has continued to bring to light new recollections of old memories, now safe from that thief Dementia.
Jim has always been a thinking and reasoning man. This first day of spring 2019 he still is, although his ability to remember is vastly reduced. The reasoning man wants to know where he is, and why he is there. Having virtually no short term memory means that not only is a place unfamiliar, but even the faces of loved ones sometimes do not match up with the last memory of them that he can recall. Feeling almost lost at times, he struggles to figure out what is going on and why he is not in on it. This can be scary and fear can easily lead to anger, if there is no comforting familiar place to exist. These paintings hold friends and loved ones and places and pets at a point in time that he can still recall in his mind. When everything else around him seems unfamiliar, the images he captured in his Joy of Life Parade ring true, and that often brings a sense of comfort and peace, especially when a family member or friend guides him along.
And so, we have chosen to share these images and family stories, with the hope that others who are living with dementia or caring for a loved one who is, will take them as an example.
You do not have to be able to draw.
The phone you likely carry can serve well.
Gather together, share photos and tell stories. Sing old songs and share a favorite meal.
Make memories and record them in any way you prefer. Create a photo album, a video, or a slideshow of images your loved one can find comfort and peace among.
Then share them again and again in your family's own Joy of Life Parade.
As spring unfolds, we begin this journey through the eyes, hands, and mind of a most remarkable artist...Jim Gray. Through this blog, we will look in detail at these three canvases. Favorite stories will be recalled and shared by and about family and friends. Seemingly random individual brush strokes will suddenly burst forth with meaning. Jim will take us on a journey from his earliest years in Middleton Tennessee, to Corinth Mississippi and Mobile Alabama. Four years in the Service will introduce Air Force buddies and also the love of his life. Friends, both common folks and celebrity will find their way into the Parade, and even the streets and buildings that form the background will come to be known for the Joyous memories they hold. Eighty six years and counting... traveling at times by tricycle, on foot, and even by space craft, the man in the red wagon paints his life story for the pure joy the process brought to him, then wrote notes that allowed us all to ride along in his magnificent Joy of Life Parade.