Julee & Gray

Lady Running

The three of us







This is the story of how an older brother named Gray inspired his sister Julee to start an organization that would honor him and all the gifts that he gave to her in his final eight months of life. This is the story of Graytly Inspired.

Before the start of my last year in graduate school, a degree in Social Work nearly completed, my brother was diagnosed with cancer of the brain. Because of his youth (age 28) the surgeon decided not to remove the entire tumor. It was attached and entwined at the front part of the brain and the doctors felt Gray was too young to have sections of his brain missing. It was agreed to cut out as much of the tumor as possible and follow the operation with chemotherapy.

Good plan we all thought. He had the operation with no brain damage and began chemo, which seemed to work; the remaining tumor shrank. Then news came that the cancer had spread and attached to his brain stem. My brother died in April, 1987. He left behind his parents, two siblings, and an abundance of caring family and friends. He was one semester short of receiving an Architecture Degree. He never married his fiancée. He never watched his six-year-old daughter grow up.

Gray lived in California; I was going to school in Portland, Oregon. My parents sent for me. We saw each other only that one time before he died; however, that brief visit brought us closer than we had ever been.

After returning to school, I would speak to a friend of my fears for Gray. She suggested painting a picture a day as a way to overcome the pain and to focus on my studies. Every day I painted a picture, some days more, until my brother’s death. Painting became everything. It kept my thoughts off the truth. Painting kept me sane.

Those first pictures were intense. A lot of paint was used—so much that often the paper would crinkle up and soak into another page. Because I couldn’t draw, dark splashes, swirls, circles and lines filled the paper canvases. Day after day I painted everything I felt. As months passed, lighter colors and softer expressions, and more open backgrounds, were visible. New images emerged from the random colors—butterflies and footprints, clasped hands and complete circles. I painted the day Gray died, then put the book away and didn’t pick it up for more than a year.

During a visit, a friend who had grown up with us discovered the book and asked about its contents. While we sat together and I explained, the images clearly spoke of my journey through those months. In one, revealing a woman’s figure running, the feelings of anger and pain were palpable. As the sequences of forgiveness, then acceptance, were embraced they became apparent in color and form; a butterfly indicated understanding. Slowly, the process of goodbye was marked by footprints in sand, then into two figures walking, holding hands, and finally, merging into one. That last painting is one of light and freedom.

While looking through all those pictures, it became obvious that, although I didn’t shed tears and show outward signs of sorrow, I did grieve. With that realization I learned the power of art. I understood how art can heal. For years, that one little concept rolled around in my head until it manifested into Graytly Inspired.