We have another wonderful interview to share with you. Nan Deal and her family have been involved with Touch A Life for several years after the loss of their 12-year-old son, Connor, who died suddenly from complications with pneumonia. In his memory, the Deals built the Connor Creative Art Center, an amazing building at the Touch A Life Care Center where healing takes place through therapeutic art programming. They travel to Ghana annually to introduce new projects and programs, and they’ve partnered with us in our Art Healing endeavors to help bring more Art Centers to similar organization around the world. We asked Nan some questions and she gave us some powerful answers. Read on to learn more about her story, her passion for art, and her advice for those who are grieving.
How have your life and your journey been transformed by the amazing work you and your family are doing through the Art Center in Ghana?
Our lives were forever changed when our Connor passed away. The grief journey is a very long and difficult one. It was very important for me to find Connor’s voice and legacy soon after our loss. It was crucial that it was a reflection of who he was and what he loved, but more importantly it needed to be something that would help young children just like him. I didn’t just want a building with his name on it—I wanted a legacy that would touch the lives of children. The Connor Creative Art Center has done just that. When we are in the Art Center with the TAL children, we feel a deep sense of joy and hope. The Art Center embodies everything Connor loved (it was even designed in honor of one of his favorite toys, LEGOs), and we feel his presence strongly there. We know that he would love the Art Center and how much joy it brings to the children in Ghana. We are so thankful that we have a legacy for our son, and we are even more grateful that this legacy gives back in such a special way. It has shown us the true meaning of beauty coming from ashes, even while we are still standing in them.
We are expanding our Art Healing platform to help similar organizations bring therapeutic practices to the children they serve. Tell us about your time in Cambodia in the summer of 2014. What excites you the most about expanding Art Centers to Rapha House’s facility?
My first trip to Cambodia was amazing. It was my first time to travel to Asia and in the same way my worldview was expanded when I went to Ghana, visiting Cambodia opened my eyes and transformed the way I look at my life. Cambodia is a beautiful country, but you could feel the oppression and poverty everywhere. Just like I was in Ghana, I was face-to-face with the injustices of trafficking. This time I was impacted by the young women who are trafficked in the sex industry. They were everywhere we went. What excites me the most about expanding this program is that once again young children will be given a place to express themselves artistically, and to find healing through the process. They will have a safe haven to go to, where they can create and learn who they are while they find hope and healing and redemption.
What motivates you to continue serving the children in Ghana as well as children all over the world?
I believe in these Art Centers. I truly believe that these facilities and their programs are transforming lives, both the lives of the children they serve as well as the lives of the volunteers who serve in them. They are vehicles for these children to express themselves artistically, and they are safe places for children to go to find healing. I say a prayer for the children in Ghana as they enter the doors of the Connor Creative Art Center every day—I pray that they find their voice and their hope, and that they learn that healing really does take place over time. This is what motivates me.
How do you stay positive when the days feel dark and difficult to face?
I know where my Connor is and I have a hope that I will see him again soon, believing that I will be able to spend the rest of my life with him. My, what a day of rejoicing that will be! Until that day comes, I have a band of grieving moms that are my lifeline and my support system. All I have to do is reach out to them and they are there for me. I do not know what I would do without their love and support. When you are a grieving mom, the journey can feel so isolating and dark; not too many people like to travel this road with you. But these women truly get me. We speak the same language, and I know that they will always be there for me.
What advice or encouragement would you share with women or families who are just starting down the path of finding healing or service?
For those who are just starting down this road, I would tell them to just hold on and allow yourself the time you need to grieve. Not everyone grieves in the same way. Be kind to yourself. I would also recommend that they find a grief community that they can connect with, open up to, and share their feelings with in earnest. Reading really helped me, too. There are so many good books out there; I loved Jantsen’s Gift. These books helped me feel like I wasn’t alone.
I would also say that, when you are ready, get outside yourself and serve. Use your grief energy on something positive to bless someone else. We found a way to create a legacy for Connor in small and big ways. We donate LEGOs on his birthday and Christmas. We give art scholarships to students at his former school, providing children who could not afford to take art classes to engage in creative opportunities. We built the Connor Creative Art Center and we travel to Ghana to spend time with the children there. I believe Connor would want us to do all of this. Giving in big ways and small ones help us each day.