Circle of Love

A phone call in January 2010 took me on a journey we all have to go on one day, but hope will never come. My brother in Australia, was phoning me in England, just three days after we had landed back from a hot Aussie Christmas.

In some ways I’ld been prepared for this call, by my own mother’s experiences at the same age. She had openly discussed a fact of life many choose to ignore, and to philosophies that helped me be ready. But it still hurt like hell.

My big, strong brother trying to hold it together, said: “Mum’s really really sick. She’s got secondary tumours right through her abdomen.” At this point he started to cry.

When we are all born, we are given a terminal illness, called life. There is no escaping the inevitability of our own end. Mum had taught me this through necessity; my grandmother died suddenly on Mum’s 40th birthday, her father one year later almost to the day.

I was on the very next plane out of Gatwick and with our Mum, Jen, Nanny within 24 hours.

Over the next eight precious and profound weeks, I experienced her in an entirely new way, and became very clear, yet again, about what truly mattered in life, and especially, at the end of life.

“Love one another, it is as simple and as difficult as that. There is no other way,” said the renowned Australian poet Michael Leunig. This was often quoted in our crazy-making, ever-loving, Bohemian family.

We were lucky. Those few weeks gave us time to say what we meant to each other. To find each other again, having lived apart, and to touch on forgiveness. Mum spoke to all the people that mattered in her life. She actually had a ball. Holding court, hosting bridge parties in the hospital and settling her affairs. Many people don’t get that chance.

It is a great privilege to be around people who can accept their own mortality. Coming to terms with the inevitability of death can, paradoxically, be a life-affirming experience. While we live, let us live! And make the most of all we have. Mum still wanted as long as possible, but she also could accept her time was near and she was making the most of it. I had never seen her so radiant.

When the call came, I was in the middle of finishing foundation studies in fine art as a mature age student. Living back in Fremantle, Western Australia during that Autumn, I had some unique time away for art and reflection.

A simple idea started to take shape.

“What if everyone could be loved and appreciated during their life, while there was still time? What if we could help people find the words and share them, in their own way?”

“Why not make community art projects accessible for anyone?”

I had already been experimenting with little clay eggs that held secret messages, enjoying the child-like wonder adults felt when given them to crack open and ponder. I wondered whether these two things might come together.

After Mum’s Easter funeral, we gave hand painted wooden eggs to the close friends who had stood so strongly by.

I returned to the UK, finished my studies somehow, and soon after, made the very first batch of what became known as “Metta Eggs” for a close friend’s 40th birthday. I contacted Lorraine’s people from around the world, and from various chapters of her life, to contribute messages to go inside the eggs. Sadly, her mother was also living and dying with cancer at the time. The response from everyone involved was overwhelmingly positive, and one order led straight to another.

Tim and I worked on a batch for his beloved’s birthday – Jenna. I did a small boxful for another special birthday, a wedding, a new baby…

The Message Eggs Experience developed into a box of eggs, covered in seeds or sparkling glitter, nested within a hand-carved treasure chest and infused with essential oils. Instructions accompany each one to explain who made it happen and what they are all about.

They are a once (or maybe twice) in a lifetime gift that has some people crying with gratitude and astonishment. Many hours work go into facilitating the messages and crafting the eggs.

They can be given at any key moment in life or for any reason, from graduations to retirement, in much them same way as we use greeting cards but, well, a whole lot more special.

People are intrigued and surprised when they receive them. It’s all a bit of a mystery at first, and we usually arrange the whole thing without them knowing, by calling in accomplices, searching through email lists and generally having fun being sleuthful. They are given by individuals or groups, and messages can be written by any number of people, to one of more recipients. Every order is unique.

Our first “real” customer (ie. a total stranger) was Alison from Hove in England, who commissioned them for her daughter’s birthday and bon voyage. By coincidence Lucy was migrating to Australia, the songline returning. She opened them all within a week, and left feeling connected to her people, and very much loved by her mother Alison. “The best gift I have ever had” Lucy simply said.

Over the last few years, we have had a wide range of commissions. The messages people write vary as much as you would imagine. Some of the questions we ask to get people started include:

  • What poignant or happy memories do you have of x?
  • What do you respect, love or appreciate about x in your life?
  • What do you think they most need to hear?

If people get stuck for words, we offer them a large collection of quotations to choose from, but always encourage them to try finding their own words first. The quotes are, infact, very rarely used.

I’ve taught creative writing for many years, and have a passion for helping people express themselves, no matter what their background or level of confidence. The process we use draws on these techniques to make it fun and easy to get involved.

Other commissions have included… a daughter to her aging father, cracking his crusty old heart wide open. A group of friends to a new mother and child, like fairy godparents watching over and wishing them well. For a 40th wedding anniversary, when Bob + Angela’s daughter Tania did an extraordinary job of contacting people, who wrote of a how their lives have been so much better for this couple having lived. Angela insists on cracking them slowly, savouring them over the weeks and years ahead.

Currently, we are working on a nest-full for a woman in the middle of a long battle with HIV and cancer, from her far-flung friends. It is a process that gives everyone involved a feeling of tenderness and joy, that they are doing something quite tangible to help others.

Sometimes the people we work with are very light hearted and the messages really make us laugh.

Confidentiality is of course very important, and we have had to develop very secure computer systems to ensure this, and the longevity of the messages. If a dying mother was to leave a boxful for her child’s 21st birthday or wedding, we would want to offer a backup if the messages were ever lost. Fortunately my husband Graeme is an IT specialist and has been supporting the project from the very beginning.

We are currently talking to interfaith celebrants, and to cancer charities to help spread the word and fundraise on their behalf. It is an idea that seems to be so full of fun and loveliness that it can’t help but spread internationally.

Of course using “the L word” is not always easy or appropriate in many of our relationships, and Love can mean many different things.

As a student of Buddhism over many years, I came to learn the Mettabhavana meditation practice, which helps us generate loving kindness for ourselves and, potentially, all beings, including those we hardly know or perhaps find difficult.

So the word “Metta” means kindness, friendliness or love in a way. When practicing, we say things like “may I / you be well, may you have peace, may you be happy, free from suffering.” Being involved with making Metta Eggs connects us all in a form of this, giving and receiving kindness. Cracking them becomes a ritual often lacking in materialistic modern world, which we can give the meaning that we want. Like glasses being cracked at a Jewish wedding, or the Paschal Greeting of cracking an egg on your head. “Χριστός Ανέστη” / “Kristos Anasti” or “Christ has Risen”as Mum said to me every Easter.

Often people hesitate to crack their Metta Eggs. “They are so beautiful, I don’t want to.” We say you don’t have to, and smile quietly. Eggs are a potent inernational symbol of renewal, and the endless cycle of life. Everything holds its end in its beginning. The circle returns, unbroken throughout time.

People say the Treasure Chest and messages will be kept ‘forever’, and we are working on new ideas to develop the keepsake element, like personalised books and frames. But of course, we can’t hold on to anything forever.

Having a morning cuddle in bed with Mum and my daughter Bea during that last Christmas, we lay like Russian Dolls. Bea’s eggs already in her girl-womb, the ghost of my epic Grandmother Pam with us in story and memory.

Mum’s very last words to me were. “It’s all a joke, even the Russian Dolls.” After a biblical hail storm with the hospital at the very centre, and the most beautiful rainbow I have ever seen, she died peacefully by my side.

While we all need to hear how we are loved and cherished as we live, we need ultimately to let everything go.

And the circle returns.

Note: written several years ago but not published. Some product details have changed and the story has of course moved on, as they do!


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