In June 2017, a house fire broke out in a small Tasmanian town and two sisters, Shanzel and Ruby, aged just 10 and 13 years old, tragically died. This was a heart-rending tragedy that was reported in the media, the kind of story that has you covering your mouth with the horror of it, and thinking of all the people who loved those girls and now had to cope with this awful loss. Shortly after this event, I was contacted by Tam, a friend of the girls’ family and she asked if I could send hearts for the girls’ community which I gladly and sadly did. When these hearts were received, the grieving father asked if he could buy a whole bunch of hearts to give out at the girls’ funeral; “something that each person can hold onto.” Tam asked if it was possible to have around 300 hearts made for the funeral which was to be held in about a fortnight and I said yes, hardly knowing how I would manage it but knowing I wanted to gift these hearts as a gesture of love in a time of darkness.
With such a short timeframe, I decided to ask the 1000 Hearts community for help and with the family’s permission, I shared the story of their loss on our Facebook page and made a plea for hearts to be sent as quickly as possible so I could get them to the family in time. Several days later, I went to the post office after receiving an email to say my PO Box had mail. Did it ever! The lady in the post office said she had never seen one person receive so many parcels at once – it was truly a landslide of love. When I got home, I opened each lovingly sealed parcel and read the words of compassion and solidarity from heartists who had set everything aside to stitch offerings of love in a time of tragedy. It was a clear message from one community to another, a simple but powerful way of saying “we feel your pain and we stand with you as you navigate this loss.” I consolidated all the hearts and sent them to Tam with a full heart.
A close circle of family and friends set about adding the girls’ initials to the hearts – an S on one side and R on the other. At the funeral, each mourner pinned a heart to their clothing and the chaplain who conducted the service, Mel, spoke of hearts, brokenness and healing.
Late in 2018, Mel invited me to her small country town to conduct some heart-making sessions with children and adults from the community. Through these sessions, I met some of those people who loved Ruby and Shanzel and who had pinned hearts to their clothing to honour the two young sisters. Over a year after the terrible fire, we came together to sew hearts and we spoke of love, pain and healing.
This experience showed me the power of community and the healing properties of love. It was an incredible privilege to witness our heartists coming together from many different places to offer kindness and compassion to strangers in a terribly dark time. I was able to witness what this meant to a grieving community and what a difference it made to know they were thought of and loved…what beautiful proof of the goodness in humanity.