After 3 months of waiting patiently, I received the email I was so desperately waiting for, it was THE Connie Johnson from Love your sister. “Marie I think what you are doing for love your sister is wonderful, I think you are incredible and I look forward to meeting you” these words took the wind out of me. How could someone in so much pain and suffering say such beautiful things about a person she didn’t even know? Upon reading her email I knew in my heart I was going to meet a special person and my life would change forever upon meeting her.
Since Connie was too sick to meet me she kindly invited me to her home in Canberra to take her Imprints. These Imprints were by far the most crucial ones, as her heart would be in the centre of the artwork surrounded by 2000 individual ceramic hearts united together to see cancer gone for good. It was a nerve wrecking drive down to the capital but my brother offered to come with me so I wasn’t alone with my thoughts.
When we arrived, I was greeted at the door by a man with kind eyes who introduced himself as Mike. He was Connie’s childhood sweetheart and the father of their two young boys Willoughby and Hamilton. For a moment I was star struck as I remember reading about him in the Love your sister book. (It was like meeting the characters of your favourite movie, only these characters were real!) He directed me to the back of the house to her room where she was resting. I felt nervous as I was not sure what state she was in and if my presence was going to be a burden. As I walked in quietly I smiled at Connie as she lay on her bed, she was clearly weak and very sick. I introduced myself and we spoke about the drive down. She noticed I was carrying an epi pen in my bag (for my youngest with a nut allergy) which led to an heartfelt conversation about her son’s severe food allergies. We both talked about motherhood and expressed how much it changes you as a person. “You just don’t realise how much you can love someone until you have kids” she said. I couldn’t agree more.
I knew my time with her was limited so spoke about my humble little art project to which she immediately lit up with praise and smiled. She loved the idea and gave me helpful advice on how push the project so as to get as much exposure and media attention as possible. Her thoughts were bold and she was straight to the point- I felt like she was my teacher and I was the student. “WHY NOT REACH FOR THE STARS!” she said confidently. That statement coming from her meant the world to me, what did I have to lose? The fear of failure was no longer an option for me, this project was something I promised her I would do and make it a reality.“Oh, I hope I will make it to see this artwork finished” she sighed. In my heart I said a little prayer hoping that she would too. Then she suggested an idea that brought me to tears. “And just in case I don’t.. I’d like to leave you a video message that I would like you to show to the public before you unveil the artwork”. So for the next 1.45 seconds she left THE most beautiful video message expressing her thanks to everyone who supported my project and Love your sister. I was beyond grateful and truly lost for words at that point.
I couldn’t believe the amount of love she wanted to give even when she was in so much pain…I took her precious Imprints and in the corner of my eye could see her smiling throughout the process, she even suggested we take pictures to document that moment. Cue my poor brother, my driver turned professional photographer. He captured such magical photos which are featured in this blog which I am so grateful for. We said our goodbyes and I told her that I would be in touch with the progress of the project. We hugged and I felt so blessed to have the opportunity to be in her presence for that time not knowing if I would ever see her again.
As she lay back down to have a rest I walked through her house towards the front door noticing the busy kitchen, unfinished lego towers left by her boys, shelves filled with hundreds of books, laundry waiting to be folded and walls filled with happy photos of their boys. Here was a regular family I thought.. but nothing about them was regular. Through Connie’s illness the Love your sister family have gone to extraordinary lengths to make a big difference in this world by funding cancer research so that no other family would have to experience the pain of losing a loved one to Cancer. After meeting her I decided to name my art project “A heart as big as yours” – a special legacy for Connie Johnson. She reminded me of the fragility of life and how to use the time we have to better the lives of others, a lesson from that visit which will stay with me forever…