Updated: May 2
The Earliest Days
In 2006, I was in a hospital room with my mother back in America, where I'm originally from. She was heading into surgery the next morning, after about 6 years of cancer treatment, and we were all very uncertain that she would make it through. I was recovering from my third miscarriage in a year. I was staying with her overnight, and we both laid there talking about anything and everything except the big things on our minds. Definitely not cancer, definitely not miscarriage.
I remember talking a lot about her flowers. She said she felt guilty for having so many flowers in her room (from her many, many friends) because so many other people on the cancer ward didn't have flowers. We talked about how great it would be to redistribute them, giving flowers unexpectedly to people who needed them. The conversation spiralled, and we thoroughly imagined a pretend lifestyle where one day I'd grow up and give flowers and gifts to strangers just because I could.
My mother survived the surgery, but died in January of 2007, when I was 6 months pregnant. I had told my dad about our flower conversation, and we decided to honour her after the funeral by redistributing all the amazing flowers from her funeral. We took the bouquets, packed them all up in the car, and brought them to the cancer ward at the hospital to be shared with the flowerless rooms, just like she wanted.
Two weeks after she died, I gave birth prematurely to my second son, and I needed something to get me through the most difficult time of my life.
Expanding & Contracting
To heal myself, or to at least get through my days, I decided to channel my mother's giving spirit and I created a small charity project aimed at the parents of premature babies. In those weeks when my son was hospitalised after his birth, and I could only visit him once a day (with a toddler to take care of as well), I couldn't imagine how much worse it would feel if it was all happening over the holidays. So I called it all Preemie Presents, and for many months I collected premature baby clothing, bath products, disposable cameras (this was before everyone had smart phones), cookies, candles, blankets... every holiday season for a few years I brought a huge delivery of gifts to the hospital for them to hand out to parents over Thanksgiving and Christmas.
I learned how healing the act of giving is. I learned particularly how giving to total strangers is medicine for everyone... that I heal myself by doing it and they feel love and healing too.
The project had to change when we moved back to England. We'd lived in England before for several years, but after several years back in America we decided to go back to England permanently. My project had to change just because the rules, regulations, and layouts of the hospitals were just very different, and I wanted to expand anyway.
On a whim I renamed the project to Crafters Against Sadness, with the aim to involve far more crafters and artists helping a far larger reach of people. I carried on this way for another year or two, but over time it began to get complicated having so many other creators involved. The people being nominated were starting to have deeper, sadder stories, and it felt right for me to be doing all the giving on my own. Another name change (Guided Gifting) and the project hit a nice little groove where I was sending out lots of gifts, writing lots of letters, and managing it all on my own.
Then in 2016 my best friend died by suicide. Remembering how much it helped me initially to set up this charity project, I threw all of my time and energy into expanding this into a foundation. Blackbirds always make me think of my mother, and at this stage I renamed everything again (first the Blackbird Foundation, then My Blackbirds)... and essentially went overboard with trying to expand and help on as large a scale as possible.
Even longer story short... it didn't work. I had a few mental breakdowns to get through, and no amount of distractions was going to stop those from happening. Eventually I had to take a small break from it all while I tried to get used to what my new life looked like, while I coped with a few major bipolar episodes, while I got my kids and myself through a global pandemic in one piece, and while I rediscovered what I really wanted to achieve with this charity project.
Where We Are Today
What I decided in the end, was that I wanted to go back to basics. The idea behind giving the project a name (so many names) is because I never liked the idea of it being associated with me as a person. I wanted to remain as absolutely anonymous as possible, mostly to align with my belief that altruism matters, and also because I had the idea that this project would be big enough to live well beyond me.
I decided that actually, I had the right idea just before my best friend died and threw my life into chaos. That it worked best as a small project, with everything done individually by me, with everything being truly personal and thought-filled. It worked best being simple. I help people on a very small level. Sometimes it snowballs, sometimes it doesn't, and that's fine. What matters is that kindness happened, that altruistic giving happened... and its ok if people know it came from me. I think my mom would have like me taking credit for it all anyway, as long as I mentioned her too. :)
Her name was Jane. You'd probably have liked her. I did.