The death of my daughter Georgie was the greatest thing to happen to me.
That’s jarring to read, I know. Believe me, it’s jarring to write.
Right now, I’m sitting at my kitchen bench staring down the seventh anniversary of my daughter Georgie’s death. Seven years on and I still catch my breath at the shock of her stillbirth. The day I was told by a doctor at 36 weeks pregnant that there was ‘no heartbeat’ was the worst day of my life – second only to the day I delivered her. There are no words to describe the horror and sheer devastation of rocking your own deceased child in your arms, trying to sing and pat her back to life. It is a nightmare I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. And at the time, I didn’t think I could survive the pain I was in. I felt like I was going to be dragged under the waves of grief.
But here’s the thing I didn’t fully understand seven years ago. Sometimes these incredible traumas that feel as though they are going to break us actually break us open instead. And that’s what happened to me. More on that in a moment.
This week I read an estimated 75 percent of people will experience a traumatic event in their lifetime. Looking around at my friends, neighbours and colleagues that sounds about right. And while we usually associate trauma with negative outcomes (including PTSD) more than half of people who survive trauma report positive outcomes. (You can read that article here.)
In other words, these events which bring us to our knees – the death of a child, the loss of job, a marriage breakdown, a parent’s suicide, an injury, a health diagnosis – rather than destroy us can act as a catalyst – a springboard – for us to lead a more profound life.
Science calls it Post Traumatic Growth – an expression coined in 1996 by researchers Richard Tedeschi and Lawrence Calhoun.
Mining engineer Turia Pitt, who endured burns to 65 percent of her body in a grassfire while running an ultra-marathon, is now a sought after motivational speaker, best-selling author, athlete and Australian icon. Kaitlin Roig-DeBellis, the teacher who hid her grade one class in a toilet cubicle during the Sandy Hook massacre in 2012, created the award-winning Classes 4 Classes charity where schools donate to other schools in need.
Fiona and Mark Engwirde whose beautiful toddler Kate died in 2012 have been a driving force behind Queensland’s first children’s hospice, Hummingbird House. Late Show host Stephen Colbert who lost his father and two brothers in a plane crash when he was ten years old talks of his incredible gratitude for the lessons it taught him and the fact it lead him to his career in comedy. Upon being diagnosed with terminal cancer in 2013, my dear friend Emma Betts flourished as a writer, activist, entrepreneur and motivational speaker.
Listen: Mia Freedman interviews Rebecca Sparrow on love, loss and empty arms. Post continues after audio.
Let me be clear: if I had a choice I would choose to have my daughter here. No question. I’ll take my daughter and learn these profound life lessons from the self-help section of the library, thank you very much. But life is life. You get the cards you are dealt. And it’s up to you how you’re going to play the hand in front of you.
The anniversary this week of my daughter’s birth is always hard because the focus is on her death. Our loss. But Georgie was so much more than her death. She was, and continues to be, a magician. A change-maker. A healer. A guide. My guide. She has turned the light up in my life, not down.
In her short life my little girl has changed me in ways no therapist or lotto win or self-help book ever could. When you survive the loss of a child you learn that inside you exists a warrior. I am stronger than I ever realised. I have greater empathy now and a better understanding of pain, which has made me a better friend, a better mother and a better writer.
I’m more open to life, more willing to try new things and more content because I’m grateful for even the smallest of joys in my day. And of course losing Georgie has given my life greater meaning. My experience has allowed me to help other grieving parents as well as to speak to students about resilience and the importance of friendships in getting you through life’s hardest moments.
What else? My daughter brought my dearest friend Mia into my life. It’s a friendship that felt fated.
My daughter Georgie placed me on a road that I would never have chosen, but one which has been paved with the richness of meaning and fulfillment. Because of her I am living the life I was meant to live. And despite my fractured heart, I can honestly tell you that I’m truly happy.
How lucky am I? Very.
Happy birthday, my beautiful girl. And thank you.
Rebecca Sparrow is the author of Ask Me Anything (heartfelt answers to 65 anonymous questions from teenage girls) and Find Your Tribe (and 9 other things I wish I'd known in high school). She co-hosts the award-winning health and happiness podcast The Well with Robin Bailey and #TeamGirls in 10 - a podcast specifically designed for mothers and daughters. Each year Bec talks to thousands of school students about friendship, resilience and giving back. She is a proud ambassador of Givit.org.au, The Pyjama Foundation and #TeamGirls.
You can follow her on Facebook.
READ MORE FROM REBECCA SPARROW:
Readings recommended by Rebecca Sparrow.