Poster Child – but not for the reasons I would have wanted

By Emma Pearson

May 25, 2024

Main photo from family friend Pascaline (photo of Megs & Jubee, which P has stuck behind a piece of art made by and gifted by Julia, many years ago)

16 April 2023

It was Julia’s 19th birthday a couple of weeks ago. On 30th March.

Still her birthday. Even if she is not alive to enjoy it, to celebrate it, to live it, to breathe it.

Instead a “would have been 19” day. Still 15 though. Always 15.

I also had my version of “should have been” to that day. I had been invited by a favourite client to facilitate some work in Madrid on that day. Just on that day. I had wondered, “hmm – do I want to sign up for something “significant-to-me” on such a “significant-to-me” day? I really took my time thinking about it. Facilitating takes energy and focus. Presence and skill. I don’t do it in my sleep.

But I went for it. I chose to do it. I chose to have this piece of work in Madrid, and then take the opportunity of a rare business trip and flight to visit neighbouring Toledo in the days afterwards, and commemorate-celebrate Julia (and my) birthday(s) in that way.

In the end the work was cancelled-postponed in the days before (on my birthday).

No biggy, in the grand scheme of things.

No biggy, in terms of tectonic movements of the planet. Or even in terms of tectonic movements of my life.

But it did leave for a bit of a gaping hole in the week that wasn’t going to be simple to be with. I take time to grieve and be with the pain and gaping holes of my losses – but with Julia – I just can’t do it for big chunks of time.

I was rather dreading the whole experience.

I’d woken early that day, at the same moment (4 am) that I had woken the day she was born.

I couldn’t sleep anymore, so got up to write about it.

And it was a hard day. Very hard.

Of course it was. A date so full of memories. Overflowing with memories.

A day so full of meaning.
A “pregnant” date.

And suddenly empty – poof! – for so many reasons beyond anyone’s control.

But it was also a day full of poignancy.

Peppered with heartfelt, tender, sweet messages from friends. (* some of the messages are below)

Friends of Julia’s mostly. But some friends of my own too.

Messages so hard to read.

My skin hurting, crawling with fear and angst and anxiety. And Grief.

My body aching with the weight, the memories, the pain of it all.

Such sweet messages – remembering Julia. Of course remembering her.

And letting me know they were remembering her. And so, inevitably remembering me.

Telling me what the day felt like to them.

Missing missing missing Julia. And somehow keeping living.

Doing something to mark the day. To mark her life.

And to let me know.

I received some photos.

I received an invitation to speak live to one of her boarding school friends, now in the US. Which I did. Such a sparkly, vivacious, talented young woman. So “together”.

And I received what could only be called a love letter – to Julia, but also to me – from one of the young women she had met at the regional psychiatric centre.

These young women – for they are all women, the ones I hear from – doing well now. Even the ones who had been with her in the psychiatric unit.

Much better, now that they are pretty much through the crazy years that are adolescence.

On good terms with their mums and dads, if they are lucky enough to have them both.

For I know it is not a given.

Conscious that things are better now when they had been so much worse.

And to a greater or lesser extent, more or less explicitly crediting “what happened with Julia” for some of their healing. For some of their “in a good place now-ness”.


It’s hard. It’s good. It’s painful. It’s bittersweet. Always.

I wish my heart were bigger. More compassionate. More able to be 200% glad for them, for their mums, for their friends, for their families, for their lives.

For it does hurt me to know that these girls, these young women, are now all “okay”, when they also were not okay. Just a few years back.

Many of them also struggled. Struggled terribly.

Harmed themselves.

Were on medication.

Hated their parents.

Hated their teachers.

Hated their lives.

But now?

Out of the woods.

Or so it seems.

(And I know I don’t see the half of it).

Yes – I am envious. Tinged with jealousy. Pinched with pain.

Not resentment.

Not anger.

Just deep deep sadness.

My pride – and relief – in these young women – the success stories they are – is tinged with jealousy.

With bitterness.

With Grief.

Why not Julia too?

Why not Julia also alive? Studying? Learning? Loving? Being loved?

But instead, the impetus, the life-force behind so many other people, now living and loving better?

A poster child of sorts. If not for reasons that feel good.

Because it feels Awful.

Bloody Awful.

I wish she were here.


Not merely a poster child.

(*) Messages I received from some of Julia’s friends on her 19th birthday.

Hi Emma,

Hope you are doing well this morning. I’m sending you all my support and wishes today, thinking hard of you all and of our wonderful Julia. I miss her a lot ❤️

Lots of love

A xxxx

Coucou Emma ! How are you ? Paris is missing u but sending a massive massive hug today ❤️❤️❤️

hi emma, i hope yesterday wasn’t too emotionally overwhelming for you ❤️ i wanted to send you my love and just say that i celebrated julia’s 19th by going back out to the canals, buying yellow tulips and watching lady bird in the evening (a movie we went to see with you and my mom in geneva one night) — i really felt her yesterday, it was the one sunny day in a very rainy week. big big hugs to you and your family 💝💝💝

Plein de pensées pour toi, Benjamin, Megan, et bien sûr Julia 💕 ! Et Mike aussi, et Medjool!

Que cette journée d’anniversaire soit la plus douce possible.

Bonsoir à vous,

Je vous écris aujourd’hui, en ce jour si particulier, ce jour où vous avez mis au monde la plus belle personne que j’ai pu rencontrer.

En ce jour si particulier, ce jour où est née une étoile, un soleil.

L’amour immense que je porte à notre belle Julia ne cessera de grandir et d’émerveiller ma vie. Je la ferai vivre à travers chacune de mes experiences. Je crierai son nom encore et encore, dans tous les pays du monde. Je ferai voyager sa mémoire à travers le monde, et n’oublierai jamais de vivre pour deux. Son sourire sera gravé en moi à tout jamais, et jamais je n’arrêterai de faire vivre Julia. Son sourire, et ses yeux pétillants, ne quitteront jamais mon esprit 🫶

Merci à vous d’avoir mis au monde la plus belle personne que j’ai pu connaître. Merci à vous d’avoir mis au monde la personne la plus gentille qui m’ait été donnée de rencontrer.

Merci à vous d’avoir mis au monde une étoile !

Je pense fort à vous, à la douleur et au chagrin que vous devez supporter depuis si longtemps. Votre courage n’est que exemple pour nous, la femme forte, et si gentille que vous êtes, m’inspire chaque jour. Je vous souhaite tout le courage possible et tout le bonheur possible.
Sachez que nous serons là, et nous ferons vivre Julia avec nous à chaque instant.

Aussi je serai toujours là si vous avez besoin de quoi que ce soit.


Googley translated as:

Good evening to you,

I am writing to you today, on this very special day, this day when you gave birth to the most beautiful person I have ever met.

On this very special day, this day when a star, a sun was born.

The immense love I have for our beautiful Julia will continue to grow and sparkle in my life. I will bring her to life through each and every one of my experiences. I will shout her name again and again, in every country in the world. I will make her memory travel around the world, and will never forget to live for two. Her smile will be engraved in me forever, and I will never stop bringing Julia to life. Her smile, and her sparkling eyes, will never leave my mind 🫶

Thank you for giving birth to the most beautiful person I have ever known. Thank you for giving birth to the kindest person I have ever met.

Thank you for giving birth to a star!

I am thinking of you very much, of the pain and grief that you have had to endure for so long. Your courage is simply an example for us, the strong woman, and so kind that you are, inspires me every day. I wish you all possible courage and all possible happiness.

Know that we will be there, and we will make Julia live with us at all times.

Also I will always be there should you ever need anything from me.


Photo received from M the day of Julia’s birthday.

About Emma Pearson

1 thought on “Poster Child – but not for the reasons I would have wanted

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *