“I love you, Mummy” Sarah said with a smile and a cuddle before she ran outside to play.
“Sarah, why are you wearing those old clothes?!” her Mum, Michelle, shouted as she saw the back of her black leggings, black skirt and red and white spotty t-shirt with a big blue bow.
“Because you know they are my favourites Mummy, please never throw them out! I love you!”
Michelle recalls this moment with tears as she pictures these very clothes, now sitting in a memory box, cut from when the paramedics tried to revive her daughter.
Michelle and Sarah’s story begins in November 2012. It was a warm and sunny day and Sarah had come home from school and immediately changed to go out and play in the garden.
“Sarah was such a happy, bubbly and caring little girl. She always changed out of her school clothes as soon as she came home from school and we would laugh as she placed her dirty socks in her school shoes each night”, Michelle says with a smile.
That day, Sarah hadn’t wanted to stay at after school care and had come home straight after school. Her Dad, Joe, was building her a billy cart out the front of the house and Michelle’s friend had come over for a catch up before dinner. Sarah had popped out to see her Dad’s progress.
Sarah loved the outdoors, especially her garden and sandpit and as she did every night, after excitedly looking at her Dad’s handy work, had gone for a play with her blue heeler, Bluey.
At around 5pm, Joe came into the house and Michelle asked him to go and check on Sarah who was playing in the garden. The next thing Michelle heard was shouting.
“The first thing I thought was, oh my god, Bluey is attacking Sarah, how can that be, they are best friends? But all I could hear was Joe screaming for Bluey to get away”, Said Michelle.
As Michelle ran into the garden, she realised Bluey wasn’t attacking Sarah.
Sarah had gone out to play on the swing set with a skipping rope and somehow, the rope had become wrapped around her neck. Joe was frantically trying to get to his daughter down, and as he was lowering Sarah to the ground, they realised she wasn’t breathing and started CPR.
“I ran away. I couldn’t look at my daughter blue on the ground. I ran to the front of the house screaming for help and a neighbour came out to see what was wrong. He was an off-duty paramedic and I remember screaming at him – please, please save my daughter.”
As the paramedics and police arrived, Michelle heard the soul destroying words “there’s no pulse” echoing down the garden. Her whole body went into shock and she stood and prayed for them to bring her only child back.
Her prayers were answered as a slight pulse was detected and they transported Sarah to hospital. The house was taped off as a crime scene – Joe had to stay at the house whilst police asked questions about what had happened.
As Michelle arrived at the hospital, she was taken into a room and told the news. Sarah had been without oxygen for too long and they didn’t think she would survive once taken off the life support machine.
When Joe arrived at the hospital, he and Michelle made the devastating decision to turn off the life support machine and watch as it made its last beeps, keeping their beautiful girl alive for the last time.
“I held her feet. That was the only thing that wasn’t attached to any tubes. I told her how much we loved her. I couldn’t imagine life without my girl. How was I going to survive?”, Michelle told us through tears.
At 9:30pm Michelle and Joe left the hospital without Sarah, their lives forever changed.
“For weeks after, I kept hoping the coroner would call and tell me they had made a mistake and that it wasn’t her. That they had got it wrong, my Sarah was still alive, and she was going to be coming home. It sounds irrational now, but I couldn’t get my head around the fact that she was gone.”
Michelle would play Sarah’s favourite songs by Nickelback on repeat – unusual for a little 7 year old but her Dad loved them too so her music taste was mostly his. She still pictures her little pink coffin covered in Tinkerbell stickers and recalls how numb those days, weeks and months were.
“I had no reason to get out of bed. I went from a size 14 to a size 6. I didn’t think I had anything to live for. Joe and I separated some years later and because our grieving was so different. I’ve felt very alone at times. My every day was about Sarah – now what was life going to be like? I had to find purpose again.”
Michelle did this by cultivating her love for the garden, like Sarah had, and spending time in the kitchen mastering slices and cakes.
Sarah would be 18 in February this year and Michelle plans to throw an 18th birthday party in her back garden.
“Sarah loved a back yard party and I plan on celebrating her 18th birthday in the way she would have loved, with family and friends close by.”
Michelle’s message to other parents is one said with so many tears.
“We expect that our homes are the safest places for our children. There are so many dangers in our gardens and surrounds, make sure you know where your children are and what they are playing with. We thought we had a safe play area.”
“Also, my message to every parent is you can never take enough photos. Just before Sarah died we had some beautiful photos taken for Christmas. I’m not sure why we had them taken in November! Now I’m so, so glad that we did. They are my most treasured possession.”
We acknowledge the Traditional Owners of country throughout Australia and recognise their continuing connection to land, waters and culture. We pay our respects to their Elders past, present and emerging.