Unexpected Resilience

In Permission to Thrive, author chronicles journey from post-traumatic stress to post-traumatic growth, and how her community and faith helped her heal

MILWAUKEE — When Susan Angel Miller’s eldest daughter Laura was just 14 years old the unthinkable happened.

One morning the normally healthy high school freshman woke up to a blinding headache.

Three days later she was dead from a malignant brain tumor.

“We were devastated. On Tuesday afternoon Laura was at school, and three days later she was gone. It didn’t make any sense,” Miller recalls.

Left to suddenly navigate a world without Laura, the Millers, who were still raising their two younger daughters, struggled with their grief and new-found, but unwanted identities as parents of a child who had died.

Then something unexpected happened. The family not only survived, they found a way to persevere, and eventually thrive: “In spite of experiencing a parent’s worst nightmare, we were doing OK, in fact, better than OK.”

In her book Permission to Thrive: My Journey from Grief to Growth, Miller chronicles her journey from post-traumatic stress to post-traumatic growth, illustrating the importance of faith and community, and acknowledging the unexpected and positive consequences that can sometimes spring from great loss.

“Discovering the prevalence of post-traumatic growth encouraged me to write a book about my experiences—to dispel the myth that humans are destined to crumble when faced with life’s inevitable adversities,” Miller said.

As part of her powerful story, Miller also shares how Laura’s life-giving act as an organ donor — and the relationship the Millers forged with her organ recipient — helped them to heal, and how the fortitude they found helped the family to weather Miller’s own eerily-similar health scare.

At one once a personal story about loss and life, Permission to Thrive is a book for anyone struggling with how to overcome trauma of their own and an empathetic guide to loved ones searching for how to help.

Permission to Thrive emphasizes the need when faced with hard times, to confront the pain, accept the community’s support, engage in authentic conversations with friends and family—and acknowledge and welcome any unexpected positive consequences and personal growth.

This book reveals the human ability to grieve, survive, and eventually thrive.

About the author:

Susan Angel Miller is a career volunteer who has held leadership positions at the National Council of Jewish Women–Milwaukee Section, the Harry & Rose Samson Family Jewish Community Center, and the Milwaukee Jewish Federation. She also works with other Milwaukee nonprofits such as HIPPY (Home Instruction for Parents of Preschool Youngsters), the Wisconsin Donor Network, and SODA (Student Organ Donation Advocates). She currently leads presentations on post-traumatic growth, grief and empathy building skills, and organ donation advocacy. With her family and the generosity of their community, she also raises funds to support brain cancer research and organ donation awareness.

Praise for Permission to Thrive …

“Susan has told a gripping tale of her family’s resilience in the face of tragedy that is vulnerable and honest. Anyone who has experienced loss will recognize themselves in the tumult of doubt cast by grief, from the mundane to the spiritual…”

Kelsey Crowe

Co-author of There Is No Good Card for This: What to Say and Do When Life Is Scary, Awful, and Unfair to People You Love

“Permission to Thrive provides a rare glimpse into the healing power of organ donation — from the perspectives of both the donor family and the recipient. This loving memoir will inspire anyone who believes in miracles and in the ability to create meaning out of tragedy.

Colleen McCarthy

Chief of Staff and Vice President of Organ & Tissue Donation, BloodCenter of Wisconsin