On Christmas morning when we all went through the presents under the tree, there was one thing that stood out every year. As we opened our presents and asked each other who gave the gift, the answer was very often “It’s from Sophie.” Sophie looooved giving gifts. She was one of those people who planned for holidays and birthdays far in advance and put so much thought into what gifts each person would like. In the summer of 2013 before Elsa left home for a gap year after high school, Sophie told her that she had thought of the best going-away present for her. She went to different stores around Chapel Hill and put together a T-shirt collection so that no matter where Elsa went, she would always take with her a little slice of home.
Sophie’s generosity and care for others, however, went far beyond just material gifts. A few weeks before Sophie died, Elsa wrote down a conversation they had at the hospital one night. Sophie said, “You need to do big things for both of us. If you think moving to Bogota, Colombia for a gap year is big, then you need to do even bigger things. You can’t sit in a cubicle pretending to do big things. When you are ninety years old, you should have lived a big life for both of us. I will be a part of it from heaven.”
We both promised her to do what she asked, and we would like for our friends and family to hold us to that promise throughout our lives. And you can think about making that promise as well. Sophie didn’t want to talk about herself or all the things that she wouldn’t get to do. She wanted to talk about us and what we were going to do with the rest of our lives, and make sure that we could look back with satisfaction and joy when we were ninety years old.
Many of you know that the Steiner family is always hiking up mountains. A few summers ago we were hiking over a pass in Switzerland, and as we climbed closer and closer to the ridge it got steeper and steeper to the point where it just got ridiculous. And Sophie freely pointed that out. The rest of us tried to reassure ourselves by saying, “Oh, it’s just a little further and we will have a great view at the top, and we can stop and have some of that chocolate with the little rice crispies in it. Come on, keep walking.” But Sophie’s honest and authentic nature didn’t allow her to pretend like this was fun at that moment. No. She was going, “This sucks and you all know it too but just aren’t saying anything.” At the same time, a part of her loved that our parents pushed us to climb mountains. In one of her blog posts she wrote, “Every mountain in Switzerland (OK, maybe not every single one) is climbable and you feel so dang good afterwards.”
We have picked out some other quotes from Sophie’s blog to help illustrate the authenticity that so many people found in our sister. This is from January 2, 2012, about a year before she got sick:
I love the school show because I am the only one dancing and no will know if I mess up, but in the dance shows that I am in, there are other people on stage and you can tell if someone has messed up. This is a little much. Every year, dancer’s roles get harder and more advanced. If you do drama and are on the stage, as you get older, the roles will get harder. There are always more expectations for you. Dance is really hard and as much as I love it, I have problems learning the moves the first time. I really don’t like disappointing myself and my teachers.
Sophie had an amazing ability to say just about anything that was on her mind, and she usually got away with it because she pulled it off in such a genuine way. Even more incredible was her ability to step back and use that same honest lens to look at herself and her own life, which you can really see through her blog posts.
By having such a generous spirit and being very authentic, Sophie was able to form the most unexpected and beautiful relationships. People were so drawn to her quirkiness. Not only did she have friends her own age, but she also had friends our age and our parents’ age and maybe even our grandparents’ age. When she was in the hospital not only her friends, but our close friends, would spend hours doing art projects and chatting with her, whether we were there or not.
Sophie’s ability to form amazing relationships with people was especially true with adults. Most children don’t ask adults about their day, or just sit and chat with them for a while. When one of Sophie’s doctors came into her room one day when she was very sick to ask if there was anything that he could do for her to make her feel better, she said, “You know, I don’t think you have told me enough about your fiancée.” He was so taken aback to be asked about himself instead of being asked for some pain medicine or some water.
Sophie also helped people see each other in a new light. When she met with her doctor, Dr. Davis, she always made a point to tell him which nurse was pregnant and which nurse had just had a baby and what his or her name was, and she also shared little stories with all the doctors that we hope allowed everyone on the pediatric oncology floor to see each other in a brighter light.
That light is Sophie. For the rest of our lives when we ask a friend about their day or find the perfect gift for someone or are honestly able to reflect on our own lives, that is Sophie acting through us. When each of us makes something out of our lives and does big meaningful things, that is Sophie’s legacy, and we will know that she is smiling.
Elsa and Annabel