January 5th came and went. The anticipation that preceded the day was actually worse than the day itself. As we hung a dreamcatcher in her memory and watched footage from her memorial in New Hampshire, I wasn’t overwhelmed by the sadness I’d expected, but by a far more gentle feeling. In the days since then, that feeling has grown in substance, making it more tangible and definable. It’s love, yes. But it’s also something else… It’s pride.
As Facebook lit up with countless stories from countless of her friends, I kept thinking about what a good person my sister was. How she befriended everyone she met. How she could look past anyone’s weaknesses and find their gifts. How she was as genuine a person as you could ever hope to find. And how she had the biggest heart. As I read post after post, I was filled with an enormous sense of missing her and knowing that so many of us lost a wonderful friend. But the pride was there, stronger than the sorrow.
The pride also came when I reflected on her spontaneity. She may not have been the most financially responsible 23-year old, but she didn’t need to be. She lived simply. She didn’t get caught up in the materialistic culture of our society, and spent what little money she had on things that mattered… On music festivals where she danced and laughed uninhibitedly, surrounded by like-minded souls that loved her. On gas so she could visit her hometown friends, attend her nephew’s baptism or be a part of her family’s Christmas. On rent payments so that she could continue to live in Burlington, a place she loved and her spirit felt free. She invested her money in the same place she invested her time and energy… in living in the moment, chasing her passions, and developing meaningful relationships with people she met along the way.
I think sometimes people measure themselves against a very narrow definition of success, one based on diplomas, professions, and net worths. But if this year has proven anything, it’s that my sister leaves behind an incredible legacy all her own. And her successes are more commendable than any degree or career accolade. She lived life in the way that it is meant to be lived: vibrantly, uniquely, compassionately, spontaneously.
Not many people can be the person that everyone turns to for judgment-free love and support. She could. Not many people are brave enough to take their own path. She was. Not many people make such a lasting impression on the people they meet. She did.
Stephanie really and truly made a beautiful little life for herself. And she made so many lives more beautiful just by being a part of them. There is nothing else she could have done to make me more proud. Of all the emotions I’ve experienced over this awful year without her, this pride is one that I will embrace for the rest of my life.
I LOVE you, Stephanie. And I am incredibly, yell-it-on-top-of-a-mountain-so-it-echoes-across-eternity, PROUD of you.