Arts & Life
Canstar Community News
Editor’s note: In a series of articles last year, the Sun reported the story of Sophie Terasaki, a young Brandon girl who was diagnosed with osteosarcoma on Aug. 2, 2019. Our stories told readers of Sophie’s courageous battle with the disease, how she underwent groundbreaking surgery on her knee to remove a cancerous tumour, and how she endured rounds of chemotherapy. Sadly, Sophie’s battle ended this past week. At the request of her parents, we have agreed to reprint a celebration of Sophie’s life written by her mother, Jennifer Terasaki, that was originally posted to her stepfather’s Facebook page. — Matt Goerzen
Sophie Hitoe Terasaki was welcomed into the world on a snowy morning by her parents, Jennifer and Takahito Terasaki, at the Kantonsspital in Baden, Switzerland on Dec. 16, 2009. Her first name, "Sophie," means wisdom. Her middle name is her Japanese Gramma’s first name and it means, "humanity." These names were chosen as a blessing for her future and, as it turned out, they were the perfect choice. Sophie, in every way possible, grew up to be the wise humanitarian her parents wished she would be.
She was a happy, delightful and curious baby. She was always smiling and couldn’t wait to explore the world around her. While she was growing up, people always noticed how mature she was well beyond her years. She was always a pleasure.
Sophie and Jennifer moved back to Canada in the early spring of 2011 to be with her grandfather as he faced a terminal cancer diagnosis. Sophie’s dad, Takahito, remained in Europe and while her parents had ended their marriage, they remained friends over all of Sophie’s years. Sophie spoke with her dad through Skype a few times every week, and they maintained a close relationship even though they were an ocean apart. Takahito always made an annual visit to Canada and would stay with Jennifer and Sophie so he could enjoy every moment with her. He told Jennifer that the greatest lesson that Sophie taught him was "love," and it’s a lesson that he continues to treasure.
Sophie was born a traveller. Her very first flight was when she was three months old when she flew from Zurich to Paris with Jennifer, Takahito and her Japanese Gramma, Hitoe. Her early years were often spent boarding a plane to cross the ocean. There were countless flights between Switzerland and Canada and a big trip to Japan. Often, at the end of a flight, fellow passengers around her would be surprised that they had just spent a transatlantic flight with a baby nearby. She was always so content and quiet. She always rose to the occasion and made her mother so proud.
It was very important to Jennifer that Sophie maintained a close relationship with her father, her Japanese relatives, and maintained a strong connection to her Japanese heritage. This connection was so apparent with her love of Japanese food. She loved sushi, ramen, curry rice, and from the day she was born until her last meal, rice was her favourite. When we look back at photos of Sophie over her lifetime, there are countless pictures of her eating and savouring so many different kinds of food. She tried everything and in pure Japanese spirit, completely relished a good meal.
Growing up in Brandon, Manitoba, Sophie was surrounded by a loving family. She spent a great deal of time at her Gramma Bobbie’s and Papa Lee’s acreage by Douglas. It was there that she had her first experience baking and planting seeds in gramma’s garden. A little munchkin, one spring, Sophie randomly planted sunflower seeds all over her gramma’s garden and lawn. Later in the season, her gramma marveled at all the random sunflower plants popping up in awkward places all over the acreage. Sophie’s sunflowers peppered grammas property like little happy rays of sunshine.
She really did pepper our lives like a little ray of sunshine. For the last year of his life, her Grampa Dale enjoyed every moment he had with his granddaughter, and would swoop her up in his arms every chance he could. Ever indulgent, he made sure she was a fashionably dressed little girl and even snuck her first Oreo when her mother wasn’t looking. He was so happy to see the world through her eyes and when they were together, he was the best version of himself. After he passed away, her Gramma Cheryl continued to carry the torch for him, and was so happy to take Sophie shopping for clothes and to drop off new outfits for her all the time. Grampa Dale and Gramma Cheryl showered Sophie in outfits and love.
Sophie was so easy to love. Jennifer remembers clearly the moment when Sophie met her Aunty Sam for the very first time. Sophie was just a little baby at the time, and was sleeping in her crib at her Gramma Bobbie’s house. It was very late at night and Jennifer was waiting for her sister to arrive after a long drive from Lethbridge. The house was so still and quiet. As Sam quietly tiptoed into the house to meet her niece for the first time, Sophie suddenly stirred from her sleep and stood up in her crib with the biggest smile to greet her aunt. Sophie welcomed her Aunty Sam into her life as if they were old friends. There was an instant bond between the two of them, and it remained all through Sophie’s life.
Sophie attended preschool at 3-4-5 Nursery School at King George, and then went on to New Era for kindergarten. In the first grade, she began attending Alexander School. She loved her new school. She always had plenty of stories about her day at school, and her bus rides helmed by Norm, who she greatly adored. She was a quiet kid at school; always kind and made very close friends there. Because she tended to be quieter in public, something that most people might not know is that she developed a wicked sense of humour as she grew up. She was hilarious. She gravitated toward the quirky people she met and the oddball characters in stories and shows. She had a great love for the series "The Office," and the movies, "Napoleon Dynamite" and "Spaceballs."
Speaking of odd characters …
Bruce Bumstead became the final piece of her little family during her years at Alexander School. He easily fit into our little family of two, and we evolved into the "Triforce of Awesomeness," as Sophie called us. We formed a tight-knit family and built a home of love and joy. From day one, Bruce was a consistent and loving father to Sophie. Their relationship had always been very close, and she looked to him as a daughter would to her own father. They loved each other completely.
A life-long Scout, Bruce saw the very best qualities of a Scout in Sophie. She was at home in nature and ready for a challenge. When hiking, she always wanted to be in front so she could see first what was coming around the next bend in the trail. She naturally followed the Scout Law by being honest and trustworthy, kind and cheerful, considerate and clean, and always used her resources wisely. She was always prepared, and it was in her spirit to do a good turn daily and help others all the time. She gave gifts made by her own hands to the people she loved. She was always ready for an adventure and could be counted on to have her backpack ready with all the things she needed.
One of Bruce’s favourite memories of Sophie was when they were climbing the hoodoos in Dinosaur Provincial Park. The climb started off small, but Sophie quickly turned her eye to the biggest hill in the area. It was a challenging hill for anyone, but she saw it and was determined to get to the top. With courage and confidence, she tackled the hill. Bruce wasn’t sure if she could make it on her own and stayed close behind her. She never looked back, but she knew he was there. And, of course, she made it to the top. She was so proud of herself and when Bruce asked her how she felt about reaching the top of such a difficult climb, she simply said, "maybe we don’t tell mom about that."
Sophie always made Jennifer and Bruce proud. They always felt that she was an equally respected and contributing member of our little team. As she got older, her confidence grew as did her family. As Bruce’s parents and relatives in Ontario got to know her, they quickly realized that she was mature beyond her years and a pleasure to be around. Her Gramma Beth and Grampa Ted marvelled at her creativity and patience. They loved watching her paint and couldn’t believe how talented she was at painting beautiful landscapes. Gramma Beth loved nothing more than to sit with Sophie and sew together or quietly colour side by side.
One of Sophie’s favourite memories was taking the ferry from Tobermory across Georgian Bay with her Aunt Tracy and Uncle Ian. It was so exciting to drive into the giant ferry with our little blue and grey 1976 Ventura camper, which we lovingly named "Pinecone Dynamite!" She couldn’t wait to get out of our car resting in the belly of this great boat and climb up the myriad of stairs to reach the top deck. She felt the wind rush around her face and waved to her grandparents, Beth and Ted who watched from shore. Sophie never stopped waving until we moved with the ferry out of sight.
Little did we know, in the years that followed … that Sophie was slowly moving out of our sight as well. In the summer of 2019, in her ninth year, Sophie was diagnosed with osteosarcoma. A devastating cancer that is hard to beat. And this is the part where our wise humanitarian really shined …
Anyone who has followed Sophie’s journey this past year, knows that she faced her cancer with stoicism and courage. Even when her body was badly beaten, her spirit shone through with a light that only drew others toward it right until the end. She drew out so much kindness and love from our community, from strangers, and from the people she met along her cancer journey. As much as people gave her, she gave back with her own generosity, graciousness, courage and love.
Music had always been a large part of Sophie’s life. Whether in the house or in the car, there was always music playing in the background. Most family adventures were planned around music festivals and concerts. Sophie had so many favourite bands, but held JP Hoe in the highest regard as his Holiday Show was a big highlight of the year that fell right around her birthday. She was his biggest fan. Over this past year, as he reached out to us, we found him to be a lovely, thoughtful and generous person. Sophie never had a spirit animal, but she sure had her spirit musician in JP Hoe.
You could always hear Sophie singing all over the house and, much like her mother, Sophie knew the words to countless songs. In the midst of warm cuddles, Sophie and Jennifer would make up songs that would have them balled up in laughter and giggles. Her voice was sweet, and she was so clever making up lyrics on the spot. Even in their hardest of times, Jennifer and Sophie always sang and made up songs to brighten up even the darkest of places.
While undergoing chemo treatments, they wrote a song in tribute to their beloved waiter at Sophie’s favourite ramen shop in Winnipeg (Cho Ichi Ramen). She thought he was just the best because he always remembered her ramen order. When they sang their song to him, he was moved to tears by this random act of kindness from a very sick girl who loved the noodles he served.
Sophie showed us all that there is still goodness in the world, even when the world seems at its darkest.
We are grateful that she was sheltered from all the worst elements of humanity that seem to be surrounding us in these very dark times. We are grateful that she will never grow up to see the last honeybee’s wings falter and it fall from the sky forever. We are grateful that she will never see the last elephant lay its head down in the dust. We are grateful that she will never live in a time where our last polar bear takes a gasp of air before slipping beneath the water. We are grateful that she will not witness our glaciers melt and our forests burn.
We are grateful that she had over 10 years of a purely happy life, filled with so much joy and love and surrounded by so many who cared about her. She was and is the best of humanity. She was and is our light in the dark. She would’ve carried that light on if she had been given the chance. She would have saved our world in her own quiet and loving way. Sophie deserved the very best of us, as do all the kids in the world.
One of the last homework packages that Sophie was assigned, was "The One Word Project." She was to think of a word that would help her to set a positive tone for the upcoming year. She was to select a word that was unique to her as a person. When Jennifer asked Sophie what word she was thinking of choosing, Sophie did not hesitate and said she’d like to do her project on the word "grow." When Jennifer asked her why she picked that word, Sophie quickly responded "because I want to keep growing and learning." And she never stopped growing, until a few weeks later when her body finally shut down under the weight of her illness. She grew, learned and created every day of her life.
Grow. What a message for all of us. To learn and to evolve. To become greater than ourselves. To foster the growth of our own humanity, and to teach our children to tend to a world where we all can flourish.
We gave Sophie back to the universe in the early morning hours of Sept. 28, 2020. She passed away peacefully at home with Bruce and Jennifer at her side. Her 10 years on this planet were a shooting star … a rare, bright and beautiful soul to behold. She was … and she is … a light in the dark. A star in a joyful constellation.
If you feel inclined to make a donation in Sophie’s name, we ask that you consider donating to one of the following loving organizations:
Westman Dreams for Kids
The Terry Fox Foundation
Danny Michel’s Ocean Academy Fund
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