The first day I met Sophie, she bounded into Adam’s house and introduced herself with an enormous hug and then picked up a sack of quick-dry concrete and a wooden post to erect a hammock in the back garden. I was smitten.
The three years that followed have been the most intensely joyful of my life. Three years may not seem long in the context of an average lifespan, but they were filled with a lifetime’s worth of experiences.
I remember one sunset that we paddled out alongside Brighton Pier to float under the starling murmuration and then found it hilarious when they showered us both with a blitzkreig of poop. Or sleeping in a Balinese bamboo shack, mesmerised by the fireflies dancing above the rice paddies and then a day later pushing her into her first green waves.
It has been the greatest privilege of my life to have been with Sophie. She taught me how to be vulnerable and how to love — as she did — with every fibre of her being.
Sophie was a beautiful, radiant, bursting-at-the-seams-with-life human, with a mischievous grin and luminous presence which lit up any room. She instantly won over my friends and family with her witty ways and disarmingly charming Sophie Spooner mannerisms…
In Big Magic, a book that we listened to together last year, the poet Jack Gilbert is quoted as saying that “We must risk delight and have the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless furnace of this world.” I felt that Soph had a knack for risking delight in even the toughest of times.
On winter mornings when it was still dark outside, as I struggled to leave the warmth of our duvet, she would love to say “Be bold. Start cold” wearing just thin lycra and a determined grin to cycle the 13 miles to Worthing Hospital against a brutal headwind. In the evenings she would laugh or say ‘Oooopla’ as we walked barefoot and numb on the pebbled beach, splashing around together into the freezing Brighton seas.
We shared an intense curiosity for the natural world. She was happiest either in wide open green spaces or immersed the sea. The first time she went diving, our instructor said that she was the only person he’d seen who was so happy down there that she actually did underwater somersaults.
There was rarely a mundane moment. She always caught me off guard with her wonderfully spontaneous ideas. Whether it was last year, when we were showering together — or ‘saving water’ as she called it — and she casually asked me if I fancied getting married, as she handed me the mango-scented shower gel. Or a few weeks back, I couldn’t figure out what the loud noises coming from our living room might be. Only to discover that she had found what I later learned was an “electric band-sander” and was confidently coaxing a plank of discarded wood back to life. We soon had a beautiful pair of coffee tables.
Another one of these ideas came up at Lee Over Sands on the Essex coastline, we were floating down the tidal river in an inflatable kayak, calling out for our old friend ‘Sammy the Seal’. We approached a low wooden footbridge and she decided it would be fun to hide beneath the bridge and pretend to be trolls, whose mission it was to scare the living daylights out of any unsuspecting birdwatchers walking above.
Soph absolutely loved being around children, I think they reflected the sense of wonder and playfulness for the world which she felt so intensely. In the years to come, I look forward to picking up a photo album and telling Roo, Aoife, Doug and baby Ezra a few of the outrageous stories from their Auntie Sophie, who came alive whenever she spent time playing with them.
Alongside the more whimsical stories, some of my fondest memories are from the times we spent on long walks or clambering on rooftops gazing up at the night skies, pondering the questions that were on our minds.
One common question for Soph was how she might best use her time and talents to make a positive contribution in the world. This led her not only into the medical world, but also giving up our bed to homeless teenagers, volunteering for shark conservation projects and perhaps unknown to most of you here — wiping the bottom of Jean-Jacque Cousteau’s great-granddaughter.
Soph challenged me to take a more environmentally conscious approach to life — researching what actually happens to the local recycling collections, eating less meat and experimenting with ways to minimise our carbon footprints.
She also inspired those around her by constantly challenging her own boundaries. There aren’t many people I know who would be bold enough to fly to Canada on their own and then cycle and wild camp the 3,000km from Vancouver to Los Angeles.
Sophie endlessly put her gifts out into the world. A disproportionate number of her evenings were dedicated to crafting ever more creative cards containing drawings and nonsense messages, often these would be sent for no reason in particular.
Whatever struggles she was going through herself, she would endlessly go out of her way to be there for others. In fact, there are many people alive today who wouldn’t be if it wasn’t for Sophie. Not only those patients who she cared for as a junior doctor but friends who have shared how she was there for them during their darkest hours.
This was the common thread that wove the tapestry of her life — she made decisions based on what she believed would bring the greatest happiness to those that she loved.
A chemical imbalance in her brain led her to the tragically mistaken conclusion that to achieve this, she needed to take her own life.
We can’t bring her back.
But we can choose to honour her values and maybe find our own ways to live these questions out for ourselves.
I like to think that this would make her proud.
I wanted to close by sharing that her favourite watercolour print was called ‘Woven’ and it shows a luminous night sky, with waves of light pulsing from one of the stars. This makes me think of how when a star in our galaxy dies, it’s light is at first blinding but then continues to ripple out through the universe. And to my mind, Sophie’s death now feels like this exploding star — where her delight in the world is now being carried as light by each of us — ingrained as memories in our synapses — and it is up to us to ask how we might best ensure those ripples of joy continue to spill out into the cosmos.