Sophomore was "one in a million"
When sophomore Sonika Ram traveled to Baja, Mexico with her church last summer, she spent a week helping to build a church and school for orphans. She came home "transformed," according to her father, Johnson Ram. "She said, ‘Those children have so little, but they have the broadest smiles,'" he recalls.
The children appreciated the hard work and goodwill she put into helping them. "One of the kids sent her a card saying, ‘It looks like you're an angel sent from God,'" Johnson Ram says.
Sonika, known as Soni to those close to her, passed away on Mar 13 after a struggle with leukemia. Now, friends and family try to keep her memory alive by remembering the selfless and spiritual way she lived her life. "She was one in a million," says sophomore Mary Burgess. "I have never seen [anyone] like her."
At Sonika's funeral, one of her youth pastors related an incident that had occurred the previous summer. Sonika had been working in his office, but refused to accept payment for her service. When he insisted she accept it, she donated the money to the church in order to fund the trip to Mexico.
Sonika was generous almost to a fault, says Burgess. "If you needed something and she had it, she'd give it to you. She'd argue with you if you tried to pay her back. She never took things from people," she says.
This generosity also manifested itself in her relationships with her friends. Sophomore Irene Le remembers Sonika for "her angelic spirit," which kept Sonika closely in tune with her friends' feelings. "She could tell when you were upset, even if you were hiding it, and she'd comfort you," she says.
Sonika's death was as tragic as it was unexpected. Although she had missed a few days of school, a flu bug had also been making its rounds through Blair, and her absence brought about little suspicion. She was diagnosed with leukemia on Mar 11 and passed away two days later, a Wednesday; none of her friends were aware of her death until the following Friday, when Principal Phillip Gainous made a school-wide announcement. Upon hearing the news, says Burgess, "I was in total disbelief. Nobody knew about it at all."
"Don't question God"
Sonika began to feel sick on Mar 4. Her main complaint was fatigue, which is a common symptom of the flu. Her family did not realize that anything was wrong until the ninth, and they decided to take her to the doctor the next day. Sonika, however, called her grandmother that night. "She told her, ‘Whatever the doctor says, Grandma, don't question God. Everything happens for a reason,'" her mother, Shyamala Ram, recalls.
Around 4:00 p.m. on Mar 11, the doctors at Children's Hospital diagnosed her with leukemia. Sonika took the news bravely. "She didn't show any sadness," says Shyamala Ram. "She told us, ‘That's okay. Don't worry, I'll fight it—don't cry.'"
On Mar 13, Sonika began to have trouble breathing. In the intensive care unit, the doctors sedated her and "began a procedure," explains Shyamala Ram, pausing before adding, "she didn't come out of it." Sonika Ram passed away in her sleep at around 10:30 that night.
Her parents were shocked. "It happened so suddenly," says Shyamala Ram. "It is so hard for us to digest. I'm always feeling like she's just gone away and will come back."
"She touched so many"
At her funeral, which was held at Sligo Adventist Church on Mar 16, the Rams began to heal. Over 2,000 people came to bid Sonika farewell, and many personally expressed their regrets to her parents. "So many people started coming out and saying, she did this for me, she touched my life this way. Everybody was like, ‘She was not a human being. She was an angel,'" remembers Shyamala Ram.
Sonika was a deeply religious person, and when her spirituality combined with her generous spirit and outgoing nature, she was able to help many. However, Sonika's parents had no idea of the extent to which this occurred until after her funeral, when letters began pouring in. A few written by Blair students read: "Dear Sonika: When my world is turning upside down, who will I go to now?" and "Soni: God didn't take you—He chose you."
Sonika's youth pastors visited Takoma Academy the Monday after her funeral, where they witnessed another display of her life's incredible effect on others. Since many of her middle school friends now attend the Academy, Sonika's pastors invited the students to a small chapel for counseling. Over 150 students came—more, the school's principal revealed, than he had ever seen in that chapel before.
And then there was one boy in particular whom Sonika had befriended. The boy, who was in one of Sonika's classes, was not doing as well as he could have. Sonika began to advise and comfort him, and they prayed together on the phone at night. At the funeral, the boy told Sonika's mother what her daughter had done for him.
After the service, a pastor asked the children in the audience if any were inspired to become Christians after learning about Sonika's life. Twenty-eight signed up for baptism and more than 50 adults "rededicated their lives" because of her example, according to Shyamala Ram. The Rams were later informed that the people in charge of the Mexican church and school's construction have planned to name part of the complex "Soni House" in Sonika's memory.
Sonika's parents believe that learning about the way she lived her life has helped to ease the blow of her death. "So many have been touched, so many have been uplifted, so many lives have been changed. One loss is so many rebirths—that is so comforting," says Shyamala Ram.
And, as many have told them, Sonika's time spent in this world, while short, was invaluable. "People have been telling us that she touched so many people and impacted so many lives; her job on earth was complete," says her mother. "It's not how long you lived or when you died, but what was the depth of your life."
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