Last year, Samantha Sterenchock got her mother, Linda Snyder, a gift card to a spa for her birthday. Snyder has yet to use it.
“The (card) that she gave me, I’m going to have to give to the spa, and that was hers,” Snyder said Saturday. “She gave that card to me, and I would rather hold on to that card then do the spa treatments and give away the card. Because the card means more, because it was her.”
Saturday, Snyder, her husband Peter and dozens of Sterenchock’s friends – including many from the WATERFORDrama program – came together to remember the one-year anniversary of Sterenchock’s death after the . The event was held at McCook Point Park in East Lyme.
“Her faith is so strong,” Snyder said Saturday. “I know she is in heaven. And actually what she is doing is looking down and she’s going ‘Mom, this is so lame'.”
When asked why, Snyder said Sterenchock would feel uncomfortable having an event all about her.
“She didn’t like attention,” Snyder said. “She liked helping people, but she would do it in a way where she wouldn’t bring the attention to herself.”
At the event, dozens of people wrote cards and then attached them to helium balloons. Then at 1 p.m., on a beautiful, crisp autumn day, the balloons were released to heaven, for Sterenchock to read.
At around 8:30 a.m. on Oct. 20, 2011, Sterenchock was driving from a friend’s house to a home she was house-sitting via Route 11. But just five minutes from her destination, in Salem, she fell asleep behind the wheel, veered off the road and was killed in a car accident.
Sterenchock lived in Waterford, graduated with honors from Waterford High School in June of 2011 and was going to the University of Connecticut at Avery Point to become a special education teacher. She was survived by her mother, father, stepmother, stepfather and her sister, and was active in her church and the WATERFORDrama program.
At the “Angelversary” Saturday, dozens of friends and family filled the Niantic beach to remember their fallen friend. Many wore the WATERFORDrama shirt for the play “A Piece of my Heart,” a play Sterenchock performed in her senior year and the first play where she had a big part.
Friends of hers said most of all, they missed her smile, her kindness and her “spirited” attitude. They described her as talented, as smart and as empathetic.
“Sam was an incredible person,” WATERFORDrama Director Shane Valle said. “Warm and caring and I miss her smile, I miss her laugh. I miss pretty much everything about her. Not a day goes by that I don’t think about her. There is a picture of her right on my desk at the school.”
The group also said what a tumultuous last year it had been on the WATERFORDrama group. In April, just six months after Sterenchock’s death, 20-year-old Stirling Danskin – another active member of WATERFORDrama – passed as well.
“It is surreal,” said Karen Schlink, who graduated from Waterford High School, where she was an active member of WATERFORDrama. “(A year ago) today was the beginning of a really bad year. So it is nice we are all here together, and to remember better times, but it is unfortunate that we are here.”
For her family, the death has not been any easier to take. Snyder can still feel Sterenchock’s presence, still talks to her in heaven, and still sees an outfit Sterenchock would have liked in a store or goes through a holiday she used to celebrate with her daughter and “it is really hard.”
“I wasn’t supposed to be able to have kids,” Snyder said, as her first daughter was adopted. “So she was my miracle. But my miracle was only here for 18 years, so I haven’t had much time with her. Which is hard.”