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Out of tragedy comes a gift

By Staff | Feb 24, 2012

Mariya Tate Bernhardt was enthusiastic about everything. She was a very giving person.

From an early age she was interested in becoming a donor. When she finally reached one of life’s milestones, passing her driver’s test and getting her license, she made sure they put donor on her ID.

Mariya liked phrases such as “Dance like no one is watching”. She was one of those people who was there for her friends and family when needed.

“She tied on to phrases and lived them,” said her mother, Brenda Bernhardt. “She wrote little notes (to friends and family).”

Many who knew her said she had a beautiful smile.

“It lit up a room,” said her mom. “Her joy of life came out in her smile and her eyes.”

The light in her eyes lives on, but sadly, Mariya passed away in a tragic car accident on June 26, 2011. She was 19 years old. She was studying to be a dental hygienist and assistant so others could have beautiful smiles, too.

It is because her wishes were known by her parents, Tony and Brenda, and brother, Tanner, 15, that a decision was made less than 24 hours after she passed away.

In her passing, she gave a part of herself, her eyes. Because of her generous gift, two people have sight. Her tissue and bones have helped over 30 people, as well.

Her parents received the call from Life Source while Mariya was still at the hospital in Minot. They had just arrived home after saying goodbye to their daughter.

The people from Life Source were very professional and respectful. They asked some questions and then told Brenda and Tony that they would fly a team in to Minot from Minneapolis.

“I believe that they view the body as a person,” said Brenda. “They are very compassionate. We didn’t feel it was an invasion, it was a gift.”

One they knew their daughter wanted to give.

“The decision just flowed because we knew what her wishes were, we didn’t even think about it,” said Brenda.

Afterwards, the Bernhardts—-Brenda a former Lions Club member, received a medallion in honor of Mariya’s gift of sight. Sight projects are a mainstay of Lions Club International. The club also does other community service projects.

This past weekend (Feb. 18 & 19), the Bernhardt family chose to honor Mariya by sponsoring a table in her memory at the Rugby Lions Club “Tables Envisioned” fundraiser.

Brenda decorated a table with items of Mariya’s and designed hers from the viewpoint of the family table which is now missing a plate. Rather than using the obvious missing plate, Brenda chose to use items like a plaque with Mariya’s favorite words, a doll, nail polishes she had used getting ready for the prom and special dates. A teapot and tea cups with lemon drops held a special place as Mariya loved tea parties, especially with her mom and grandmas. She would say, “Shall we have a spot of tea?” When the tea was ready, Mariya would drop a lemon drop in each cup.

Her glasses and the Lions Club medallion were part of the display to shine a light both on the Lions Club Eye projects and on the Donor program. This one exhibit held many memories of Mariya growing up and had the powerful message of donating eyes so others might have sight.

The Bernhardts haven’t had contact with either of the persons who have Mariya’s eyes, as yet. Brenda has mixed feelings about it.

“I would love to feel the connection, but it is kind of scary, ” said Brenda. If the eyes, not just the corneas were used, she would be looking at Mariya’s eyes in another person.

“When you go through this (tragedy) you take a step back, slow down and spend time with your family and enjoy the simple joys of life,” said Brenda.

Now the Bernhardts want to take Mariya’s energy and pass it on.

“Life is for the living,” said Brenda, who has said the whole experience has been very hard on their family. “We have a strong Catholic faith, which Mariya shared, to help us through.”

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