The relationships that make lasting impacts our lives often begin as chance encounters with special individuals. For many people, meeting Maryah Tift was just that – a lucky run in with a person who gave every life she touched just a little more meaning.
— As told by Sean Barrett, close friend of Maryah’s and co-founder of Mugs for Maryah
I often laugh to myself when asked who my mentors are in life and I have to say, out loud, that my greatest mentor is a 16-year-old girl who taught me one of life’s most important lessons.
A chance encounter
As I mentioned before, important relationships often begin by chance – mine and Maryah’s was no different. Maryah was a student at the school my mom worked at, IHM-Saint Luke’s. She talked to me about Maryah – an inspiring young girl who had been fighting valiantly against cancer since she was in fourth grade. One day, I called my mom at work and she happened to be sitting with Maryah. My mom answered the phone whooping and celebrating, “She got in!” I had happened to call at the exact moment Maryah found out she would be attending Cretin-Derham Hall the next year. At the time, I was in a freshman/sophomore mentoring program at CDH so I had my mom give her my cell phone number. Just like that, I met one of the most important people in my life, through a happenstance, after-school phone call to my mom.
When Maryah first came to CDH, I could answer all her typical freshman questions, “Where is my science class? Who are the best teachers to have? When is lunch?” As the year went on, we became friends and I started to realize why my mom admired her so much. She had to deal with so much more than her peers. There were days when she felt so sick from her chemotherapy that she was nauseous – she still came to school. Days when she was embarrassed about losing her hair – she still came to school. Even stretches when she was in a wheelchair – she still came to school. She made it a point to make it to school with a smile on, as if her sickness nothing but a minor inconvenience. As we became closer friends, the questions became more difficult, “What if I never get to see the world? Will I make it to prom? What if people forget me?” These were questions I couldn’t answer on my own, so I turned to my community for help.
Chasing bucket lists: Football, prom and cross-country adventures
I didn’t know it at the time, but our entire CDH community was about to adopt a new perspective on life – all thanks to a brave young freshman. The CDH community immediately rallied around Maryah’s infectious, courageous personality. Her inspirational story and sheer will to Love everyday of her Life provided motivation for the entire school. Her spirit spread to the football team who won a State Championship while bearing her initials on our helmets. Every person that met Maryah or heard her story was challenged to make every day of their lives important. It changed our community at CDH and I think I speak on behalf of everyone in saying we will be forever grateful to her.
In return, the community began to answer Maryah’s difficult questions. “What if I never see the world?” was answered by Brother Michael Lee. Brother Michael had a close friend named Pat Sweeney who offered to fly Maryah to her dream destinations via private jet. Maryah was able to put her feet in the ocean off the coast of Santa Monica, to breathe in the crisp mountain air in Arizona, and splurge on a shopping spree down historic Rodeo Drive. Maryah was able to see the world.
“Will I make it to prom?” was a question I was able to help out with personally. In coordination with Megan Barrett and Maryah’s friends, I asked Maryah to prom. At the time, Maryah was in a wheelchair so she was taking an elevator to all of her classes. We decorated the elevator and put the question, “Who would you like to go to prom with?” above the buttons. On each of the buttons, there was a sticker of a different guy at CDH. Her next class happened to be in the basement so we put a picture of my face on the B button. When the doors opened, we surprised her with a giant “Prom?” sign. Her question was answered and I was honored to take my friend (and mentor) to prom.
Her final question, “What if people forget me?” continues to be answered each and every day. Maryah’s mom, Rachel Perez, taught her kindness and gave her wisdom well beyond her years. Her father, Zach Tift, taught her strength and courage. In turn, Maryah taught these lessons to all of us – her courage, her wisdom and most importantly her will to Love Life even when faced with her final days. By passing these traits to her family, friends and community, Maryah lives on through each of us, every day.
Fulfilling dreams: An impact that lives on
We were all lucky to have known Maryah Tift – whether it was meeting her in person or hearing her story. It’s important that not only her memory and her spirit live on, but also her lasting lessons to our community. One of Maryah’s final wishes was to have a children’s hospice built in Minnesota. I understand that this is a tough issue to talk about – losing a child is a terrible thought. Instead, I ask you to think about the families and the children with terminal illness’ that are seeking a comforting place to spend their final moments. There are currently only two children’s hospice facilities in the United States, which pales in comparison to other countries, such as the United Kingdom that boasts more than 50.
Maryah’s vision was to build a place where other children in her shoes could “just be” in their final days. She taught all of us so much, so I hope you can join us at a special event to keep her memory and vision alive. Mugs for Maryah will be held on Wednesday, June 5, 5-9 p.m. at Blackstack Brewing in St. Paul to support Crescent Cove and make Maryah’s dream a reality. ♥
— Sean Barrett, close friend of Maryah’s and co-founder of Mugs for Maryah