Cherished daughter, adored sister, best friend forever, heroic angel. Born July 2, 2002, in Newmarket, Ont. Died April 18, 2013, in Toronto of leukemia, aged 10.
A person should not be defined by their disabilities but by their abilities and character.
Tamara Rose Bernstein proved this to be true, every day of her life. She accomplished more in her brief time than anyone would have thought possible for a little girl with Down syndrome. She was truly a special child.
Tamara was handed so many challenges right from birth, but she faced every one of them with bravery and determination to not only overcome, but to excel. She smashed through the perceived limitations of Down syndrome to accomplish everything she set out to do, with a little support and encouragement along the way.
One of two daughters of Warren and Lisa Bernstein, Tamara grew to become a hard-working student, artist, dancer, scientist, philosopher, entertainer, deal-maker, restaurant connoisseur, chef, skier, skater, DJ, songwriter, world traveller, therapist and nurse. Above all else, she was a believer and a lover of life.
Many of Tamara’s days were occupied with therapists, teachers and tutors who often remarked that she taught them just as much as they taught her. They became friends. Then they became fans. They raved about her abilities to learn and grow and inspire others to not be bound by perception.
Fun days were filled with friends at the park and on the swings in her backyard, making crafts at the kitchen table, strawberry picking and baking pies and brownies with Mommy, outings to the mall with Bubbie, walks, bike rides and reading stories with Daddy, dance contests with her big sister Rayna, holidays and celebrations with family, making sand castles on the beach and exploring aquariums in Florida and Vancouver. Tamara made friends everywhere she went. And there was always music and dancing.
At eight years old, Tamara was diagnosed with leukemia. Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children became our home and Tamara created an extended family of her nurses and doctors. She learned about her blood counts and to breathe and calm herself in preparation for endless tests, transfusions and rounds of chemotherapy. She taught her parents to take four breaths to relax. She sang to other scared children. She danced while connected to her IV pole. Tamara taught everyone that bright smiles and warm hugs are good medicine too.
In 2011, Tamara entered remission and got back to school and dance classes. In the summer she travelled to Israel for new medical treatments and returned to day camp. In the winter she learned to ski and skate. She travelled to Maui with the Starlight Children’s Foundation. She stole the show at her sister’s bat mitzvah performing Hebrew songs and leading the dancing. She went to sleepover camp at Camp Oochigeas in Muskoka for two whole weeks last summer and told her parents not to worry, be happy. She preached: “We need more love!”
Spring was just a few days away when we learned that the leukemia had returned. We were making preparations for Tamara to participate in a groundbreaking treatment trial in Philadelphia, but sadly, a serious infection set in and stole her life before she could go.
Tamara’s happy and loving spirit lit up those around her. The world is a better place because she was here and set an example for all of us by just being herself. Imagine what else this beautiful little girl could have accomplished if she were still here today.
Warren Bernstein is Tamara’s dad.
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