News and Tribune

July 10, 2013

MORRIS: Remembering the gift life has to offer

By CHRIS MORRIS
chris.morris@newsandtribune.com

Paul Kraft called me Sunday. That is not surprising. It was my Sunday to work and he usually calls after sending an obituary to make sure we received it.

But this call was a little different than most. He informed me that 47-year-old Mary Ann Prestigiacomo had died suddenly of apparent heart failure.

Kraft deals with death every day, but even he sounded a bit stunned by Mary Ann’s death. So was I.

Mary Ann was the New Albany city controller. She was a familiar face on the third floor of the City-County Building. But more importantly, she was the proud mother of two boys, and a loving wife, daughter and sister.

I had met her a couple of times over the past 16 months, but very rarely did our paths cross. I do not cover city government, but like Kraft, I was in disbelief when he broke the news to me Sunday.

I have been thinking about her death and those left behind since hearing the news. Tuesday morning, I ran into her mother Kay Garry on the third floor which in many ways prompted me to write this column.

I have always had a lot of respect for Kay and the job she did for the city as controller for many years. But watching her walk down the hallway, with a box of her daughter’s possessions, I couldn’t help but feel a bit numb. As always, she was pleasant as I expressed my sympathy. But I felt helpless. There was nothing I could do but offer my prayers for healing and comfort.

Sometimes it takes a tragedy or a kick in the gut to wake us all up. We are all guilty of getting caught up in this crazy world where we run around from store to store, worry about the fate of our favorite Hollywood couple or the latest reality television show. We can’t miss “Dancing With the Stars” or “America’s Got Talent.” For millions of us, that is what life is all about. We sort of all live in fantasy land.

Until we get a call like Mary Ann’s family and friends received Sunday.

The real reality that Kay and her family are dealing with is the death of a smart, loving, and beautiful young lady who was in the prime of her life. That is real life. And it can be so cruel sometimes.

Maybe since I recently turned 52, I have become more conscious of the curve balls life can throw at us at anytime. In the past few months I know of two women who have been stricken with breast cancer, both in their 30s. 

Four years ago, my family had to deal with unexpected tragedy. And like Mary Ann’s family, we were all stunned, heart broken and left asking “why?”

But through the grief and head shaking, we gain strength from those around us. We never forget our loss, and we never stop grieving, but life goes on — somehow, someway. That is the reality we all must face. Despite the tragedy of the unexpected or untimely loss, life goes on, whether we want it to or not. We all have a choice to make. We can go off and ignore those around us and become a hermit, or we can try and live each day like it is our last. We can better appreciate the loved ones in our lives and the blessings bestowed upon us. We can learn to see life as a gift that can never be taken for granted. 

Life is not about the next “American Idol.” It’s about making a difference. By all accounts Mary Ann did just that and touched many lives. She was loved and left her mark on both family and friends.  

Several of her friends have left comments on Facebook expressing their grief and disbelief. Their words say so much.

“Our hearts are so heavy and we can use all the prayers you can give,” one friend wrote. “May our God wrap his loving arms around her boys, husband, mother, brother, sister in law and nephew. RIP sweetie. We love you.”

Another wrote: “Only people who are capable of loving strongly can also suffer great sorrow, but this same necessity of loving serves to counteract their grief and heals them.”

That is so true. The lives of many changed Sunday by the sudden death of Mary Ann Prestigiacomo. But she would want all of her friends and family to march on, fight the good fight, and cherish her love and memory. Her sudden death should motivate us all to appreciate life and remember, there are no guarantees. That is reality.

— Chris Morris is an assistant editor at the News and Tribune. Reach him at 812-206-2155 or by email at chris.morris@newsandtribune.com