If a loving heart, kindness, an endless supply of compassion, and an enormous amount of courage were lifelines, Mary Ellen Pesci would have lived forever. Tragically, for those of us who knew her and loved her and for those who never got the chance to know her and love her, Mary Ellen died this past Tuesday. She was 55, way too young to be leaving this world.
I was only one of many whose eyes flooded with tears at the news that this angel of a human being had died.
Like me and far too many others, Mary Ellen lived with a brain injury. She got her injury as a result of being hit by a car. Much of her life was rooted in a tenacious devotion to others who live with brain injuries. Her message to us was simple, pure, powerful, and true: you still matter. You count. Your value has not been diminished by your brain injury.
Mary Ellen knew that one of the challenges people with brain injuries face is managing a life in which some people tend to perceive us as somehow being less than we were before, as if, because of our injuries, we don’t matter any more. Nothing could be less true and she knew it. Remarkably, and I do mean remarkably, she was able to drive this message home with patience and kindness, even when faced with the task of addressing people who talked about and to people with brain injuries as if they were just barely human beings.
She was on the board of both the Brain Injury Association of NY State and the Citizens Advisory Committee for the Town of Haverstraw. She was a consultant for the Traumatic Brain Injury Survivor Group and a facilitator a brain injury support group at Helen Hayes Hospital. On all fronts her compassion, bravery and devotion made its mark.
Mary Ellen Pesci was a woman that mattered, and for those of us who had the privilege of knowing her, she matters still.