By Candace Ord Manroe
Photography by Fran Brennan
Four years after they bought their 1930s home in Houston's delightfully eclectic West University neighborhood, Mary Beth and John Arcidiacono planned a mega-remodeling to make the house more inviting and informal for them and their four children. The ink had barely dried on the plans when, in the summer of 1998, a car crash turned their world upside down.
The quadruple rollover took the life of their oldest son Johnny, 13, and severely injured the brain of their second son, Christopher, who was then 11. The two younger children, Joey, 9, and Allie, soon to turn 5, suffered only minor injuries. Priorities shifted. Decorating plans, suddenly a pinpoint in the big picture, were abandoned. "We actually had the plans in the car with us," says Mary Beth. "After the contents of the car were returned to us, we threw them in the trash." It was four years before the family was ready to confront the idea of remodeling again.
"Life split into two parts-before and after," explains Mary Beth, a gentle dynamo who has stared down every parent's worst nightmare-actually, two of them-and emerged with a sturdier spine, a larger heart, and a bottomless supply of purpose that has mended not only her own family but others in similar situations.
Dealing with Johnny's death is only part of it. When she was told Christopher would not survive the insult to his brain, she refused to believe; when doctors next said he would live but only in a vegetative state, she refused to believe; when the prognosis then changed to him never being able to walk or talk, she still refused to believe. But when Christopher graduated from high school in 2005, the same year as his peers, then completed his first year at a community college, Mary Beth was at his side-his biggest believer. She has resolve to spare.
She volunteers in grief counseling and brain-injury awareness, and for additional causes she holds close-not a huge surprise, considering her first job out of Southern Methodist University was to help stamp out hunger with Hands Across America and USA for Africa.