When Maria Celeste Frascella was born 39 years ago, the world received a precious gift. She died suddenly and unexpectedly on July 25, 2013.

Maria Celeste Frascella

Maria was born in South Bend, Ind., on May 25, 1974, the youngest of four daughters, born to William Frascella and Susan Frascella. She was raised in Santa Barbara, Calif., where she attended Monroe Elementary School, Santa Barbara Junior High School and Santa Barbara High School. She also attended St. Joseph’s High School in South Bend, Ind., for one year.

Maria lived her life believing that the happiness of others was essential to her own. She spread joy, passionately embraced her friends and family, and always accepted others with an open, nonjudgmental and generous heart. Maria was a messenger reminding us that life is a journey, to savor every moment and let the destination take care of itself.

Maria was a free spirit who led from the heart. Artistic, warmhearted and passionate about life, she loved to dance, sing and write poetry. Life to her was an adventure, and she embraced its twists and turns wholeheartedly. She loved to travel, particularly Central America, the Caribbean and Mexico, where she visited with family and friends. While still quite young, she moved to Yosemite to embark on a grand adventure and graduated from Mariposa County High School in Mariposa, Calif., while working at the Ahwahnee Hotel.

After attending Chico State, she decided to return home to her friends and family in Santa Barbara; she graduated from SBCC’s School of Cosmetology, was a licensed cosmetician and worked as a facialist at The Underground. Her ability to listen and empathize with another’s point of view served Maria well in her customer services positions at several companies in town, most notably at Magellan’s, where her enthusiasm, caring spirit and infectious smile never failed to win the day.

The last seven years of Maria’s life were challenging after she was diagnosed with MS and later epilepsy. Yet the obstacles she lived with did not dim her spirit. She refused to be defined by physical trials. In the last year of her life, Maria was a peer intern with Santa Barbara County Alcohol, Drug & Mental Health Services, where she brought her full self to bear in service of others. She worked at CARES South and also co-facilitated the Depression Support Group at the Santa Barbara Recovery Learning Community.

Maria will be missed forever by those who knew and loved her. Perhaps most important is what she can continue to teach us if we, her family, friends and the people she met along the way, have the courage to pay attention to her message: Love is powerful and life is meant to be lived.

Maria is survived by her mother, Susan Frascella of Santa Barbara; her father, William Frascella of Mishawaka, Ind.; and her three sisters, Kristin Frascella, Sarah Frascella and Nina Lafuente, all of Santa Barbara. She is also survived by her nieces and nephews, Arielle Lafuente, Diego Galindo and Lucia and Leonardo Vigna, as well as her lifelong friends Isis Castaneda and Stephanie Reich.

The family invites Maria’s many friends and acquaintances to a memorial service at 3 p.m. this Saturday, Aug. 3, at the Friendship Center, 89 Eucalyptus Lane in Montecito.