Posts tagged mom

For my mother….

"Mary Perfect"

Mary Parmel

My mother, Mary, passed away suddenly on August 22nd.  The following is the eulogy I gave at her funeral Mass that Saturday.  Many of my friends and relatives have asked for me to post this – for their support, for me and my mom – thank you all for being there.


Thank you all for coming today.  Thank you, Fr. Paul for your special words for Mom.  Thank you to Fr. Powers for graciously having us here again in St. Patrick’s – my mother and father’s second home.  Thank you to Sister Flora, my mom’s high school classmate, for helping put this Mass together.  Thank you to all our friends & family for being here and especially to everyone at the New York Center for Rehabilitation and Nursing, my mom’s home for the last three years.  Please forgive me if I miss a name or two as I go along.

Well, I have to tell you that I really believed that I would not be speaking at my mother’s funeral because the joke between us was she would outlive me!  But, I know that God has other plans – some fundraiser, Bazaar or CCD Program to run up in heaven.

My mother and I had a typical mother-daughter-fine-line relationship.  So there was always much sarcasm, much laughter, arguments, special times, issues avoided, and, most of all, love.

My mom was called by many names –


Mary Caldera

Mary Parmel


Mrs. Parmel

Miss Mary


Mary Carmela

Mary Baby



And she had many, shall we call them, idiosyncrasies.

She was organized.  My mom worked for Cohn, Hall, Marx in the textiles industry where she was a “Bill of Lading” clerk; keeping things in order was her strong suit.  From the Candy Table with Marie Marzigliano, to the Milk Money collection and distribution, to her beloved Library, my mother organized everything her way.  She kept meticulous records for all the fundraisers and programs she was in charge of and taught me to do the same.

My mother was relentless.  I always knew she would badger many if not all of you to “buy your tickets to the luncheon”, “get you chance books in”, etc. – Janet Adler will attest to this that my mom would put the fear of Mary (which was much stronger than that of God) in you that you would not get into the festivities if you weren’t paid up before.

Mom was a good sport.  She was teased by the best – my dad, Marty, George, and so many others – including me; being chased by Nino and a two-pound lobster, her campsite being invaded by Lella & Rae with a whole restaurant setup – she took all the teasing, although protesting.   She never admitted it but she loved the spotlight.  She was always ready to share a laugh and usually had a good one-liner back.

My mother was a good listener. When you could get my mom’s ear with a problem you had, she would listen for hours.  She would ask all the right questions, she would give you her opinion and usually leave you off with something like, “I know it’s not easy, but hang in!”

My mother was our own news source.  She always prided herself on watching the news, Court TV, “Meet the Press” and more, although someone, usually me or my father had to explain the nuances to her.  I am a Today Show baby to this day because she always made sure we watched together in the mornings when I was little; she worked at the Board of Elections for years and if she could have, she would have revamped the whole system way before last year’s election, singlehandedly!

My mother was loyal. She was the middle child who stayed at home; got married young to her high-school sweetheart, my dad, Ernie.  They helped my Aunt Flo when she was left widowed with Patrick and Debbie – my father & mother spending weekends to help around the house, play with the kids and being a shoulder for her sister.  She cared for my grandparents – all of them – never ever making a distinction between her own parents and her in-laws.  She wasn’t blessed to be a mother by birth, but she was, as she always said, “Blessed to have the best day of her life, when I held you in my arms” – the day she and my father made the trip to Angel Guardian to pick me up.  She was the contact with my father’s family in Gibraltar, though never meeting them because we were family.  She remained by my father’s side until he drew his last breath ten years ago.  She spoke to her brother-in-law, my Uncle Mort every day sharing their “isms” and more.  She spoke to her best friend, my aunt Mary D. every day.

Mary Parmel, the Librarian, was a weekly reminder to hundreds of children who came through St. Patrick’s school.  She started volunteering here when I entered first grade and left only after forty-three years and her health issues getting the best of her.  “Put your chair in”, “What are the Magic Words?” “Make sure to return the books the way you found them” were just some of the commands – which she also used at home.

My mother was possessive. She always introduced Rae as “her friend first” – and the ladies and men on staff at the NY Center were all “her favorites” who shared many lunches, trips and afternoons on the patio with her.  And that possessiveness made her your biggest advocate; she would do anything she could – right up to holding the hand of a friend on her floor in the nursing home, until last week when that friend passed.

My mother was a sweet and lovely lady.  So many of you have said that to me.  My retort was usually, “Thank you, but you don’t live with her”!  My mother, just like her sister and brother, could lay you out with a look – and thankfully, only a few of us know the dressing down she could dish out when she was mad.  She would never admit to her mean side; only to remind me that I had to “take it easy”, especially with her.  A deep breath in, a rolling of her eyes and a “Don’t tell Janie” were usually in the cards.

Every day of the last ten years, I have been blessed with my mother.  We became closer than ever; we talked about everything.  We did things we hadn’t before like a vacation in Maryland, trips to the Casino and family gatherings like our “Meatball Experience” at Colleen’s house so we could all learn her recipe.

It’s never easy to lose a parent, you simply figure that they will always be there.  I have to come to appreciate the support my mother always gave me; she may not have always said to directly to me but she was my biggest fan, my confidante, my partner-in-crime.  I will miss our thrice daily phone calls – I am so happy that the last time I saw her, when she said to me, “I love you Jane” as I had heard a billion times before, I said to her something my niece Michelle says every time, “Ma, I love you more!”

To use some Mary-isms, “This was expected but unexpected” – “I knew it was coming-ish”; but for all of us, as she would say, “I know it’s not easy, but hang in”…


Many of you have asked where you can donate in my mother’s memory – her home for the last three years, the NY Center for Rehabilitation and Nursing in Astoria and their recreation department gave her so many opportunities she never was able to do in her life; I know she would love to return the favor and pay it forward. Please note mom’s name if you chose to donate. 

NY Center for Rehabilitation & Nursing

2613  21st Street, Astoria, NY 11102

Attn: Alla / Recreation Department 

The Other Mother Theresa

I would venture to guess that almost everyone in the world knows of Saint Teresa of Calcutta, Mother Teresa. Although diminutive in size, Mother Teresa was a giant in stature. This past week has brought that same acknowledgement closer to home for my family and those we know as we celebrated the life of our own “Mother Theresa”, Theresa Russo.

I met our Mother Theresa in 1985 – introduced to as and called her “Mrs. Russo” until the day she passed. Over the course of 31 years, she went from being my friend’s mom to being my “other mother” and my friend. Even at the whopping 5 foot, 1 inch she originally stood at, she struck me upon our first meeting as a woman who was dutiful yet strong in her own right, someone who lived by a set of rules and raised a family with respect and gratitude. I was always afraid of not “doing the right thing” in her eyes and often worried if she was upset with something I may or may not have done, you know, like some of us are with our own parents.

Theresa Russo was born in 1928, the same year Walt Disney created Mickey Mouse. That was always our private joke – I would always comment on she and Mickey being the same age, referring to him as “her brother”. She would laugh and shake her head and we would always have a good chuckle about it. I always had a fascination with the stories people would tell of their lives, however mundane they may have thought those stories were, I found that people are always happiest when they regale in the stories that shaped them, good or bad. And if you remembered those stories, you tended to make a connection with them more quickly. So, I listened and learned.

Funny, that the “listen and learn” comment came in here as that was an expression often used by Theresa’s husband and members of his family. But the one thing I learned in spending over 31 years in Theresa’s company was just that – listening. As a very young child, Theresa became quite ill, so ill in fact, she almost didn’t survive. But survive she did and grew to possess a strength of will if not in body. She always smiled when she told her daughter Rachael and I about those childhood stories – going to the movies with eleven cents, ten for the price of the ticket and a penny for candy, at a time when “movies were movies”; coming home for lunch, having her mom serve lentils and her refusal to eat them, and her mother turning the bowl over on her head!

She always smiled broadly when she spoke of her father – how she and her sister would wait by the window, peering down the street to watch for their father’s return home so they could signal their mother to throw the pasta in the water, timing Sunday dinner to be perfectly placed on the table by the time he sat down. Her father who worked his own business many hours during the day but would meet his daughters by the train station to ensure their safe return home at night. Theresa’s mother, would always say that when she walked down the street with Theresa in the carriage, people would always remark on what a beautiful the baby was.

Over the course of her lifetime, Theresa married, raised four sons and a daughter, supporting her husband in his business ventures while keeping the home, as women of her era did. Having five children in six years, she quickly learned to appreciate the help and support her mother was able to give and she navigated all her responsibilities and charges in to an “organized chaos” – a home filled with activity and love.

In the thirty-one years I knew her, we shared stories, many meals, vacations and countless hours just talking. As she watched all of us become adults and begin our own lives, she settled in to the role of guide, mentor and friend. Laundry, house cleaning and how to save money when you shopped were in the fashion she explained. Our conversations always resulted in laughs and teasing about how her daughter, Rachael, would be “telling her what to do”, resulting in the two of us referring to her as “The Warden”. As the summer of 2016 wore on, Theresa became more and more ill. Although visits to various doctors became the norm for her, this was much more than ever before. After four stays at the hospital, my poor friend’s body could not take much more. We lost Theresa when God called her home, one day after her husband’s passing twenty-five years before and on the same day her mother passed at the age of 99 eight years earlier.

Rachael and I prayed with her the night before she passed (I know she was probably laughing as she always shook her head at my “fallen way Catholicism”). But it gave me a strange peace, a connection to the realization that she was truly my friend too, not just my friend’s parent. She welcomed me into her house and family from the time I was nineteen years old. She taught me a tremendous amount of things and always to be aware of people and the things they do and say. She was “old school” and traditional. She made up her mind about things and often wouldn’t be swayed in any other direction. She was strong in her family and in her faith. We celebrated her life this week, where twenty-five priests concelebrated the Mass of Resurrection for her at The Church of Saint Mark, fully decorated in Christmas splendor – her favorite holiday. As I stood with my family during the service, all I could think of was Theresa seeing all this and saying, “All this…. For me?”

Yes, indeed, Mrs. Russo, all of it was for you – you were so special to all of us!

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