The Passing of Raffaela Lucarelli
A Tribute from her son Anthony Lucarelli
Raffaela Lucarelli left us on February 10, 2021. With Christ, she joins her beloved husband, Vincent (John) Lucarelli, who died four years ago on February 25, 2017. She is survived by daughters Rosanna Duda and Carmel Kisiday, and me.
Raffaela was born Raffaela DiPaolo on November 18, 1928. She is the child of Italian immigrants Vincent and Carmella DiPaolo. Vincent died when Raffaela was nine years old. She was then raised by a resourceful single mom in the shadow of the Carrie Furnace steel mill in Rankin Pa. Their modest home was an enterprise –growing food in the postage stamp back yard, making wine in the basement and generating income as a boarding house for new Italian immigrants transitioning from poverty in Italy to the promise of an American life. This was a promise realized by Carmella who’s five children ultimately ascended into a comfortable middle class.
Raffaela met Vincent Lucarelli at Valle Sangrina, an Italian Club in Rankin, PA. There on a June evening in 1948, their eyes met, they danced to Perry Como’s “Because”, and in June of 1949 they were married. Their life together was one of sometimes desperate needbut persistent optimism for the fruits of hard work, and ultimately a triumphant journey from near poverty and public housing to a comfortable retirement in Florida. Thanks to a simple life goal – “to raise you kids” – Rose, Carmel and I have done just fine.
Measured by that goal, Raffaela’s was a successful life. Reflecting on what made it so, I am visited by the memory of seminal moments in my understanding of my mom. I would relate them here, particularly one event that took place when mom was in her 30’s, but they do not translate for others. For her they were just every-day moments in a life of extraordinary wisdom, righteousness and decisive confidence in her convictions. She was an old soul in her 30’s. Had she been here before? By then some kind of strength and staunch independence had long been established and it enabled her to face the world with strength and clarity.
Her intelligence notwithstanding, college was for the boys in the family, so she married her true love and plied that intelligence and her ambitious optimism to building and sustaining our family. There were challenges and tragedies, growth and change. Despite occasions of public assistance and living pay to pay, we were neverwanting. Mom was in charge of management, and it played out with what must have been some rending choices for her. (I would relate one choice in particular, but it involves some who are still living, and I am not sure about the statute of limitations.) It all ended up in a mostly comfortable and joyful life. Mom was well-liked, except perhaps by those who could not endure her fearless honesty; she could hold up a mirror in which you might see more of yourself than you wished. She was fair, generous and compassionate but with eyes wide open. There were no taboos and very weak filters if any; these things are in the way of truth and understanding. God help the faint of heart in the presence of mom. She would talk openly about death and dying or tell you where to put your legs when having sex if you asked (which one of her sisters-in-law did). She was a mentor to her peers at all stages of her life – whether as a counselor to new moms in the suburban 60’s, or as an activist for better cooking at Culpepper Gardens in Arlington VA, the assisted living facility that was her home for most of the past 10 years. Although she taught us well, we children had to navigate the generational differences as all do. I am sure that road was harder for the daughters than for the son.
Raffaela possessed unflappable resilience, overcoming serious problems with grace and calm. Even recently as she lost her beloved husband and then her own independence to dementia, she embraced the much-deserved care with gratitude and love that was palpable to her caregivers.
Ultimately, I believe self-knowledge and a Christian faith were behind my mom’s purposeful, graceful life. But these things did not result in a simplistic, black and white view of the world. They somehow informed an underlying baseline of righteousness, with boundaries to be sure, but fluid ones that could adjust out of need or compassion in the moment. For our family, she was a rock amid shifting sands, giving love and heritage and guidance. We love her and will miss her, but she will always be close. She will be in our memories, our hearts, and in our kitchens - every day. We are grateful to mom for the life we have. As we approach the day when we join her, may we embrace her example and extend the legacy of a life so well lived.
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