Theresa La Fonte, left, and Shari La Fonte.

Theresa La Fonte, left, and Shari La Fonte. Credit: La Fonte Family

The bond between Theresa La Fonte and daughter-in-law Shari La Fonte was far stronger than any legal document.

Though their familial relationship ended in divorce, Theresa never stopped treating Shari like family. And when they both were admitted to the same rehabilitation center, it was a hardship that became a blessing in disguise.

With Theresa taking up residence at the facility after suffering a fall at home and Shari awaiting a double-lung transplant, the family could easily bring them together during visits to the Cold Spring Hills Center for Nursing & Rehabilitation in Woodbury.

Shari and Theresa died about eight weeks apart from complications of the coronavirus; Shari, of East Setauket, at the age of 59 on April 15, and Theresa, of Bayville, at the age of 82 on June 17.

“This past holiday, my mother was so excited to see Shari,” said Dean La Fonte of Oyster Bay Cove, who took on the role of caretaker to Shari as her health took a turn for the worse. “We wheeled them down together and we watched the holiday concert together. We were so blessed to be able to do that. And whenever we as a family would go see Shari, we would also go see mom. Looking back, it was a blessing.”

Dean and Shari were married in 1983 and had two children: Dina and Jerrod. The couple divorced. The siblings say their childhood wasn't easy, but as time moved on and the family matured, those contentious times gave way to a harmonious reunion of sorts.

“My mother worked two jobs, constantly,” said Jerrod, of Oyster Bay. “Was it the best? No. But did she do her best? Yes.

Shari La Fonte

Shari La Fonte Credit: La Fonte family

"There were times we didn’t talk and the reality is, for several years it was due to my selfishness and behaviors." he said. "But in the end, I got to be a son. I got to show up. I got a chance to become the son that I was probably meant to be for all those years."

“My mother was a ferocious fighter,” said Dina, of Brooklyn. “And that ferociousness got her through some tough times. I’m a single mother myself now and in hindsight, I have a new perspective of understanding her now.”

The La Fontes say the loss of Shari is especially painful because they were coming back together as a family.

“We were rising beyond all of that and coming together to salvage time,” Dina said. “It was beautiful and fulfilling.”

Theresa La Fonte and her granddaughter Dina.

Theresa La Fonte and her granddaughter Dina. Credit: La Fonte family

Theresa’s role as grandma — or “nanny,” as she was known — was that of a stabilizing force. Sunday at nanny’s was all about family dinner after a morning at church. As matriarch, Theresa had an open-door policy at her Bayville home. Friends were welcomed as family and everyone was expected to stay for dinner, have a drink or play a round of rummy. She doted on her grandkids, as well as her great-grandchild, Noah.

“My mother was filled with love, just a wealth of love,” said her daughter Tracie Castiglione, who took care of her mother in their Bayville home. “She was kind and warm and never turned anyone away. And she loved Shari.”

“For me, mom had a heart of gold,” Dean said. “We meant the world to her and she meant the world to us.”

Dean and Tracie’s brother, Joseph, remembers his mother for her unmatched kindness and generosity, along with being fiercely protective of her children and her amazing stuffed artichokes, which were always a treat during Sunday dinners.

“She was a giver. She never stopped giving. If you went to her house, you couldn’t leave without a meal or a bag of groceries,” said Joseph, of Purcellville, Virginia. “And when it came to her grandchildren, there’s nothing she wouldn’t do. She doted on them. As a family, maybe we didn’t always agree on everything, but at the end of the day we were very much a family because of my mom. She instilled values and tradition in us.”

Theresa La Fonte is survived by her children Dean La Fonte, Joseph Jr. and his wife Virginia La Fonte, and Tracie Castiglione and her husband Andy. She is also survived by her grandchildren Dina La Fonte, Jerrod La Fonte, Cassandra La Fonte, Cabrina La Fonte, Joseph III La Fonte, Gianna Castiglione, and her great-grandchild Noah Werde. 

Due to coronavirus restrictions, the family was not able to hold services for Shari. Services for Theresa were held June 22 in Bayville.

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