The news hit with the subtlety of a sledge-hammer.
Karen Purcell passed away on Jan. 30. She left behind her husband, and three wonderful children.
Rhyme nor reason needn’t apply here. Karen was just 53.
She and her husband, Tim, have seen their fraternal twin daughters, Eileen and Jamie, excel in college, both as students and athletes, and most importantly, as responsible young adults.
The Purcells’ son, Michael, a sports encyclopedia, outstanding golfer and as nice a young man as they come, is in high school.
Karen and Tim never asked for accolades as they raised their children. They just did their job.
When Eileen and Jamie were ready to start high school, their parents had a tough decision to make. While the family resided in Nutley, there was a thought of sending both to Mount St. Dominic Academy, a private all-girls school in Caldwell.
Eileen was an up and coming star at shortstop, Jamie a stud catcher, when they started high school in the fall of 2008. Both were above-average students.
Eileen opted to attend Nutley High, Jamie decided MSDA would be the place for her.
Karen Purcell, a woman whose smile defined her exterior, and I would become friends while her daughters were in high school. As graduation neared for her girls in 2012, she took some time to reflect on what it was like to have them at different high schools.
(Left to Right) Karen Purcell, Jamie, Eileen and Tim Purcell following a Nutley at Mount St. Dominic Academy softball game in late May of 2012. It was Eileen’s final high school game after a marvelous career at shortstop at Nutley High School.
“Looking back, Tim and I couldn’t be happier with the way things went,” Karen told me on the day MSDA played Nutley in what would be Eileen’s final high school game, in late May of 2012.
“The Mount was the ideal spot for Jamie. She would have done well at Nutley, but the structure of a private school was better for her. Eileen? (Karen giggled). The Mount wouldn’t have been for her. Having them at different schools was a challenge, but it turned out great.”
With the girls at different schools and playing softball on usually the same day and time, Karen and Tim would alternate which game they’d attend. On the occasion when MSD and Nutley would play each other, the itinerary was easy.
In 2011, Nutley and Mount St. Dominic played for the Essex County championship at Ivy Hill Park in Newark. Nutley won, 3-0. Afterward, a noticeably emotional Tim reflected on watching his daughters play against each other.
To paraphrase, he hated it, because like any parent, he didn’t want to see a child be disappointed.
Jamie took it all in stride, saying it was “all good.”
Eileen would later say, “(Jamie and I) never talked too much about our teams during the season. When we beat Livingston in the county semi (to assure a berth in the final opposite Mount St. Dominic), Jamie and I didn’t even see each other that night, and we live in the same house. When we won, we talked about the game that night for a few minutes and then moved on. She’s my sister and that tops anything on the field.”
As they grew up in high school, Eileen and Jamie turned from shy to well-rounded young adults, with sparking personalities.
If it’s true that the apple never falls far from the tree, and thanks to some caring and attentive parenting, Karen and Tim’s children are doing well.
Karen Purcell was a loving wife and mother. She would stay close to her daughters, but wanted them to thrive on their own, as well. In the craziness of the high school softball circuit and the hundreds of games in the fall, summer and spring, Karen often knew the score when it came to coaches and college scouts, but she wanted her daughters to learn that process, as well.
After the twins graduated, Karen, Tim and I stayed friendly. Karen did some work at a prestigious country club in Union County and she and I had the chance to speak during an event at that club last year. Of course, most of the conversation revolved around how her kids were doing in college.
Karen and I had just met up about 10 days ago. She told me that Eileen was heading back to school (at Central Connecticut State) after the holiday break, while Jamie would be home a few more days before going back to The College of New Jersey. Both girls are juniors and playing softball on the collegiate level.
To try to comprehend Karen’s passing will be impossible. God has chosen to welcome her home, and there’s no questioning that.
Tim, Jamie, Eileen and Michael, along with a host of family and friends, will need to grieve in their own way. We can only hope that they will be buoyed by the support, love and friendship of those closest to them.
I will miss Karen’s very dry sense of humor, that sly smile and directness. You always knew where you stood with her, and for that, I’ll always be grateful.
Hours after her mother’s passing, Jamie took the time to write me after I had posted a remembrance of her mother. She wrote the following: “Thank you Mr. Lamberti for that post of us. It just brought the three of us too tears. Such great times. My mom and I were just talking about you two weeks ago and how great you were to us and her. And we are forever thankful!”
That says all you need to know about the quality of the Purcells.
Karen’s legacy will live on with her children, and somewhere, Karen is flashing that smile once again.
She did a good job.