Michelle Cruz Riester

On January 8th, 2022, Michelle Cruz Riester died peacefully at her home in Glen Ridge, NJ after a three-year battle with brain cancer. She was just 45 years old. She is remembered by her husband and best friend Zane, her amazing children Ian (13) and Ella (8) (who she adored), her loving mother Lourdes, and her generous and ever-supportive siblings Jose and Liza.
Michelle was born on November 14, 1976, in Weehawken, NJ. She was the youngest of the three Cruz children, and oddly was never given a middle name, something she resolved herself when she got married. That was emblematic of Michelle – she liked to resolve things on her own. She grew up in West New York, NJ, where she made the type of lifelong friends everyone wishes they had – she always had their back and they her’s. She was very close to her brother and sister and while she was the baby sister, she did not like to be babied and was never going to be ignored. She graduated from Saint Joseph of the Palisades High School in 1994 and then attended Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ, where she lived with her sister and graduated with a B.S. in Administration of Justice and Sociology in 1998.
Following college and with the goal of attending law school, Michelle went to work at Willkie Farr & Gallagher in New York, NY, as a Litigation Legal Assistant. It was at Willkie where she first met her future husband Zane Riester, who also came to work at Willkie as a Litigation Legal Assistant three months after Michelle. It was the office romance long before “The Office” romance. In 2001, she followed Zane and enrolled at Fordham University Law School, New York, NY, where she graduated with a Juris Doctorate in 2004.
In 2005 she went to work at Parisi & Gerlanc, P.A., in Hackensack, NJ. She would spend her entire legal career working there with Joyce Parisi, where she (and her great smile) would become a beloved member of the New Jersey’s Workers Compensation Bar. This smile and commitment to things she enjoyed was emblematic of Michelle. She stuck with things she relished, be it a job, a favorite jacket, a restaurant, a vacation spot (the 1000 Islands), or a lipstick color. But while Michelle was incredibly committed to certain things, she was never happy being stationary, always looking for an adventure, and that she found with Zane.
Michele and Zane were married at the Tribeca Rooftop in New York City on August 29, 2004. As many know, Michelle loved a good party and her wedding was one of the best ever (every detail planned by Michelle – she loved the details). The two honeymooned in Bora Bora and Tahiti and Michelle was always ready to hit the road, be it a day trip in Jersey, a long weekend in DC, or a two-week vacation in the South of France. In the years that followed Michelle’s wanderlust brought her to England, France, Spain, Italy, Portugal, Scotland, Morocco, Mexico, the Dominican Republic, Canada, Canary Islands, Jamaica, and Costa Rica. She was a natural explorer, enjoying that amazingly childlike feeling of newness that only exploration and travel can bring. It was a joy she passed on to her two amazing children – Ian and Ella.
In 2008, Michelle gave birth to her son Ian, who shares his mom’s love of reading and travel. In 2013, Michelle’s daughter Ella was born and it was immediately clear that Ella had Michelle’s moxie and determination. She made sure that both of her children shared her incredible love of life, travel, and the outdoors.
Michelle was an amazing mother, fantastic wife, terrific sister, super aunt, and a great friend to so many. Those who knew her, know that she was a little bit of everything and so very hard to summarize. She loved fine dining, but was also happy at a dive bar. She loved nature and the outdoors, but hated gardening and dirt. She didn’t love just one type of book, or movie, or food, she enjoyed everything that life offered. Her complexity was core to her character.
Over the last three years she battled one of the bleakest possible diagnoses – GBM brain cancer – with singularly epic composure and strength. She amazingly maintained her love of life and her smile throughout it all (the best smile!). It was truly heroic and her positivity and determination is something that never went away. Michelle did not like being told what to do, or that she should do something in moderation and that continued to the end. She did not let cancer define her or control her and she continued to live life to the fullest, still traveling, still exploring, still loving everything the world had to offer, still being the best mom. Her smile, laughter, and love of life will be missed by all.
Michelle’s funeral and memorial service will take place at Levandoski- Grillo Funeral Home on 44 Bay Ave, Bloomfield, NJ 07003. There was viewing on Friday & Saturday, with a Memorial Service. The burial followed at Rosedale Cemetery in Montclair, NJ. Condolences at www.levandoskigrillo.com
In lieu of flowers, please consider making a donation to fight something Michelle hated, cancer, or support something that Michelle loved, the 1000 Islands.
Links to two charities supporting these respective causes are below: (direct links located on tribute page)
● Brain and Spine Institute at the John Theurer Cancer Center https://www.hackensackmeridianhealth.org/en/donate
● 1000 Islands Land Trust – https://tilandtrust.org/