“The day she passed was so mixed,” Valastro tells PEOPLE in the latest issue, on newsstands now. “It was a mixture of sadness and relief because she wasn’t really living at the time. This disease is horrible and it takes a toll on you, and she wasn’t that firecracker she always was.”
“I don’t want to remember how she was during the last two years of her life, because that wasn’t her,” Valastro continues. “I’m sad that the mom I know isn’t here—but with the ALS, I’m glad that God took her. I’m relieved for her because it wasn’t fair.”
For more on Valastro, including a look inside his New Jersey home, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands now.
For the TLC star, it’s a stark contrast to the emotions he felt when his father passed away three weeks after being diagnosed with lung cancer when Valastro was just 17. “With my dad it was just so sudden,” he says. “I watched my mom cry for nine months straight—but she became the most outgoing, vibrant, independent woman. That’s why the ALS was so torturous.”
Valastro says that the death of his father also brought him closer to his mom. “We cried together and we bonded and for the rest of her life was never anything that we wouldn’t come to each other with. There was nothing that was off limits,” he says. “We just had such a great relationship.”
Now, he says, he believes his parents are together in heaven. “My mom went to church every Sunday, and whenever she would talk about death, she’d say, ‘I’m not afraid because I’m going to heaven; I’m going to be with God.’ And I really believe that’s where she is. She’s singing ‘I Will Survive’ and my dad is baking.”
The Gloria Gaynor song, which was his mom’s favorite, was particularly poignant when he was inducted in the New Jersey Hall of Fame during the same year as Gaynor, shortly after Mary’s death. “She sang the song and I was in the audience and I just really felt like my parents were with me,” he says. “You just couldn’t have picked better a better tribute.”