Last night's event was at the Elks Lodge in Brigantine, NJ (just outside Atlantic City), but the actual event was a meeting of the Sons of Italy chapter in Brigantine. My uncle Pat, as well as my Aunt Rita and their son/my first cousin Joe, were and are strongly involved in both groups. I don't know how often it is that the two groups join forces like this. But, given the depth of the involvement that Uncle Pat, in particular, had with both groups, I can't say I'm surprised that they worked together last night in this event that honored him.
You know, I'd been aware for a long time that Uncle Pat did a tremendous amount of work for the community, and commanded a great deal of respect. But he was never the kind of person who sought personal fame or recognition for things he did.
So when my parents and Mark and I went to Brigantine to see Aunt Rita, as well as Joe and his wife Chris, the day after Uncle Pat passed away last year, and I saw that flags at every official site on the island were at half-mast, my first thought was that he must have REALLY gone out of his way to downplay the number of things he did, even moreso than I'd realized.
It turned out that Aunt Rita was at Joe and Chris's house, so we headed there. And we proceeded to partake in the planning of the funeral Mass, as well as receiving the condolences of multiple friends and acquaintances who'd heard the news and came to pay respects.
I met so many people that day, I couldn't possibly list them all. But when one of the callers was Congressman LoBiondo of NJ, I thought again how I'd never REALLY realized the depth of Uncle Pat's involvement in civic affairs. I'd always known, and could have recited back to anyone who asked, "Yes, my uncle does a lot of work for the community and is very involved in politics", but I hadn't ever *really* stopped to analyze what that meant. It just WAS, kind of like the sky just IS blue and water just IS wet.
The flags on Brigantine stayed at half-mast right through the day of the funeral. At which point, we had a police escort from Brigantine all the way to the cemetary in Mays Landing. I was able to raise my head up out of my own personal cloud of grief, just enough to understand that there was a VERY large group of people who were grieving Pat's loss in their own way, not as a family member, but as a friend and colleague.
So when I found out that the Sons of Italy lodge to which he'd belonged had decided to change its name in his honor, I wasn't surprised. There are times when people can't help but acknowledge the work that someone else has done, and they NEED to find a way to pay their respects. That, I think, is the sentiment that led them to change their charter last night.
Several people spoke, including my ccousin Joe (who is currently the president of the Sons of Italy chapter). He said that when the family had first been approached with the idea that the lodge wanted to take on Pat's name, they politely declined. He wasn't about getting individual notice, but about teamwork, and they didn't believe he'd have wanted to be singled out in this way. So of course, the person who'd proposed the idea brought it up at a meeting when Joe couldn't be on hand to preside, and the motion passed resoundingly. :o)
Congressman LoBiondo was on hand and spoke. The Mayor of Brigantine and the Exalted Ruler of the Elks also took the microphone briefly. They all made a point of emphasizing how much Pat had meant to them personally, how hard he'd worked, and how much he's missed.
Then they had the unveiling ceremony of the lodge's new banner. It was done very nicely -- the old banner was on display, and under it was the new one with the new name on it. The old banner was lifted up and folded back to reveal the new one, which was then on display for the rest of the night.
It was very nice. Then the Sons of Italy had its installation of new officers, including Joe for another two-year stint as President. his wife Chris as first VP, and my Aunt Rita as the chair of the Sunshine committee (VERY good choice, if you ask me).
They also had a catered dinner and dance afterward... The food was outstanding and I liked the music, too. It was bittersweet to know that the reason for all these things happening was that we'd lost Uncle Pat last year. On the other hand, it's gratifying to know how highly regarded he STILL is by so many people.
We had one other significant event in the family yesterday, unfortunately. I know I posted some months ago about my elderly cousin Connie, who'd been diagnosed with renal failure but refused dialysis, as is her right. She passed away yesterday morning. I'd been told on Monday that she was fading fast, and that the doctors had given her about four more days. They were right. :o( Funeral arrangements are still pending, but I hope there's something at night so we can go.
Sigh. It's not easy to reconcile with the fact that the people who have Always Been There throughout my life are not always going to CONTINUE to be there. :o( I hope they're looking down and smiling when they see us, as we keep on keeping on.