By Joe Barone – September 14, 2020
Carmela Cettina always stressed the importance of being together.
And how ironic, as we find ourselves in uncertain times where being together can only be achieved virtually through a Zoom call, FaceTime, or a drive-by celebration of horn honks and balloons.
Even after succumbing to her battle with pancreatic cancer in 1997, the devoted mother of four’s beliefs and traditions live on.
Call it a legacy.
Carmela, a Whitestone native, didn’t seem to mind the obstacles in the way of bringing the family together. She never pressured anyone. The door was always open. Delicious food to be eaten. Unforgettable hugs to be shared.
According to her family, Carmela epitomized kindness, love, and generosity.
And she certainly wasn’t going to allow pancreatic cancer to get in the way of seeing her youngest daughter walk down the aisle. Instead, the wedding offered a moment in which her legacy would be etched forever.
“When my sister got married in Jacksonville [in 1997], everybody was invited,” said her daughter and Team Dragonfly captain Annette Regan. “My mother had been diagnosed already and we knew this was the final ‘hurrah’ for her.”
“When the ceremony started [on the beach], there was this influx of hundreds of dragonflies,” Annette reminisced. “My mother said: ‘Oh, that is just so beautiful.’ She pointed it out. We all loved it.”
It was a Shangri-La moment—a magical, memorable moment that catches people by surprise and fills them with delight and joy.
Soon after the family matriarch passed on, the dragonflies appeared. They arrived on vacations, showed up on special occasions, and packed their bags on business trips.
When a dragonfly appeared, the family knew Mom was present. Team Dragonfly was born.
“Shortly after my mom passed away, I had entered into a local running race,” shared Fran Chandler, the youngest of Carmela’s daughters. “I was in the middle of it, feeling down and missing my mother. Just at that point, a dragonfly came by my side and hung out with me to lift my spirits.”
These dragonflies comfort and entertain. They provide chills and heart-fluttering memories.
“I do feel I see them often,” said her son Frank Cettina. “And when I do, I’m reminded of her and how lucky our family was to have her in our lives. They are my constant reminder to appreciate the moment we are in.”
In mythology, dragonflies symbolize wisdom, change, transformation, light, and adaptability in life. They show up in an individual’s life as a reminder to bring a lightness and joy to their day.
All of which describes Carmela to perfection; someone with wisdom, the ability to influence change and transformation, shed light into the darkest of life’s moments, and bring comfort when needed most.
“When I think of my mom, I remember her most as a person who was devoted to her family,” said Fran.
“She was the best mom, we spent so much time together,” Annette added. “Even after I got married. We spent every weekend with my parents [at their house in Center Moriches]. We’d eat all day on Sunday like the Italians do, and it was just the best.”
This October 4 marks the 20th anniversary of the Lustgarten Foundation’s inaugural Long Island Pancreatic Cancer Research Walk—and the 20th year Carmela’s family will walk to honor her memory. Unfortunately, due to COVID-19-related health and safety concerns, walkers in what is usually the Foundations largest event, will have to participate virtually. Rather than walking together at Jones Beach to celebrate the 20th anniversary milestone and to honor loved ones affected by pancreatic cancer, Team Dragonfly and the thousands of other walkers will walk unified in their commitment to cure pancreatic cancer—just as Carmela would want.
While the pandemic has forced families to cancel gatherings and to practice social distancing, it also has increased awareness of the importance of being with the ones we love and of going above and beyond to care for them. Of course, Team Dragonfly didn’t need to be quarantined to realize that—they already had a guardian angel who taught them how to soar.
Congratulations to Team Dragonfly for being the Lustgarten Foundation’s Legacy Team of 2020.
To register for the Long Island Virtual Pancreatic Cancer Research Walk, visit www.lustgarten.org/longislandwalk.