Boundless love, generosity and an uncommon talent for unabashed comedy won nurse Lela C. Zappetti of Patchogue the hearts of her family, friends, patients and co-workers, as she joyfully shared the gifts she was given — the ones that really count.
"She just loved to be surrounded by loved ones … she wanted to continue relationships with everyone, family and friends; she was just one of those people that tried not to let loved ones fade away," said Mike Zappetti, of Patchogue, one Lela Zappetti's four sons.
Just one sliver of that warm embrace were the traditional Sunday "sauce" dinners, when there always were extra seats at the table.
"She would project her own confidence on everybody," said another son, Tony Zappetti, also of Patchogue. "She did her best to make us the best we could be."
Lela Zappetti died on Jan. 15 of COVID-19. She was 68.
Brooklyn-born and one of four siblings, she would go to have four sons. Zappetti also defied conventions, family said.
"She definitely didn’t abide by the gender roles in any way, shape or form," Tony Zappetti said. "She took the lead, even when my dad was around."
A North Babylon high school graduate, she married Tony Zappetti Sr., a quiet and private individual, in 1976, according to a family obituary describing their union as "an interesting and sometimes humorous relationship which lasted through the test of time."
He died in 2005.
After becoming a nurse, Zappetti worked night shifts while her husband, a postal worker, worked days. She later joined Suffolk BOCES as a teacher of medical assisting.
As people got out of New York City on Sept. 11, 2001, Zappetti went in to volunteer.
"She wanted to be there to help," Mike Zappetti said, just as she volunteered when wildfires blazed in Suffolk in the mid-1990s.
Starting out as a stand-up comic in her 50s, she was unafraid to be bawdy or turn the laughs on herself, telling a Fire Island crowd in Kismet that her wardrobe had migrated to vivid hues: "I know I look like 200 pounds of strawberry sherbet," she said, according to the Fire Island Sun.
To Lela Zappetti, a dialysis patient who had been a wheelchair user since 2009, comedy was both essential and healing.
"Studies have shown that belly laughs can produce the same cardiovascular benefits as rigorous exercising," she wrote in the National Kidney Foundation’s 2017 spring magazine. "Humor improves your mind, accelerates healing, lowers anxiety, and slows the aging process."
And she lived out that philosophy, setting up events at her Patchogue dialysis center and bringing meatball and spaghetti platters.
"She tried her best to bring a little laughter to people stuck on a machine for four hours a day," Mike Zappetti said. "She was one of the most caring people. She always wanted to make sure you were doing OK."
Lela C. Zappetti is also survived by sons Steve and Nick Zappetti, both of Patchogue, and one grandson, Milo.