Eleanor and Michael "Joe" Trotta at their Kings Park home....

Eleanor and Michael "Joe" Trotta at their Kings Park home. The couple died of health issues, Joe on Wednesday and Eleanor on Thursday.  Credit: Trotta family

When Michael Joseph "Joe" Trotta died Wednesday, his family decided not to tell Eleanor, his wife of 68 years, who was struggling with her own health problems. And yet she died the very next day, family members said.

"It's a two-edged sword," said Ken Trotta, a son of the Kings Park couple. "They're both gone and we have to deal with the grief. But on the positive side, they are together."

The couple had lived virtually all of their married life on Long Island, in Commack and later Kings Park, raising three boys in a time that many Islanders of a certain age recall as a golden era: Neighbors had long conversations over backyard fences, dads helped neighbors shovel out from snowstorms, and a couple could buy an affordable house, raise their kids in it, and sell it to fund their retirement, family members said.

Joe and Eleanor Trotta did all those things.

Joe Trotta was 89 when he died of dementia and bladder cancer at Hospice House in East Northport. Eleanor was 91 when she died of breast cancer and congestive heart failure Thursday at home, said her son Rob Trotta, of Fort Salonga.

The couple met at a military dance in Washington, D.C., in the early '50s. He was a sergeant in the Marines and she was secretary to the Secretary of the Navy, family members said.

They married in 1954, and their first child, Michael, was born the day Joe was discharged from the service, Ken and Rob said. Having an electronics background, Joe landed a job with the phone company on Long Island, working there 35 years and rising to a post in which he managed about 300 workers as a central office supervisor, said Rob, who serves on the Suffolk County Legislature.

"He had to wear these clip-on ties" because ties could get caught in machinery, Rob said. "For the rest of his life, he made fun of those clip-on ties."

The couple was married in 1954.

The couple was married in 1954. Credit: Trotta family

Eleanor worked at the Commack school district and then the former Kings Park Psychiatric Center, but she loved to joke about her years as a Navy secretary.

"She'd say, 'I knew the secrets. I knew where the boats were,' " Rob recalled.

The family's time on Long Island in the '60s and '70s was joyful, he said. Rob recalled his mother talking for hours to a neighbor over the fence they shared. She, being German, would pass the neighbor rhubarb cake, and the neighbor, being Italian, handed her freshly made pizza, he said.

Ken, who now lives in Vista, California, recalled family trips to the beaches of Long Island's South Shore. When Ken returned home after college, his parents charged him rent to teach him the value of a dollar, he said. After some months, when he went out in the world, his parents handed him an envelope filled with all that rent money, he said.

In their retirement years, Joe and Eleanor vacationed in Australia, Thailand and New Zealand. 

Joe was diagnosed with dementia four years ago, but he remained vital and jovial, becoming even friendlier, Ken and Rob said.

"The guy could beat me in an arm wrestle a week before his death," Rob said.

Eleanor had been in hospice at home in recent weeks. Before Joe went into the hospital some days ago, he kissed her goodbye three times. It felt like something more than a casual goodbye, his sons said.

In Eleanor's last moments, she was in a coma and seemed to be struggling against what the poet Dylan Thomas called "the dying of the light," her sons said. Rob said his wife, Wendy, leaned down and whispered to her, "It's OK, you can go now. It's time to let go." 

Their son, Matthew, 25, said to her, "You did a great job. I'm going to be a doctor," his father said. 

"In 10 seconds she stopped breathing," Rob said.

The couple was predeceased by son Michael 10 years ago. Survivors include five grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

Visiting hours will be 2 to 4 p.m. and 7 to 9 p.m. Monday at the Clayton Funeral Home in Kings Park. The couple's funeral will be private.

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