In a recent piece, “A Family in Mourning,” Bill Hohlfeld describes a moving tribute to New York Building Trades members who died in 2011. It was held last Tuesday at New York City’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Speaking of the “extended family” that is the building trades industry, Hohlberg describes how members of the various trades stick together:
For that is what we are in the Building Trades, a large extended family. We may have our sibling rivalries and our “black sheep” and engage in much of the behavior that is so often attributed to what is commonly referred to as the “dysfunctional family.” In the final analysis we are very much like a family.
Part of what makes us that way is that we share a bond known only to those who work with their hands. We understand the cold and the heat and the rain in a way that men and women in other professions, no matter how noble, can never really understand. We know only too well the thought process involved in choosing between recovering from the flu and losing a day’s pay. And sadly, we also lose more of our profession to accident and death than people outside our world can ever possibly appreciate. In fact, according to Father Jordan, the celebrant of the Mass, we have the highest rate of children lost to parents of any industry in the United States. That is a bitter demographic to digest.
The mass that honored the 15 workers was described as both ceremonial and healing. The impact of mourning is never dimished, Hohlfeld explains, no matter how many years and work-related fatalities go by:
This is the fifth such Mass I have attended, and it is no less jolting to me to see the chairs on the altar occupied by empty hardhats. It is always painful to watch the family members come forward and receive the roses that are presented to them in recognition of their loss. All are stark symbols of the void that has been left in so many lives.
It is also difficult to sit in a pew in St. Patrick’s, looking at the stained glass, marble, stone, brass and oak, all of which has been crafted and set by hand, and not feel a part of the history and tradition that belongs to New York’s Building Trades. That sense of belonging grew even stronger for me when Local 46 member Frank Munoz came to the pulpit, not only as a Journeyman Lather, but Deacon of the Church as well, to read the Gospel. Yet, the reality of who and what we are hit home the hardest when I heard read out the name of the man who died in a tragic crane accident on this past April 3, Local 731 Laborer Michael Simermeyer. For though I had never met the young man personally, I had worked for his grandfather nearly 40 years ago. And, over the course of my career in Local 46, I have had the opportunity to meet many of his extended family.
Read the touching tribute HERE.