STATEN ISLAND — As hundreds of mourners trickled out of Staten Island's Matthew Funeral Home, 20-year-old Joseph Filipowicz paused beside the first open casket, leaned his forehead into the white satin lining and silently begged his twin brother to stay with him.
"I called him at two o'clock," Joseph recalled in his Monday conversation with his brother. "I said, 'Why don't you just leave?' He said, 'I'm not leaving my father.'"
John Filipowicz Jr. and his father, retired corrections officer John Filipowicz Sr., died clinging to one another as the tide surged through their Fox Beach Avenue home during the worst storm in New York City's history. Their wake — the first for victims of the storm on hard-hit Staten Island — drew hundreds Saturday night.
"When I found them they were in an embrace," said John Sr.'s brother Neil Filipowicz. "It looked like my brother was trying to protect his kid."
The Filipowicz family tragedy elicited an outpouring of grief on Staten Island, which has born the brunt of the more than 40 casualties of Superstorm Sandy in New York City. Friends and strangers streamed in to pay their final respects to father and son, immutable sports fans who were laid to rest wearing their Jets jerseys. John Sr. wore Joe Klecko's #73, John Jr. Dustin Keller's #81.
"My brother-in-law was a longtime season ticket holder, and they loved the Jets," said the widow's brother Kevin Martin. "He coached his kids baseball teams, he coached basketball teams at St. Charles Church. He loved coaching kids."
Family members remembered John Jr., a student in his third year at the College of Staten Island, as a stellar athlete and a devoted son.
"He was happy-go-lucky — always make you laugh, always make you smile," Martin said. "Any death is a tragedy, but he had so much promise."
As Joseph turned to his father's casket, he said he was filled with admiration for the two men his family had lost.
"I was just thinking how great they were," he said. "I was thinking I wouldn't want them to die any way but hugging each other like they did."