HALEDON — Alesandro LaRosa was the glue who held everything together.
After he and his family were dealt a tragic blow in the fall of 2020, he stepped up into a new capacity. He became the head of the household.
"That's why we were so proud of him," said Yolanda LaRosa, his cousin.
Then, the unthinkable happened on Jan. 8.
LaRosa, 31, died of COVID-19 complications and natural causes, including a history of breathing ailments, his cousin said. He was the father of a 9-year-old boy, Alesandro Jr., who lives in Franklin Lakes and attends High Mountain Road School.
He never fully recovered after catching the virus in November 2020, his cousin said. He had slipped into a coma at St. Joseph's University Medical Center in Paterson and woke up two months later, she said. "We thought we were going to lose him," she said, "but God gave us another year with him."
LaRosa's death comes less than two years since his parents, Tina and Corrado LaRosa, were killed in a car accident at the intersection of Belmont Avenue and John Street after leaving an engagement party at The Brownstone in Paterson.
"We're just asking people to pray for our family," said LaRosa, of Franklin Lakes. "We've been through so much. But it's up to God — if God wanted him, that's what happens."
LaRosa, who owns La Neve's Banquets on Belmont Avenue, described her cousin as "very humble" and "very likable."
Born in Paterson, Alesandro "Alex" LaRosa graduated from Manchester Regional High School in 2008. He was a youth football coach and had worked as a poker dealer until coming down with the virus.
Daniel Ordini, an ironworker from Nutley, was his best friend since childhood.
"Everything with him was always unconditional love," Ordini said. He added, "It's a very large void, and nothing can fill his shoes."
Ordini said he and his friend met in elementary school and that it did not take long to kindle an old-fashioned "bromance." They played Xbox almost every night, connected by the gaming system's online network. They also went to music festivals and sporting events together.
Ordini remembered the Electric Zoo concert at Randall's Island Park in New York City on Labor Day weekend in 2018.
Noting the aftermath of the family's first tragedy, Ordini said he was impressed — but not surprised — that his friend succeeded in taking on such great responsibility. "He was the father figure," he said. "He was the backbone of his family."
Ordini said his friend was a huge fan of the Las Vegas Raiders, which clinched a berth in the NFL playoffs on the day after he died. The team, formerly of Oakland, California, had not made it to the postseason in five years. The win was more miraculous because it happened in overtime — on a last-second field goal.
"That was definitely Alex on the last drive of the Raiders game," Ordini said.
LaRosa is survived by his brother, Carmen LaRosa, of Haledon, and his sister, Johanna LaRosa, of Paterson. He is also survived by his grandparents: Lorraine Gatto, of Sparta; and Iolanda and Sebastiano LaRosa, of Haledon.
The family will accept visitors from 2-4 p.m. and 7-9 p.m. on Monday at DeLuccia-Lozito Funeral Home, at 265 Belmont Ave. in Haledon.
A funeral service will be at 10 a.m. on Tuesday at Calvary Temple International, at 1111 Preakness Ave. in Wayne. Entombment will follow at Holy Sepulchre R.C. Cemetery & Mausoleum, at 52 Totowa Road in Totowa.
Philip DeVencentis is a local reporter for NorthJersey.com. For unlimited access to the most important news from your local community, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.
This article originally appeared on NorthJersey.com: Haledon NJ man, family's 'backbone,' dies of COVID-19 complications