Search This Blog

Friday, November 11, 2011

Life Interrupted

Tootsie in Alaska
Postscript:  Tootsie died about four weeks after this post.  In retrospect, the final scene I described below came true.  She was surrounded by loved ones that last week of her life, and while there were no verbal farewells, I think she knew we were there and died at peace.   

My sister-in-law Tootsie made a bad first impression some 15 years ago.  She hosted a meet and greet for the family to evaluate my suitability to marry her brother. She acted like an interrogator, I guess to determine if I was a gold-digger. (I preferred to think of myself as a trophy wife.)  My husband was furious at her and would have written her off.  I was amused at her chutzpah.

We became friends, mostly because I would listen to her stories (over and over and over).  Here's the short version of her legend.  One of 5 children growing up fatherless in the depression, life was a struggle but the family endured. She claims they were the writer's model for "The Brady Bunch."  (He grew up in their North Philly neighborhood.)

She rode on the shoulders of Jack Dempsey as a child. As a young woman, she worked at her husband’s business, a Ford dealership.  She met Jack Kennedy during his presidential campaign, Lee Iacocca when he was president of Ford, and Frankie Avalon, when he bought a car at her dealership. She had a private audience with Pope John XXIII.  She single-handedly managed a farm and owned a restaurant. She divorced her first husband, had a career as an office manager, and toured the world.  She lived unmarried but committed to a long-term companion. Her lover died 5 years ago, and since then, she has been a prisoner of grief, alive but not involved. 

On Sunday, three unanswered phone calls aroused my fears. I found her barely conscious on the floor of her condo. The good news is that she did not die alone; the bad news is that she did not die. A stroke has paralyzed her left side but her mind is sharp, she can talk, and she can swallow food.

Tootsie would have wanted her final story to feature loved ones gathered round her hospital bed whispering farewells as she walked into the next life. I wish it could be so.  We are headed into the twilight zone of long-term care.  She will not go gently.


  1. ah Chris, I don't know Tootsie, but the details you picked to tell her story make me feel like I do. I suspect, knowing her final story includes this final story will please her.

  2. I wish I had a photo to share. She is a beauty even at 82. It's funny that you mention putting her in the spotlight like this. She would love the attention. I could have written about so many other things this week but Tootsie occupies my mind so it seemed right. She has been one of the unique characters in my life. It's been sad to watch her spirit wane these past years.

  3. I'm sensing a protagonist for a novel :)

  4. I would love to know more about Tootsie and her rich history. I hope her journey winds down with the dignity she deserves.

  5. Chris, walking down the hallway at work yesterday, a colleague who heard about our blog from another colleague told me she'd read and loved this post. since she didn't post her comment, i'm posting it for her

  6. Chris, sorry for your loss of Tootsie and hope you family finds comfort in knowing she died surrounded by love