Tom Sweitzer was just a boy when doctors told him his mother was dying. An only child, he struggled to cope with the impending loss.
Today, Sweitzer, a professional playwright and director, remembers how hospice care workers lifted his mother's spirits during her last days, while helping to bridge the emotional gaps the experience created between him and his father.
He's drawn from that mix of emotional trauma and redemptive hope to form the basis of his latest production, "Tootleloo."
The play “Tootleloo” is about a boy’s journey toward manhood as he copes with losing his dying mother and the fear of being left behind with his distant father. Scenes from a previous presentation include the boy and his mother.
It tells of a boy's journey toward manhood as he copes with losing his dying mother and the fear of being left behind with his distant father.
The family's life is forever changed when a hospice volunteer begins to visit their home. She brings support, love and most importantly, magic.
Presented by Home Nursing Agency's Foundation, the new musical drama is coming to the Halbritter Center for the Perform-ing Arts at Juniata College in Huntingdon at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 2 and to the Mishler Theatre in Altoona at 8 p.m. Oct. 3.
If you go
When and where: 7:30 p.m. Oct. 2 at the Halbritter Center for the Performing Arts, Juniata College, Huntingdon; and 8 p.m. Oct. 3 at the Mishler Theatre, Altoona.
Admission: Tickets are $10. For tickets in Huntingdon, call 643-5585; for tickets in Altoona, call the Mishler box office at 944-9434. Tickets also can be purchased at Kopp Drug locations in Huntingdon, Bellwood and Tyrone for the Huntingdon performance.
More information: Contact Tom Sweitzer via e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 540-905-2086.
''The musical drama is how do you say goodbye to someone you love,'' said Kim Kranz, said the Altoona agency's vice president of operations. ''We all, at one point in our lives, will experience the death of a friend or loved one. (The show) does take you through a journey, and it's also celebrating life.''
It was hospice nurse Connie Shatzer of Williamsburg who inspired the production, Sweitzer, 36, of Middleburg, Va., said.
'''Tootleloo' was created from my memory as a young boy in constant fear of losing my mother, and the powerful impact of Connie's support during my grieving process,'' Sweitzer said. ''Most of all, she allowed me to never say goodbye - hence, the name of the drama is 'Tootleloo.'''
Sweitzer learned of the agency's hospice services as a teenager in the early '90s, after his mother had been diagnosed with a terminal illness and sent home from the hospital, he said. She was given little time to live.
''She was sent home with congestive heart failure,'' he said. ''That's when the team from Home Nursing Agency started helping her with her physical care. Connie had a lot to do with keeping her spirits up.''
Today, Shatzer, 61, serves as a third-party payer specialist for the agency, approving hospice visits with insurance companies.
She was delighted, albeit a bit incredulous, to learn that Sweitzer cited her as the play's main inspiration.
''I was totally overwhelmed,'' she said.
''Whenever I heard that, I thought, 'These are things that hospice nurses in the agency do every day," she said. "I was just lucky enough to be taking care of the mom of a guy who would become famous. But I'm enjoying it.''
Shatzer said she tried to concentrate on the positive things during her time with Sweitzer's mother - things such as her ability to eat, read a book and sit up in a chair.
''That's what she wanted Tom to know - the positive things,'' she said. ''She didn't want him worrying about her, and coming home from school. She wanted him to stay in college.''
Sweitzer made Shatzer promise him that she would let him know when his mother was close to death, so he could be there in her final moments. It wouldn't happen that way.
''It happened too suddenly to notify him,'' she said. ''We told him right after she passed.''
Renowned media personality, Willard Scott, a personal friend of Sweitzer, is very passionate about hospice awareness and has become the spokesman for 'Tootleloo,' Sweitzer said. Scott introduces the play and gives a final monologue at the show's ending via audio recording.
The show includes a cast of eight and is 75 minutes long, he said. On the musical end, it includes one piano and one cello.
"Tom has written a beautiful play, and the music is lovely," said Anne Charlotte Robinson of Upperville, Va., who portrays the dying mother, Kathy. "I'm the mother of a 13-year-old and a 10-year-old, so I could really identify with my role ... I think people will find this show very moving."
Tutti Perricone of Middleburg, Va., plays Kathy's hospice nurse, Marilyn. She, too, could identify with her role.
"I lost my father about a year and a half ago," she said. "We had a hospice nurse take care of him, so I'm kind of taking inspiration from that."
Then there's the boy who's forced to grow up early - 12-year-old Teddy, played by Grant Salley, 12, also of Upperville. The Mishler and Halbritter shows will mark his introduction to full-fledged theatrical productions. He described the play as "very emotional."
"There's some parts, where if you don't understand what's happening, you won't get what's going on later," he said. "You really have to pay attention."
And there's a couple things he wants audiences to pay particular attention to.
"I hope people see that hospice workers do a lot to take care of a dying person," he said. "I also want them to see that the life of a 12-year-old is more complicated than most people take it for."
Proceeds from the show will benefit Home Nursing Agency's Hospice and Healing Patch, A Center for Loss and Hope for Grieving Children and Their Families. The Healing Patch is funded by the agency's Foundation and Highmark Healthy High Five.
Mirror Staff Writer Jimmy Mincin is at 946-7460.