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Epilogue | Debra Ann Tuohy

Even devastating loss could not defeat Debra Tuohy's nurturing spirit

The first to worry were her new online friends. Debra Ann Tuohy hadn't posted anything on Facebook in a couple of days.

Where were the translucent angels, the glowing sunsets, the kissing hippos? It had been days since she'd posted an inspirational quote or tried to cheer up a grieving mother.

Debra ... checking in ... I'm worried... hope you are okay, wrote a mother in Jacksonville who'd lost a 9-year-old to leukemia.

Most of them didn't know that Debra, 58, wore T-shirts of wolves or that she kept collections of animal figurines and driftwood from around the world at her home in Safety Harbor.

They were just trying to get through the day and had come to look forward to her uplifting posts, as many as a hundred of them a day.

You never know how strong you are, until being strong is the only choice you have.

Debra grew up with three sisters and a brother in the Crescent Heights area of St. Petersburg. Her father had been a stained glass artist for Boston's cathedrals before he moved his family to St. Petersburg for the warmth and became a Greyhound driver.

Debra was gangly, athletic and shy. She was in the National Honor Society at St. Petersburg High School. She played tennis, softball and rode a skateboard.

She went dirt biking at the Toytown dump with her future husband, Dan Teijido, an engineer who came into the lab she managed at Honeywell.

She had dogs, cats, fish, even a duck and an eel. She volunteered at two organizations that use horses to help children with autism and other disabilities. She joined People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, the Wildlife Conservation Society and groups to save the whales, the dolphins, the turtles.

She couldn't have children so she and Dan adopted a baby. Like her mother, Shayna was shy but studious. She loved karate and was a second-degree black belt. Shayna went to the University of Florida to study nursing.

Dan was Catholic, traditional. Debra's spiritual connection involved a belief that we are all connected in some fashion.

"She was Christian, but she had different ways of connecting with her maker," Dan said.

She believed in the healing power of crystals, which she brought on trips to Sedona, Ariz., England and Peru, where she would take pictures of the sun shining through them.

Debra and Dan divorced in 2008, but they often visited Shayna at college together to watch her row crew.

On Jan. 17, Shayna, 21, died of a pulmonary embolism. She was three weeks shy of graduating college. That night, Dan and Debra went to her apartment in Gainesville and laid in her bed, holding each other.

Debra went on a planned spiritual pilgrimage to Bolivia two weeks after Shayna's death. When she came back, Dan and her sisters noticed she was different.

She had come to believe Shayna died because she had done her work on Earth. She thought about her daughter's forgiving nature, how she volunteered at the Humane Society, how she loved working with the burn victims at the hospital the most.

"At that point, Debbie went to the airwaves," Dan said.

She joined grieving mother groups and began posting uplifting messages, photographs, videos. Debra sat at the computer for 12 to 14 hours a day, trying to cheer up strangers. She had long on-line chats with parents devastated by loss. Her friends list grew from about 100 to more than 700 in nine months.

She acknowledged in a private message to one grieving mother that it was her way of dealing with her own loss. "Because when I focus on the positive, it is impossible for me to focus on the negative," she said.

On Friday, Oct. 7, she went to see Dolphin Tale with her sisters, Linda and Susan. She wasn't feeling well though, so she begged out of dinner.

Days later, the people who followed her on Facebook contacted her ex-husband, Dan. He had found her in her bed Oct. 13. She died of heart disease.

On Friday, Debra's family gathered as a balloon with her ashes was released to the sky. The balloon was to float up 6 miles, where it would freeze and shatter, allowing Debra's ashes to float down to Earth.

Times reporter Leonora LaPeter Anton can be reached at lapeter@sptimes.com or 727-893-8640.

Debra Ann Tuohy

Born: Feb. 10, 1953

Died: Oct. 13, 2011

Survivors: her close friend and partner in life, Daniel Teijido; sisters Susan Gardner, and Linda Egolf; her brother, John Tuohy; and eight nephews and nieces.

.Biography

Debra Ann Tuohy

Born: Feb. 10, 1953

Died: Oct. 13, 2011

Survivors: her close friend and partner in life, Daniel Teijido; sisters Susan Gardner and Linda Egolf; brother, John Tuohy; and eight nephews and nieces.

Even devastating loss could not defeat Debra Tuohy's nurturing spirit 10/22/11 [Last modified: Saturday, October 22, 2011 9:07pm]
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