Driving Miss Norma- why saying yes to life matters

When faced with death, Norma chose living. And in doing so, she and her family learned what really matters at the end. Through this book, they share what they learned with us.

a review of Driving Miss Norma

By Tim Bauerschmidt and Ramie Liddle

When I first reviewed this book the tag line was

One Family’s Journey Saying “Yes” to Living

the most recent edition now calls it

An Inspirational Story About What Really Matters at the End of Life

And it’s both of those. When faced with death, Norma chose living. And in doing so, she and her family learned what really matters at the end. Through this book, they share what they learned with us.

(This post contains affiliate links.)

I first learned about Norma Bauerschmidt on Facebook when a friend shared a video about her. She was a 90 year old woman who decided to spend the last months of her life “on the road” travelling with her son in a motorhome. She was diagnosed with cancer but decided to forgo treatment so she could enjoy her remaining time.

I didn’t learn more about her until I saw this book.  I decided to read it, expecting a feel good entertaining read. The story turned out to be far more complex than the little I knew.

Driving Miss Norma tells the story of Norma Bauerschmidt, a WWII WAVE veteran, wife, and mother. She was still in good health at 90 years of age, until she was diagnosed with cancer.

Her doctor recommended surgery to be followed by chemotherapy, and warned her the treatment and recovery would be long and difficult. She told him no, she would rather “hit the road” with her son and daughter-in-law and enjoy her life, seeing and doing things she had not had a chance to do before. And her doctor agreed, saying that is just what he would do.

Tim, her son, and Ramie, his wife, had already been living a nomadic life, travelling the country with their standard poodle Ringo in an Airstream travel  trailer they parked in campgrounds and  Walmart parking lots. They enjoyed travelling, seeing new places, meeting new people. They wondered how adding a 90 year old woman to their wandering lifestyle would work.

By the time they completed arrangements for Norma to join them, she was already frail, and as her illness progressed she needed even more attention and care. Tim and Ramie soon realized that this might be more difficult and complex than they imagined.

In the book, co-written by Tim and Ramie, they tell their stories also; the mid-life challenge of caring for aging parents, making end of life decisions and plans, and coping with parents’ death and  their subsequent grief. Having chosen not to have children, the role of caregivers was foreign to them, and one they had to painstakingly embrace and navigate.

By coincidence, Ramie had recently read the book Being Mortal  “a critical examination of end-of-life medical care.” Until then she had not thought much about the subject. But when she finished the book

“I knew my life had changed. The way I looked at the end of life had been flipped upside down and backward. I knew now it was time to have those tough conversations.”

(I reviewed this book at this link)

As they travelled, Ramie began writing about their adventures and posting on Facebook to close friends and family. She thought that other people might also be interested so she started a Page, Driving Miss Norma. They attracted a handful of followers initially, as she expected.

up close look at a hot air balloon
Norma went on her first and only hot air balloon ride (complimentary stock photo from Pixabay)

But after Norma’s story was reported on the Good News Network, followed by a CBS Evening News Story , the Page began adding  followers by the thousands.

The were alarmed, even fearful, of what they perceived as an intrusion on their privacy. Until now, they had deliberately avoided media in their isolated lifestyle. Then they began noticing how Norma’s story was resonating with people in a way they had not expected.

“We had suddenly and dramatically found ourselves in the middle of an international conversation about the meaning of life, illness, dying and love. We were learning on the fly how to open ourselves to holding so much raw emotion.”

Her story opened their lives to new people and situations they never imagined would happen. Rather than being a burden, Norma’s growing fame became the vehicle for them to grow closer to her, each other, and a whole new set of friends all over the country and the world.

“We had the support of people all over the world and that was breathing new energy into our days. Here were so many people pouring out their deepest fears, losses, and desires to us. They told us of their caregiving struggles. They shared with us their innermost desires- to make peace with their recently deceased father, to tell someone “I love you.”

Throughout the story Tim and Ramie share about the places Norma visited (see map), people she met, from the common to famous, the foods she tried, sometimes for the first time, and activities she tried, also many for the first time, like riding a horse. They and the new friends they made shared food, fun, love, and laughter.

map of the United States
Norma visited all the sites marked on this map

But they also touch on the serious issues we all deal with sooner or later- aging, frailty, complex illness, terminal illness, end of life decisions, palliative care, death, and grief. They learned some important lessons about human relationships which they illustrate beautifully in their transparent writing.

“We learned how to greet people with open minds and open hearts…the lines that separate people into different boxes-religion and politics and race and age-blurred and faded and eventually disappeared. We got to see the truth in people, including in Norma: her glow, her tenacity, her joy, and her confidence.”

Tim and Ramie wrote the book after Norma’s death. They each took turns writing different chapters, and Ramie took all the photographs that illustrate it. But in a way Norma herself wrote the book, since it was the way she faced the final months of her life that produced the lessons her family learned and share with us in this book.

Norma kept a journal during their travels and after she died Tim and Ramie, with close friends, read it, and were somewhat surprised at what she wrote. Or rather, what she didn’t write.

“She did not write about cancer or fame- the two big themes of the trip for us. She did not write about the fear of dying or illness at all. Instead, she talked about life, living, and the things that brought her happiness:a sturdy wheelchair, mama and baby goats, a good hair perm, and her trusty sidekick Ringo.”

I feel sad that Norma’s trip did not bring her though my town so I could have met her. But there will be “Normas” in my life that I will meet, and perhaps someday I will be a Norma myself. When that happens I hope I remember the lessons this book teaches.

“Joy begets joy, love begets love, peace begets peace.”

Continue to follow Norma’s family at the web site Driving Miss Norma

sharing the HEART of living well

I hope you enjoyed this look at Norma’s book and will share this post on the social sites you meet up with friends. Please check out some of my other book reviews. Links are in the menu on the side bar (may be below if on a phone or tablet).Or just search.

I appreciate all of you who follow this blog; there are numerous other blogs to choose from so I am honored you chose to spend some time here. A special welcome to all my new followers from this past month.

I would love for you to start following Watercress Words : use this form to get an email notification of new posts . Please find and follow me on Facebook, Pinterest and LinkedIn. Thanks so much.

                              Dr. Aletha 

Dr Jane Goodall’s Harvest for Hope- a review

Jane Goodall wants us to manage stress , not so much our own, but the stress of our planet, by producing, transporting, preparing, and eating our food in ways less harmful and wasteful to us and our planet.

For Beth,

Follow your dreams-and help us to make the world a better place for human and non-human beings.

Dr. Jane

I cannot verfy the author of the above note and signature, but since I found it on the title page of a book by Jane Goodall, I suspect it is authentic. I found the book , In the Shadow of Man, at a used book sale benefiting a local charity. I’ve wondered who Beth is. Did she need to discard possessions for a move, did she die, or did she just not realize what a treasure she was giving away? If she donated it for charity’s sake, offering it for auction or selling on eBay might have raised more support. I don’t think the two dollars I paid helped the charity much.

This was not my first almost-close encounter with Jane Goodall. When my son was in elementary school many years ago, she came to his school. She was in our city for a public event but this was arranged privately by one of the teachers. I believe she had some personal connection with the famous researcher such that Dr.Goodall agreed to a private visit, with no news media present.

In anticipation of her visit, the children were asked to write poems about Dr.Goodall. I don’t remember exactly how it came about, but my son’s poem was chosen to present to her as a gift. And he was chosen to go on stage and give it to her.

Dr. Jane Goodall with Dr. Aletha’s son at his elementary school.

This happened long before the days of cell phone cameras and social media; if it happened today, I and the rest of the world would have seen it minutes later. But thanks to a teacher with a camera, a few weeks later he came home with a photo of him shaking hands with the lady famous for hanging out with chimpanzies.

In the Shadow of Man-and chimpanzees

In 1960,26 year old Jane Goodall went to Tanzania to study chimpanzees. No one had studied chimps before, so little was known about their behavior in the wild. Biologically and genetically, chimps are closer to humans than any other animal, so scientists believed understanding their behavior could shed light on some aspects of human behavior.

Jane roamed the forests of the Gombe Stream Chimpanze Reserve in Tanzania watching the chimps first with binoculars then with direct observation at close range, even occasionally close enough to touch them. She was accompanied by her mother Vanne, and later joined by a photographer Hugo van Lawick . Working together with nature and animals as their common interest, they fell in love and married. Eventually she had a staff of research assistants and students involved in observation and reporting about the chimps and other animals.

Title page of the book I bought at a used book sale.

In this book, written 10 years later (and periodically updated; my copy was revised in 1988.) Dr. Goodall details her years of living among the chimps and her detailed observations and conclusions about their behavior. (For which she earned her doctorate degree.)

One of her observations was that “like humans, chimpanzees are omnivores, feeding on vegetables, insects, and meat.” Which brings me to a review of a more recent book by Dr. Goodall.

Harvest for Hope-A Guide to Mindful Eating

Jane Goodall is just as interested in people as she is chimpanzees. Despite the title, though, this book is not about dining while listening to soothing music by candlelight in order to relax and de-stress.

Jane Goodall wants us to manage stress , not so much our own, but the stress of our planet, by producing, transporting, preparing, and eating our food in ways less harmful and wasteful to us and our planet. She wants us to

Change one purchase, one meal, one bite at a time

Jane Goodall

Goodall reflected back on her life as a child in England , when her family’s food supply was limited by the shortages of a world war. Even in peacetime, they ate what was grown locally and seasonally, rather than food flown in from distant lands. Her nutrition ideas are not new or unique, but she helps us realize our food choices effect the environment as much as the environment effects our diet.

Dr. Goodall recommends buying locally grown, organic foods exclusively, and avoid GMO foods, imports, bottled water, and fast food. She advocates a meat free diet. She urges us to waste less. She believes we need to “take back food productions from large corporations.”  We will be healthier and so will our planet she believes.

Dr. Jane recommends humans avoid

  • GMO (genetically modified organism) foods
  • meat
  • imported food
  • bottled water
  • fast food
  • refined processed carbs
  • concentrated and synthetic sweeteners
  • commercial oils

Dr. Jane encourages us to

  • Take back food production from large corporations
  • Waste less.
  • Use a filter for drinking water
  • Eat organic locally grown food.
  • Eat fruits, vegetables, legumes
  • Use olive oil, herbs, seasonings

Follow this link to learn about Jane Goodall’s life and work today.

the Jane Goodall Institute

“Dr. Jane Goodall went into the jungles of Tanzania to study wild chimpanzees and share their stories. She left the jungle to become an activist – to protect those chimps and work with people to improve lives while opening minds and hearts. Now, she donates her time to the Jane Goodall Institute, traveling on average up to 300 days per year”

exploring the HEART of mindful eating

I appreciate all of you who follow this blog; there are numerous other blogs to choose from so I am honored you chose to spend some time here. A special welcome to all my new followers from this past month.

I would love for you to start following Watercress Words : use this form to get an email notification of new posts . Please find and follow me on Facebook, Pinterest and LinkedIn. Thanks so much.

                              Dr. Aletha 

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