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 

Why you should get ready to die while you live -a book review

“The reason obituaries are so dull to read is that they are so dull to write and that’s precisely why I’m writing my own: To save my family the drudgery in an otherwise stressful time.”

Besides attending church on Sundays, I routinely read the local Sunday newspaper. I never miss the comics, Ask Amy advice column, restaurant reviews, and the obituaries. Sometimes I find an obit of someone I know or know of. But even if I don’t, I usually read one or two.

Sometimes the person’s life is so remarkable I’m surprised I’d never heard of them. Sometimes it’s so intriguing I wish I had known them. That is the case with a recent one, particularly because it was written by the deceased man himself.

I’m sharing this obituary with you with names deleted to protect privacy and some sections paraphrased. I think you will agree this is a man worth knowing.

David B.

“The reason obituaries are so dull to read is that they are so dull to write and that’s precisely why I’m writing my own: To save my family the drudgery in an otherwise stressful time. Following the standard format of obits I’ll start with I was born in 1948. I enjoyed being an only child until my two sisters came along. After that I learned to be an only child with two sisters.

I have to stop here and mention that when my kidneys failed in my forties, my youngest sister unselfishly agreed to transplant one of hers. When it came time much later for another transplant my older sister conveniently developed cancer rendering her ineligible. Fortunately our son jumped at the chance and eagerly agreed to step up for which I was profoundly grateful.”

After high school he “moved on to blast my way through a five year architectural degree in only seven years.” He co-founded an architectural firm which grew into one of the ten largest firms in the U.S. for several years.

“I’m kind of proud of that.”

Following retirement he served as Vice-President of the national board of the American Kidney Fund as well as President of the local chapter. He was President of the state chapter of an architects institute and served on the boards of local arts commissions.

“There is some other stuff but these are the highlights.”

He admitted that the best thing he did was marrying his wife.

“I loved her dearly. She was my lover, partner, confidant and best friend. If not for her, I would have been writing this many years earlier.”

Together they had two wonderful daughters. One is a physcian and the other “spends most of her time helping keep women out of prison”. About his son he pined , “He has yet to have any kids which is regrettable because the gene pool would be greatly improved by his contribution.”

“I guess all that’s left is to say goodbye to the many friends I’ve made over the last seven decades. I’ve kept up with some but lost track of many. Suffice to say that if I wasn’t dead, I’d miss them all.”

Not surprisingly, he requested that in lieu of flowers friends consider donations to two local non-profits-a soup kitchen/food bank and an organization that helps children of incarcerated parents.

assemble a "when I die" file
a screenshot from the book

How to prepare for the end

I suspect that David prepared for death in other ways besides writing his obituary. He probably wrote a will, arranged burial or cremation, and closed his social media accounts. He likely had a living will or health care proxy. He sounds like a man who navigated his life well and managed his death equally well.

Planning for death seems straight forward but there are numerous details that most of us will miss without help. That’s why I reviewed and recommend a book that walks us through the process.

The book consists of 5 sections that mimic the progression from life to illness to death. Even as a physician, I was surprised at the claim that only 10% to 20% of us will die without warning. The rest of us will know we have something that will likely take our life. And even if we don’t, we all know we will die eventually, although we tend to think and act as if it’s a well kept secret, and maybe it is. The sections are

  • PLANNING AHEAD
  • DEALING WITH ILLNESS
  • HELP ALONG THE WAY
  • WHEN DEATH IS CLOSE
  • AFTER
Hazards of caregiving

Chapter titles offer discussion about issues such as

  • Yes, There’s Paperwork.
  • Can I Afford to Die?
  • I’m Sick
  • Love, Sex, and Relationships
  • Hospital Hacks
  • Care for the Caregiver
  • It’s Your Body and Your Funeral
  • Grief
  • How to write a Eulogy and an Obituary
  • Celebrating a Life
REmember me-collections and keepsakes
I think David’s family has many precious memories of his life.

We should all read this book

As much as I hope you don’t need it right now, unfortunately you do need it right now. So whatever stage of living, or dying, you or a loved one may be in, you will find something helpful here.

Follow this book’s authors on Facebook

Find the book at your local library like I did, or get it from one of these book sellers; this would be a good book to keep on hand. (These affiliate links pay a commission to support this blog, while you pay nothing extra.)

Bestsellers at eBooks.com! Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org

exploring the HEART of life and death

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