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Norma and Leo Bauerschmidt had been married 67 years when Leo passed away. Two days later, Norma received a uterine cancer diagnosis. When her doctor asked the 101-pound, not-quite-5-foot-tall widow how she would like to proceed, her response was unexpected.
“I’m 90 years old, I’m hitting the road.”
Norma couldn’t bear to live at home without Leo. Nor could she stand the thought of going through arduous cancer treatments at her age. She wanted to take every day of the life that remained and live it to the fullest.
With her physician’s blessing, Miss Norma, as she became so endearingly known, climbed aboard an RV with her son, Tim, daughter-in-law, Ramie, and their dog, Ringo. The gang left Michigan in late August 2015.
Over the next year, they drove thousands of miles, took in hundreds of sights and touched countless people. Their Facebook page, Driving Miss Norma, has over half a million followers. The many friendships Norma made and the “firsts” she experienced inspired people around the globe.
On her first subway ride, a new friend held onto her wheelchair so that she wouldn’t roll away.
The subway ride was not her only first. She enjoyed her first pedicure (Norma told Tim, “I’ll do it if you’ll do it…”).
She also had her first whole lobster, her first horse ride, and first trips to cities and states she had only dreamed about visiting.
Miss Norma even experienced her very first zip line.
In August 2016, Norma’s health took a turn for the worse and she started hospice care in Friday Harbor, Washington. She died on September 30, 2016. Dozens of people gathered in Friday Harbor to celebrate her life. The moving memorial included a tree planting in her honor and a touching speech by the mayor.
The invitation to Norma’s memorial asked people to send flowers to people they love instead of to the service, to donate money to a charity of their choice, or to take their grandmothers out for lunch.
Ramie spoke at the memorial, explaining the significance of the family’s year on the road: “Had she passed away a year ago, she would have probably had an inch-and-a-half obituary in a small, tiny, 10-page newspaper in Northern Michigan.”
However, that was not to be Miss Norma’s story. She made every moment of her final year count.
“She embraced life and said ‘yes’ almost always,” Ramie said. “She said ‘yes’ to living fully.”
Learn more about Norma and her life in a book written by her son and daughter-in-law titled “Driving Miss Norma: One Family’s Journey Saying ‘Yes’ to Living.”