When Miss Norma was diagnosed with uterine cancer at the age of 90, she said: “I’m ninety years old, I’m hitting the road.” Driving Miss Norma chronicles her family’s cross-country journey, where they talked about home, love, and family. The story below can help shine the light on the increasingly-important subject of talking with loved ones about their end-of-life care wishes. The son of Norma and author of Driving Miss Norma, Tim Bauerschmidt, shares his family’s story below.
My wife, Ramie, and I had 15 opportunities to talk to my aging parents about their end-of-life wishes. That is the number of times she had joined me on my yearly pilgrimages to their rural Michigan home. We always went with the clear intention of having “the conversation”, but we never could bring ourselves to actually doing it.
That all changed in 2015 when we arrived at their home to find my 88-year-old dad, Leo, in a health crisis. He was soon hospitalized and died ten days later. While visiting him in the hospital, my 90-year-old mom, Norma, asked Ramie to take her downstairs for some tests scheduled because of some blood found in her urine.
The ultrasound revealed a large mass on her uterus, and we, of course, all feared the worst. Mom was insistent that she did not want any kind of medical intervention, no matter what the diagnosis would eventually be.
Knowing that we could not just leave her behind in a nursing home, Ramie and I did what many adult children of elderly parents do. We invited her to live with us. The only catch was that we were full-time RVers and did not have a brick-and-mortar house. We asked her anyway, and to our surprise, she agreed to come along.
Two days after my dad died, we were all assembled in a small examining room at the local ob-gyn doctor’s office. He told us what we pretty much knew already — Norma had endometrial cancer. He prescribed a treatment of surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation, and did not really offer any alternatives.
Mom stood from her wheelchair and rose to her full height of five feet and told the doctor, “I’m ninety years old. I’m hitting the road.”
Thus began the year-long adventure that would take us 13,000 miles through 32 states and 15 national parks. Along the way, we meet countless people from all walks of life who become fast friends and welcome us with kindness and open hearts. Many of these folks also become inspired to have “the conversation” with their own loved ones after seeing the peace it brought to our family.
For more information on Driving Miss Norma, visit this website.