In 2015, Norma Bauerschmidt sat in a doctor’s office.
Her husband, Leo, had recently died. And Bauerschmidt, of Michigan, was now facing a medical issue of her own; doctors had discovered a large mass, according to a Facebook post. Her daughter-in-law, Ramie Liddle, said in a phone interview that the diagnosis was uterine cancer.
But as Bauerschmidt sat in the office, ostensibly to go over the possible course of treatment – surgery, chemotherapy, those kinds of procedures – she told the doctor that she would have none of it.
“They wanted to operate and everything right away,” she later told CBS News. “I said, ‘No! We’ll just leave it be.’ ”
Instead of seeking medical intervention, or choosing to spend her remaining days in a care facility, Bauerschmidt decided to travel with her son, Tim Bauerschmidt, and her daughter-in-law, Ramie Liddle (and their dog), crisscrossing the country in an RV. Their journey together has been chronicled on the Facebook page Driving Miss Norma, which has more than 453,000 likes.
Norma Bauerschmidt’s journey ended late last month, according to an update on the page. She died Sept. 30, at age 91.
“We’ve come around to the fact that this isn’t even a sad story, at all,” Liddle said. “There’s nothing sad about it. It is the most graceful way to land. It was a soft landing. She used up every last ounce of her little body, and lived till the last moment.”
Bauerschmidt managed to pack a lot into roughly a year on the road. At the one-year mark, the RV had traveled almost 13,000 miles, stopping in more than 30 states, according to an update on the Driving Miss Norma Facebook page. Bauerschmidt visited national parks. She got her first pedicure and went up in a hot-air balloon. She ate key lime pie and fried green tomatoes.
“Over these past 12 months, all of us have learned so much about living, caring, loving and embracing the present moment,” read a post in August, marking the year on the road. “No matter where we are, when asked where her favorite spot has been on this trip, Norma now says, ‘Right here!’ We have also learned so much about the human spirit and the beauty of people from all over the world.”
Bauerschmidt also rode a horse for the first time, Liddle said. She went to an NBA game. Yep, there are pictures. Then there was the moment that Liddle said she knew this arrangement would work – when Bauerschmidt posed with a Jolly Green Giant statue in Minnesota.
“She stood in front of this Jolly Green Giant with her hands on her hips, just like his pose was, and made the funniest face for this photo. And I had never seen her really smile before that. Ever,” Liddle said. “When you look back at our wedding pictures, and she was not smiling in our wedding pictures. She always said, ‘Oh, I don’t take a good picture’ and ‘Don’t take my photo’ and then she just turned into this kind of ham. And from that point on, I thought, ‘OK, if she’s up for that, then we’re going to have some fun.’ ”
It’s worth noting that according to the Driving Miss Norma page, the doctor who spoke with Bauerschmidt in 2015 wasn’t opposed to her plan.
“As doctors,” he said, according to the post, “we see what cancer treatment looks like every day: ICU, nursing homes, awful side effects. Honestly, there is no guarantee she will survive the initial surgery to remove the mass. You are doing exactly what I would want to do in this situation. Have a fantastic trip!”
The experience with Norma, Liddle said, has changed the way she looks at end-of-life care and preparations.
“We were the family that was afraid to have the conversation of ‘What do you want to do at the end of your life? What if one of you dies and the other one’s still here?’ ? she said. “We chickened out every opportunity that we had to have that conversation, we found ourselves driving away and going ‘OK, we made sure the house was safe, and they have lots of food there, and they have people looking after them.’ All those things. But we were always afraid to have that conversation.
“If there’s one thing that we hope people get out of this story, or are able to use this cute little old lady as kind of a portal into having those conversations with their own loved ones.”
Liddle said she remembered her mother-in-law as quiet and shy, with a bit of an adventurous spirit. She wasn’t the type of person who would have thrived in a nursing home environment, Liddle said. She was the type of person who could come up with one-liners every now and then and crack them up with her subtle humor. In a document before her death, Bauerschmidt had explained how she’d like to be remembered, Liddle said.
“She wrote in her beautiful handwriting that she was a nice person,” Liddle said. “And honestly, that’s who she is. She’s just this humble person. She cannot believe that the whole world is in love with her. That’s beyond her comprehension. For me, I would like her to be remembered as someone who said yes to living fully.”
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