Only two days after her beloved husband of 67 years passed away, "Miss Norma" discovered she had uterine cancer. The chances of curing the disease through aggressive chemotherapy were slim, so the 90-year-old Michigan woman decided to skip treatment and hit the open road for one more epic adventure.
Last September, together with her son and daughter-in-law, Miss Norma — also known as Norma Bauerschmidt — packed up an RV and set out across America. As documented on the Facebook page "Driving Miss Norma," the trip included several national parks (Yellowstone, Rocky Mountains, Grand Canyon), laughs in Disney World, a hot air balloon ride, whale watching in Florida, the Kennedy Space Center, and plenty of quiet beautiful moments. But on Sept. 30, the year-long trip came to an end when Miss Norma passed away at age 91.
"We've come around to the fact that this isn't even a sad story, at all," her daughter-in-law, Ramie Liddle, told The Washington Post. "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."
According to Norma's family, reading the book "Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End" by Dr. Atul Gawande had a huge impact on their decision to embark on the adventure. In an interview with Spiegel, Gawande said his book has changed people's perceptions on end-of-life care –– and also raised a lot of questions for nursing home administrators forced to consider mental well-being as well as health.
"I think the important question is: Do we want to create a medical institution to keep the old safe, or do we want to create a home?" he said. "Why don't we allow people to have cats and dogs when we know it gives them a purpose in life? Because it's usually not a caregiver's job to walk the dog when the owner no longer can. But shouldn't that be exactly what a nursing home helps you do? Make sure you live a good life all the way to the end?"
Norma's family hopes her story encourages others to deeply consider their own end-of-life choices.
Before her death, Little said, Miss Norma wrote down how she'd like to be remembered. "She wrote in her beautiful handwriting, that she was a nice person," Liddle told The Washington Post. "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."
Editor's note: This story has been updated since it was originally published in March 2016.