Things Worse Than Death


©Dior. All rights reserved.

Last week my friend, Norma Field, died. In many ways, she was the mother I always wanted. Even though I’ve made it a point not to view the deceased or attend visitations, moments before Norma’s funeral began, I was compelled to see her one last time. As I looked at her, I thought of something I’ve heard most of my life: Our bodies are just a shell. It is our soul that identifies who we are, not the body that houses it. While she would have laughed at the girlish, bubblegum pink lipstick they gave her, she looked more beautiful than I’d ever seen her. Perhaps that was because she looked at peace, but I was so aware that Norma was no longer there.

Gone were the oxygen tube and the heavy oxygen canister that kept her tethered to each breath. Gone was the emphysema and the cancer, the radiation treatments and the pneumonia that finally claimed her. I prefer to think the pneumonia rescued her and sent her on her way to be with her husband, Bill, who’d already gone before her.

Norma was always more interested in “you” than you were interested in yourself. I was always saying, “I’m fine, Norma. I want to hear about you,” and she would shoot right back, “Oh, honey…” She loved to visit and often talked faster than you’d think an 87-year-old woman on oxygen could. “I’m the same ornery person I was the last time we talked.” Not only did she want to hear what was going on in your life, she remembered every little thing you’d ever told her, and long after, would ask follow up questions that made you realize just how sharp she was. Because of my chemo-addled brain, I always told her I was the stereotypical 80-something-year-old who didn’t remember squat, while she was the younger of the two of us.

Norma savored her friends and delighted in life. She was wise and funny and always made me laugh. Because James and I live in the middle of nowhere, it takes me 45 minutes, one way, to get to the gym, and I usually go three times a week. That’s 4 1/2 hours every week I spend on the road, getting back and forth to the gym, and every week, I spent a lot of that time on the phone with Norma. Over the years, I’ve learned a lot from Norma. Since our early days at church, she was more than a mother figure to me. We were girlfriends, sharing stories, keeping one another’s confidences and boosting one another’s spirits in times of despair. I could tell her anything and did.

As I looked at Norma, yesterday, it hit me like never before: While our physical body dies, we are truly what resides inside us. Norma’s sparkle, her wit and her stories were now stored inside of me and everyone who loves her. We are one another’s archivists, storing and passing along each other’s legacies. Have you ever thought about what part of you others will carry with them after you’re gone? Will you be remembered as the person who collects things; who owns the most bling? Will you be remembered as the person who makes life all about you, who can’t bring yourself to share in the success of others? I know a couple of women like this, and the blind eye they turn toward others is sadly more telling about them.

There are things worse than death like suffering, abuse, selfishness, silence, not being loved and not knowing God. I hope I can take a page from Norma’s book of life and hold the people around me as dear as I hold myself. And about Norma’s bubblegum pink lipstick, I can hear her now: “Oh honey… You know that color makes me look about 14, desperately hoping some boy will ask me to dance.”