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December 01, 2018 Book Review

Driving Miss Norma

By Tim Bauerschmidt & Ramie Liddle

Book Review by David Godfrey, Senior Attorney, ABA Commission on Law & Aging
Book Review. Personal choice in the face of serious illness.

Book Review. Personal choice in the face of serious illness.

When Miss Norma was diagnosed with cancer at age 90, she chose to hit the road and live life to the fullest. At the time she was diagnosed, her husband was dying in the same hospital. Her doctors recommended aggressive treatment for her cancer, but she said no. Instead she chose to travel the country and see and do the things she’d always dreamed of. She traveled with her son and daughter-in-law in a motor home making a grand circle tour of the country.

Her daughter-in-law started posting on Facebook and writing a blog about driving Miss Norma to keep family and friends up to date on what was happening. Word of the blog spread, media interviews came along, and the story of Miss Norma, who chose to live life at the end of life, went viral.

The book is a well written narrative of the experience. The chapters are written by either her son or her daughter-in-law and is equal parts travel narrative, philosophy of life and a description of the journey through Miss Norma’s last year. The authors do an excellent job of describing the self-advocacy and family support that were necessary to make — and stick with — the decision not to seek aggressive treatment. They briefly describe the relief of health care providers when a terminally ill person and their family agree that no treatment is sometimes the best treatment option. Miss Norma’s family took extraordinary efforts to ensure that she knew what the options were and allowed her to make decisions, promising to honor her choices no matter how hard that might be. (They were practicing supported decision-making without knowing it.)

The book, and the family’s journey around the United States, follows the progress of Miss Norma’s illness, and the sometimes subtle, sometime dramatic changes in her ability to do things. Her final illness and death are treated in a tasteful manner. Miss Norma kept a journal through the process, after her death the authors read through the journal. The journal described people, places and experiences, without a single mention of her illness and changes in her health. She wrote about what was important to her — living life.

The choices Miss Norma and her family made were right for her, but they may not be right for everyone. Anyone who wants to do what she did can find inspiration in this book for taking charge and living life to the fullest at the end.

I recommend the book for readers interested in personal choice in the face of serious illness and as an engaging travel narrative. The book is 252 pages, available in print and e-book from HarperCollins Publishers.