Saturday, July 20, 2013

"Heaven is a bit more fun tonight"

If there was ever a Godwink in my life, it was meeting Norma Mall. The craziest scriptwriter on Saturday Night Live could have never come up with this scenario.

I am the high school friend of her nephew, Mike, and we are friends on Facebook. A few years ago, as we traded witty banter on this social media network, I noticed a woman who interjected the same, quirky humor into the conversations but with just that little extra edge. It turned out to be Mike's cousin, Mary. "I like this girl," I told Mike. "Amy, Mary. Mary, Amy," he said with droll reservation. And with one click, Mary and I were friends.

In the background, Mary's mother, Norma, enjoyed reading our Facebook exchanges. Norma, who lived here in Peoria, just had a new screened in porch built onto her house. Mike, from Arizona, and Mary, from Idaho, would trade written barbs about who would be the first to grace this airy new addition.

Still with me? Because this is where it gets good. Norma noticed that I had become a new and similarly quirky member of this motley crew, and one day, I got a phone call. "Amy?" she said. "This is Norma. You're going to think I'm crazy." Funny, but I knew exactly who she was and immediately knew I'd like her, especially when she said, "Mike and Mary are fighting over who's going to be the first to sit on my porch. I'd like you to come over and sit on my porch and we'll take a picture and post it to Facebook. They'll be so jealous!"

First on Norma's porch!
I was IN. A few days later, on a bright, late summer morning, I arrived at this total stranger's house with a six pack of Guinness, sat on that porch and was inducted into the Norma Mall circle. And I never realized what a difference our unorthodox meeting would have on my life as I mourn her passing tonight and celebrate her time on this earth.

I am a writer, yet am having a hard time finding the words to express who Norma was in my eyes. I'm sure those who knew her longer could more eloquently than I. I do know that Norma was all about family. Much like my mother, she was passionate about her daughters and their families. She always knew what was going on with each of them, and her pride in them was evident by her every word. They were her world.

I remember sitting in her kitchen, sipping on the wine she insisted we have in the late afternoon (like I objected.) The power had gone out and we were chatting in the waning light about marriage, men, and living alone. She was telling me about her husband, Vern, who had passed years earlier. He used to have a room that housed his trophies, and apparently he had many of them. At one point, Norma said she asked him, "Why don't I have a room like this? Where are all my trophies?" To which he simply pointed to a photo of her daughters and said, "Right there."

Norma was one of the wisest, most humble people I have ever met. I truly wish I had met her long ago, but perhaps God brought her to me when he knew I would appreciate her the most. When I went through a tough time, I emailed Mary and said, "I need some Norma time." Her response, "Norma time is any time. She'd love to see you."

And she did. She always greeted me with a hug. Always asked about my kids. Not "how are the kids" but "HOW are the kids." And I'd tell her. She'd tell me things she saw in my kids that I didn't even see, and she'd pass along her experience and stories and wisdom in the most calming, soothing voice that would leave me reassured and retrospective.

Norma taught me about relationships - that marriages are work and living alone can be tough but liberating at the same time. She taught me that friendships are valuable and children are precious no matter if they're in your life or in your heart. She taught me that life is too short to wait around for something to happen - go make it happen yourself. She taught me that a quiet, measured word is more effective than a loud, unthought one.

Norma began blogging in October of 2011 - she asked me to come over and help her set up her page. She came up with the title and asked what I thought. I said it was brilliant. If you ever want to be moved and learn a little in the process, look up 75 and holding.....on. You'll get a small sampling of the wonder that was Norma.

Running for Norma on my 46th birthday - November 3, 2012
And Norma did hold on. Never a smoker, she was diagnosed with lung cancer a few years ago. Last November, I ran my first 5K in her honor for the Lungevity Foundation. For awhile, treatments held the cancer off, and she enjoyed her friends and traveled around the country with her daughters. Her last trip was to New York where she attended the Tony Awards, wearing a Bob Mackie outfit she proudly showed me the last time I saw her.

The last time I saw her. She needed computer help so I offered my teenage son's services. As he sat and fiddled with the machine, we chatted. She was the same Norma - reassuring, calm, funny, humble, loving. I left with a hug and a promise we'd visit again soon. That never happened.

She wrote recently that the cancer had spread and her time was short, but we were not to be sad for her, because she had an amazing life. And I am not sad for her. I rejoice for her because I know she is with God in heaven, and as her good friend said, "Heaven is a bit more fun tonight."

Though I am sad for who she left behind, selfishly including myself, I am sadder for those who never had the honor of meeting Norma, for they missed out. I don't know that there is anyone who I have known for such a short time has made more of an impact on my life than Norma Mall. And I know she is watching over those she loves here on this earth, and I hope that includes me.

I thank God and his Godwink for giving me the opportunity to know Norma and to be welcomed as an honorary daughter and sister. To sit on her porch, to drink wine with her, to be a small part of her life, to impart her wisdom, to learn from her, and to have her call me "pretty little girl." I will miss you, Norma, but rest assured, you will never be far from my heart.


  1. Now I know and understand. I only saw the regurgitated post from the past. Sorry for your loss, but happy for your receipt of the Godwink. Hold it dear.

  2. Beautiful tribute Amy. I am so sorry for you, Mrs. Mall's family and all who had the great fortune to be close to her. Heaven gained another daughter.

  3. dearest amy -- you have beautifully written what so many have said about mom. thank you. you are precious to all of us, baby sister!


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