Have you ever felt you are exactly where you need to be in the universe? If so, you will understand how I feel when I look at the Climb Every Mountain quilt that hangs majestically on cousin Norma’s huge wall above her king-sized bed. Her sister, Linda, made the quilt and though I’ve never asked Linda, I feel certain she chose that pattern because Norma has climbed so many mountains in her lifetime.
She and Linda grew up with their parents on a small family dairy farm in Cherry Valley, in New York’s lower Catskill Mountains. If you’ve never heard of this town with about 1,000 residents, it was settled by Anglo-Scottish settlers in 1739. It’s best known, unfortunately, for a horrific bloodbath, the Cherry Valley Massacre, during the Revolutionary War, fought by the Seneca and Mohawk Indians against the British Loyalists.
Life there was peaceful as Norma grew up, though, and she became fascinated with the earth that surrounded her. I didn’t know Norma then (her father and my former mother-in-law were siblings) yet in my mind’s eye I easily see her endlessly exploring the hills and meadows on the farm with quiet fascination. After high school, she went to Alaska for an advanced degree and became a geologist, studying rocks all over the world that told her much about how our earth was created. The only continent she has not visited is Australia.
Norma’s work brought her to the Las Vegas desert a few decades ago and she settled here, then retired a few years ago. Her desert home is a living, breathing reflection of her love for the earth: outside, the house is surrounded with rocks and desert plants, landscaping that Norma has done over the years she’s been here. Inside her home, reside more rocks, many with fossils, quietly sitting in nooks and crannies, on shelves, window ledges, and some gathered in boxes on a floor. If you look closely at the headboard in the picture, you’ll see a pint Mason jar. It contains ashes from Mount Saint Helens.
After retirement, Norma continued her world travels, hiking into new places and climbing more mountains. Last Thanksgiving she flew to Virginia to spend the holiday with our small family. It was a memorable several days: making seven pies the night before Thanksgiving (for six people), hiking, catching up after many months, and simply enjoying each other’s company.
During her Virginia stay with us Norma mentioned experiencing numbness in her right arm and soon, after returning to Las Vegas, went to a doctor. Within a few days of testing, Norma learned she had glioblastoma, stage IV brain cancer. We were all stunned, not Norma, who had one of the best brains in the family, who had always led a super healthy lifestyle. It was irrational thinking in those first days; we simply couldn’t process it. Until everything changed very quickly: surgery that removed much but not all of the cancer, plans for treatment, a flight to Houston for a second opinion, a return home when they could offer no more than Las Vegas, chemo and radiation simultaneously that have been completed today, seizures that left her right side partially non-functional, and most recently, clots in her lungs, which are now dissipating.
My daughter, Susan, stayed with Norma during the past six weeks, then needed to return home. On Easter Sunday I flew in to stay indefinitely. I had known on a visceral level that I would share this journey with her.
Now, as Norma climbs the most difficult mountain of her life, we’re able to walk together for part of her journey. As she has done all her life when she quietly and determinedly reached for each of her goals, she is working very hard. We all affirm she will overcome this profoundly unwelcome stranger in our midst.
There is still that one more continent to explore.