Those of you who participate in social media may have seen me post on Facebook with #teamnorah. If you did, I was posting about some form of human connection or compassion. You won’t find Team Norah through a URL. It’s not a nonprofit or any sort of official organization. It has no office, no phone, no email. Team Norah is a burgeoning movement, fundamentally grass roots. It was born in late November, 2015.
It was then my niece gave birth to her daughter, Norah Marie. Norah came several weeks early, but things seemed okay at first. Within a few days, though, sweet Norah was in an NICU in Sacramento, perplexing an excellent team of doctors. Her parents were constant by her side. To help streamline communication about the baby, family members created a closed group on Facebook called Team Norah. Norah’s mom would post updates about the baby’s condition. People in the group prayed and sent good thoughts. On some days, things looked hopeful.
Twelve days after her birth, though, Norah’s condition had deteriorated, and her parents made the excruciating choice to let her go, to let her find peace, to let her, as they put it, go to heaven. And she did, in her mother’s arms as her father’s arms surrounded them. It was beyond heart breaking. It was heart pulverizing.
Many of you have read or heard my essay “Drunk Drivers”, in which I describe my nephew’s death in 1994 in an ICU; he was killed by a drunk driver when he was ten. In the essay, I mention his 12 year old sister and best friend. Norah’s mom is that 12 year old, all grown up. Those of us unfortunate enough to have experienced cycles of death and grieving (at least one child a generation in my lineage has been lost to illness or accident for as far back as I can trace) know that each grievous event borrows angst from the last. Old memories surface, and these reruns can play on a loop tape of unspeakable sadness. My heart felt contorted at the thought of what my niece was going through, what she must now go through—the worst fear any parent imagines actually coming true.
It was at that moment that my niece made a profound choice, one that came from deep inside her, and perhaps even beyond her, into the cosmos. She wrote on the Team Norah timeline:
“Hi Friends: so many of you have inquired about what you can do for us, where to deliver flowers and meals. Thank you again for your love and support. May I take this opportunity to redirect some of that generosity to people that may need it even more than us? There’s nothing that would make us happier than to see all kinds of goodness happen in Norah’s name this holiday season. Maybe deliver a meal to a homeless shelter, drop off some books at a children’s hospital, adopt a child for Christmas, donate blood— Keep Norah’s spirit alive by spreading all this love far beyond Team Norah! And I would love to hear the ways you’re doing that if you can share your stories on this page. Thanks friends! We love you!”
And so we began. Before Christmas, acts of compassion, not only for children but for entire families, and for the elderly, were reported to the group, including a toy drive in Canada. Some gave blood, others donated to children’s charities such as Graham’s Foundation and St. Jude Hospital. Some of us donated holiday meals or cash to food banks. And we quickly reported back to the team, where Norah’s mom thanked us, commenting on each and every report. What could have been the most horrifically sad time was softened, tempered by this activism that sprouted from our heartache.
On Norah’s official due date, my niece returned to the NICU with her husband and young son, outfitting the waiting room with a new train table, train set, books, and other toys. They’d noticed when they’d been there daily, only a few weeks before, that toys were lacking and older siblings of the patients could have used additional happy distractions. This act of kindness stunned me; I imagined if I were in her shoes I would be curled up in bed in a fetal position on that day. Their choice that day became a litmus test of sorts: members of the team began looking for things that needed doing, and doing them with increasing commitment.
By 2016, the group numbered almost 500 members, spanning three continents and with representatives from several states. The image of the pink bow became the movement’s spontaneous logo, and we started seeing pink bows in random, magical places. When we see them, they are like a two-thumbs up from Norah. Group members have made everything from snow angels to beach art, each inspired by the energy of the team and Norah’s legacy.
My niece wrote to us as the year began:
“My 2016 wish and commitment is for Norah’s hands to continue to shape the world through each of us. Please don’t forget the fire sweet Norah ignited in each of our souls and carry all of that faith, hope, love, and compassion with you every single day. Let’s make this movement of love a magical one. Forward we go Team Norah!”
At this point I realized that participating in Team Norah was proving to be excellent therapy for me. Thinking outside myself, thinking of others, softened the debilitating grip of grief and made it manageable.
Right after I read my niece’s new year’s words, I found myself at the laundromat. An old acquaintance approached me when I said hi, and after a moment he shared that he feared being imminently homeless. I heard in my head the familiar selfish warning: “Check this out and see how much you want to involve yourself in this guy’s problems. Your plate is full enough.” The warning was quickly drowned out by the spirit of Team Norah, and instead I offered to help him by getting the word out on Facebook. My post went viral in the community, and today, thanks to his own stellar reputation for kindness and honesty, Daryl is on the fast track to temporary and long term housing with right livelihood. I wouldn’t have offered to help him if it weren’t for Norah.
A friend on FB posted an idea called a “blessing bag” for those in need, particularly for the homeless. It is plastic zipper bag containing essentials such as pain relievers, comfort items, socks, food items, perhaps a bit of cash. I spent a happy afternoon shopping for ingredients and made four of the bags, which I’ll hand out when I see those in need. Then I’ll make more. I never would have made these bags if it weren’t for Norah.
Norah’s parents are fortunate in that their tool kits are complete. They have strong family support, strong faith, a secure home and livelihood. They actively created the support structure of Team Norah, in those first days, to gather support and love around them. They know how to meet their needs and create their reality. This experience has reminded me that not all of us have complete tool kits. Some of us need help, some more than others. In a way, the purpose of Team Norah is to round out other people’s tool kits—give them, in compassion and love, those things that will ease their pain and assist them on their journey. Truly, nothing is more healing for me than helping others with this process.
I join my niece in her commitment for 2016. My word this year is honor. Blessings to all of you. #teamnorah