We were playing ‘voice-mail tag’ for a few days, but I finally got a hold of him yesterday, while waiting for my appointment at the Cancer Centre in Vancouver. We hadn’t seen each other for about five weeks, and I missed our weekly talks over coffee. I have lots of friends but only a very few ‘best friends forever’ – and Norm is certainly one of them. We spoke briefly on the phone and agreed to meet for coffee at the beach in White Rock on Friday morning.
We’ve known each other for about four years – he was the first volunteer with whom I worked with at the Cancer Centre in Surrey, and we immediately became friends. We are both cancer patients – we don’t use the term ‘survivor’ because his type of cancer isn’t treatable and I am too superstitious to call myself a survivor – and I don’t want to jinx myself. But we only worked with each other for two weeks because he was getting married and would be away on his honeymoon for a month. He has been a mentor and a huge inspiration to many other volunteers and me at the Centre. And although he is several years older than me – he looks much younger.
Norm was born and raised in East Van but has been living in the Fraser Valley for many years. As a young boy, Norm and his brothers worked on their dad’s fishing boat – he worked many long and hard days at sea and as everyone knows – if you’re the youngest – you get all of the crummy jobs. Norm has forgotten more than most people know about fishing but he worked at it long enough to know that he wanted something different for a career. He set his sight on becoming an accountant. Now I know that Norm is very smart, and he would have made a fantastic accountant but I also know that he is a ‘people’ person – and that’s why he changed his chosen career path before he finished his accountant courses.
And that’s when Norm became a paramedic. I have listened to some of the most interesting stories from Norm’s tenure with the BC Ambulance Service. Norm is much too humble to talk about the number of lives that Norm has saved, but I know that if I had ever needed a paramedic, I would want to be treated by someone such as Norm. I’m not sure how many years he spent as a paramedic before deciding on another career path – as a member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
Norm was a Mountie for about ten years, and he often shares his experiences with the other volunteers and me during our Wednesday morning shifts. Norm was the ideal cop – he is over 6′ tall, and very solid. And Norm didn’t use tasers or guns to restore order – back in the day, police used their brains and brawn, and he has been in many a fight – trying to make an arrest. But as Norm often says – you can never let the bad guys win. They say that “Mounties always get their man” and I’m sure they were referring to my friend Officer Norm when they came up with that saying.
When I was a young boy – we used to have a saying – ‘Does your father have a job?” And one of us would always reply “No, he’s a cop!”. I never knew anyone whose father was a cop, but I know several guys that I went to school that did. – they were the same guys that used to hang around the ‘Four Corners’ in downtown Oshawa, Ontario – so they became cops so they could now get paid for ‘hanging out’.
Now one of the perks of being a cop is that there’s lots of time off to pursue other interests. And Norm became interested in selling real estate (part-time). And just like everything else – when Norm decides to do something – he not only does it – he does it right! He became a very successful salesperson buying and selling the property. But back in the 80’s, when interest rates soared – the market died – and so did the value of Norm’s holdings. But he never complained – he just continued working hard and once again became very successful. He also served on the board of the Real Estate Board (Fraser Valley) for some years.
And throughout Norm’s busy work life, he always found time to help others. Norm spent many years as a volunteer at a Palliative Care facility – and has told me some of the most touching stories. And Norm’s eyes often tear up as he recounts the experiences – but I know that he would have been a tremendous comfort to those patients – all of whom became his friends.
Norm is very spiritual/religious and is actively involved with his church. He also volunteers at the Chapel at the Vancouver International Airport.
Norm has been a volunteer at the Cancer Centre for many years. He has brought comfort and joy to many patients and staff alike. And when I met Norm in September 2011 he was still working in real estate. He retired shortly after marrying the love of his life – Dorean.
Dorean is a sweetheart of a woman and Norm is so lucky to have met her. But then again, so is Dorean. I once told her that I thought that she and Norm were the perfect couple – a true love story. Dorean replied that people often say that she and Norm were made for each other.
So as I parked by the Whitby Coffee Shop on Marine Drive I glanced at the time – it was 8:20 and we were supposed to meet at 8:30. Knowing Norm, he’s probably already there waiting for me. Just like every Wednesday morning – our shift starts at 8:30, but we are both there by 7:45. And despite trying to get there before him – he’s always been there for me – making the coffee.
So as I opened the door to the shop, sure enough, there was Norm sitting at a table. Our eyes met at the same time, and we waved to each other like a couple of little boys – all happy and excited.
We sat and talked and laughed and cried – as we usually do when we get together. We had lots to talk about: Norm’s vacation in Hawaii, my trip to Montreal, updates on the Cancer Centre and updates on each other’s health. Norm told me that we had won 3 free tickets in the lottery draws during his absence, and we discussed where we’d go when we finally win the big one! We’ve been buying Lotto Max tickets together each week from one of the volunteers at the lottery booth at Surrey Memorial Hospital – who is 90 years old! She always smiles when she sees us coming – and always wishes us luck as she takes our money. She is still giving despite her age – she too is an inspiration.
We got up to leave – shook hands and said we’d see each other at the Cancer Centre next week.
Dedicated to my friend Norm.