In a time of social networks, Instagram likes, being neighborly sounds an old-fashioned notion. But one actor in California showed the world just how essential and beautiful it is to ‘love thy neighbor as yourself’.
31-year-old Chris Salvatore’s best friend was his 89-year-old West Hollywood neighbor Norma Cook, who knew each other for four years.
Norma lived across the hall and waved to Chris everyday when he left his apartment. One day, Chris decided to chat and began an immediate friendship.
Chris was going through a breakup at the time and talked to Norma for hours. But soon the unlikely pair discovered they had a lot in common. Norma was an interior decorator and the two could talk about fashion and food for hours. She had many gay friends who she lost to AIDS, and likely found a kindred spirit in Chris.
When Norma found out she had leukemia, had only a few months left to live and needed at 24-hour at-home caretaker, Chris stepped up, since Norma had no immediate family nearby and no children. So he invited Norma to move in with him, as well as taking on duties like being her power of attorney and daily care.
“I love her, she’s my best friend. I would do anything for her,” Chris told PEOPLE. “I believe that human kindness is a magical thing and can heal what doctors can’t.”
Hospice nurses visited Chris’s apartment to make sure Norma was okay, but ultimately Norma’s priorities were to live out her final days in comfort and love. Chris sometimes found it difficult to care for his best friend as her body was failing.
“Being her best friend for the past four years, you create this bond, and then switching to being someone’s caregiver, well it becomes hard to disassociate the emotional bond you have with someone as you’re seeing them die in front of your eyes,” he told People. “It’s really challenging, I’ve tried to stay strong, because I don’t want her to see me upset.”
Despite the difficult emotions, Chris still learns from Norma’s kindness, openness to others and acceptance. “I’m so lucky to have her. She’s changed my life. She’s made me a kinder more compassionate person. I feel honored to spend her last moments with her,” he says.
Norma wanted to live long enough to celebrate one last Valentine’s Day with her best friend, feeling special with candy, chocolate and roses. She got her wish, and then passed away in February, one hour after Valentine’s Day was over.
Despite his sadness, Chris wants his friendship with Norma to be example of how we can love and be kind to one another.
“I want others to be inspired to be more kind to strangers and neighbors you may see who may seem different than you,” he told People. “Norma taught me that, and I want others to learn from her. Kindness heals and we’re all on this planet together. When you light a lamp for someone else it brightens your own path.”
Watch Norma and Chris’s touching friendship below…