Goddess Speed, Norma Churchill!!

Norma Jean Churchill, a cherished member of our family for the past three decades, departed from this world in the early hours of April 10, 2024. At the age of 92, she passed away in the comfort of her own bed, in her home by her beloved Las Gallinas tidal creek, just as she had wished. Her body may have worn out, but her spirit remained strong. On her last afternoon, when my daughter-in-law Melissa woke her, Norma spoke of traveling a long road. She was smiling.

Norma was born in Santa Barbara, CA, in 1932 and grew up surrounded by a large family who remained living presences throughout her long life. Her interest in art brought her north to the San Francisco Art Institute. She privately studied printmaking and painting in oils. Trips to museums in New York, London, and Paris increased her knowledge and pleasure in art.

Throughout her life, Norma worked as a hairdresser in elite salons in San Francisco, but she also wrote and painted her visions. She traveled extensively. Her Little Book of Death journal recorded simple vignettes which she illustrated with whimsical drawings— the dead baby king snake that a crow deposited in her birdbath (she was at war with crows and cats, keeping a baster-like water pistol loaded on her deck to dispense with them.) —the caterpillar she discovered on her parsley, anxiously anticipating its metamorphosis into a swallowtail butterfly until it was unceremoniously eaten by a cowbird; the flowers of her garden she nurtured and then pruned back as they wilted. These stories of death quickly morphed into the cycles of life and the liveliness of Presence— here, right now. Some grew into the articles she had published in a local newspaper, mostly about her reflections on aging: “A Mother’s Final Farewell, All Too Alone.” “A Long Life Brings Many Changes of Seasons.” “A One-cupcake Party to Celebrate Good Times with Long-Gone Friends.” From childhood, she loved newspapers. She wrote a series of (unpublished) articles on her life growing up in Santa Barbara: the day in grammar school when her Japanese classmate was sent to an internment camp, the story of when the West Coast was bombed and she was home alone, the experiences of growing up with a deaf mother.

Norma’s creative journey was a testament to her resilience and passion. At the age of 89, she achieved a significant milestone with the publication of her first book, ‘Journey to Snakewoman: The Visions of Norma Churchill’ (Dancing Raven Press, 2021). This collection of her visions and paintings was a powerful reflection of her deep connection with the earth and her belief in the importance of feminine energy and heart in our relationships with each other and the natural world.

Only a week before Norma’s passing, she spent Easter weekend with our family in Napa, all of us aware this was probably the last of the many weekends and holidays that we had spent together. Our final photo showed Norma, lively even in her fragility, sitting in the Kawasaki Mule beside my son Casey and his wife Melissa, their 13 and 11 year old sons Wesley and Sabien—Norma’s godsons—exuberantly waving from the back of the Mule. I trust I will go cheerfully into the night,” she wrote in September 2017 in The Little Book of Death, “an energy for life used up to the limit, transferring to the great river psyche endlessly flowing all around us. Home at last, home as last! –to paraphrase MLK.”  She wrote in that journal for over 10 years, ending it with an exclamation in bright colored letters: “The End! Now, onto The Little Book of Life!”

And so she goes on! Goddess speed, our dear Norma Churchill.