Life has a certain order to it that we count on. Seasons follow each other with changes we expect. The cycle of life is also something, that even though we aren’t always ready for the passing of a loved one; it makes sense to lose an older family member. But, when you lose a child, especially in a devastating incident, finding the new “normal” and making any sense of what you are left with is a long journey. You never get over the loss of a child, but you may get through it. Rodney and Jennifer Smitherman’s 17-year-old daughter, Norah, died after a tragic event on November 4, 2021, with every day being a reminder of their loss. The Smitherman family is taking the loss of Norah and remembering her with the “Live Like Norah Foundation” a 501 (c)(3), awarding scholarships to three high school seniors, one from Starmount and two from Forbush High School, who exemplify the the life of Norah…that of a life well-lived, with high scholastic standards, participation in sports, community, reaching out to others and a strong faith in Jesus Christ.
Life Will Never Be the Same Again
Rodney and Jennifer Smitherman, both NC natives, met, married and started their family when daughter, Miah, was born in 2001, followed by twins, Norah and Annah in 2004. Growing up, the Smitherman girls were raised in a Christian home attending church and Bible study groups. Beyond church activities and their faith, the girls, especially Norah and Annah, were a unit, as twins often are, eventually venturing out on their own and finding their own interests.
“Since Miah was three years older, she developed interests apart from the twins, but Norah and Annah were always competitive, especially in school with their studies. They were within a hair of a point with their GPA rankings. Norah also found her niche with sports, softball and volleyball. Our faith has always been present in our family, and leading the girls to Christ was our most important job as parents,” recalled Jennifer.
But, on November 4, 2021, the busy family of five, looking forward to Norah and Annah’s senior year at Forbush, was devastated by a tragic incident that took Norah’s life. Life was irreversibly changed and will never be the same again.
“As a family, we were getting ready for the holidays and then the milestone of Norah and Annah’s senior year, which is filled with so many fun events, from the prom, to college visits, to graduation, and watching them both find their purpose in life over the next few years, but Norah has been deprived of that. Norah wasn’t sure of her future, as far as what she would study in college, but she was focused on doing her best and fulfilling her dreams; now that is all gone. Right before her death, Norah had expressed an interest to her guidance counselor in working for a non-profit, but who knows what she would’ve become. Beyond her studies, Norah’s loves were her chihuahua, Leo, and visiting the beach whenever she could. Norah could be ready at a moment’s notice if I said, ‘Let’s go to the beach!’” Jennifer said. It was when Jennifer and Rodney were gathering photos for Norah’s funeral that Jennifer found a comment written on the back of one of her favorite photos of Norah.
“The photo was of Norah as a child at the beach, digging in the sand. When I took the photo off the wall where it was hanging, I turned it over and in the upper left-hand corner was written, ‘God Not Dead.’ Norah had written that sometime as a child. So only a couple weeks after Norah’s funeral, I discussed with Rodney that I wanted to start a non-profit in her memory. It was over the weeks that followed that we decided to focus on finding, initially, two seniors, one each, from the two high schools in our area, Forbush and Starmount and give them each a $1,000 scholarship to the four-year college or university of their choice. The criteria for the scholarship was a 250-word essay on ‘What Does It Mean to Live Like Norah?’, a 4.0 GPA, plans to attend a four-year college or university, character in good standing, student athlete and a personal faith in Jesus Christ,” Jennifer commented.
This year’s recipients of the $1,000 scholarships are Emily Brewer from Starmount and Virginia Crews at Forbush High School. Another Forbush senior, Jackson Gentry, was awarded a $750 scholarship, as well. “The three seniors who will receive scholarships were required to write an essay on “What Does It Mean to Live Like Norah,” fill out an online form and be interviewed by the foundation’s selection committee. Along with the scholarships, with the generosity of our community, we were able to pay off the outstanding student lunch accounts for Forbush,” said Jennifer. Live Like Norah is also an official sponsor of American Red Cross.
“Norah participated in some way with blood drives at her schools in the past, so partnering with the American Red Cross is really special for us. We have two blood drives coming up in June. On the 3rd, Collide Church in Lewisville will have one, and, on the 9th, our family’s home church, Friedland Moravian Church in Winston-Salem will have one, both 2-6:30pm. We encourage people to wear purple in Norah’s memory. To honor Norah’s love of volleyball, there will be two tournaments, August 12th and 19th, with area high schools participating. There will also be a golf tournament at Silo Run Golf Course in Boonville on September 24th,” Jennifer stated.
The Smitherman family would never have thought they’d be in this situation. But, if Norah’s legacy and example can live on and help others, that is what she would want.
“Several people have said that Norah was the light in every room that she entered. It’s the milestones in life that will be hard, like her 18th birthday on May 19th, which she shares with her twin Annah, graduation, which Norah will do posthumously since she had enough credits and all the moments that will come. It’s only through prayer and the love of our family, friends and community that we are making it through each day,” said Jennifer.
For more information, visit livelikenorah.org.