Norma Cook, the 89-year-old woman whose friendship with her neighbor, 31, melted hearts across the nation, died in Los Angeles on Wednesday morning.
The feisty retired interior designer, who loved champagne and her cat Hermes, was diagnosed with leukemia 10 years ago, and decided to stop treatment last fall.
After doctors said she could no longer live on her own without a caregiver, she moved in with her neighbor and best friend, Chris Salvatore, Daily Mail reports.
We are reaching the 2 month mark since my neighbor Norma has come home from the hospital and I am so happy to share that she is continuing to prove the doctors and nurses wrong by continuing to THRIVE! To prolong the remaining funds to prevent her from having to be moved into a county facility, Norma and I have decided to move her into my apartment across the hall where she now has her own beautiful room and bathroom! She loves it! I do most of my work at home so I am here most of the time to care for her so it only made sense to the both of us. She is my adopted grandmother and I am her grandson she never had. :) We will still have caregivers coming in to care for her as well as her weekly hospice visits from the nurses and doctors. I just wanted to let you all know Norma loves reading your comments and I seriously think all the support and love is keeping her healthy. Now who wants to come to dinner? #myneighbornorma... I mean #myroomatenorma
"Norma is now resting peacefully in the eternal and while she may no longer physically be with us, her spirit will continue to fill the hearts of so many people," Salvatore wrote on Facebook.
"This year Norma has helped the world see the true meaning of Valentine's Day. To love another is not about living struggle free or never experiencing hurt or loss, but to fully and deeply open our hearts to one another without fear," Salvatore continued.
Salvatore first met Cook when he moved across the hall from her apartment four years ago, and the two bonded immediately.
Salvatore says his neighbor would often wave to him from her kitchen window, and eventually he decided to walk over to introduce himself by knocking on her door.
"She offered me a glass of Champagne - it's her favorite drink - and we just sat down and talked. We connected right away,' Salvatore told the Today show.
"Back when she was a young adult, she had a lot of friends who were gay, and I'm also gay, so I think it made her feel safe at home and at peace to sort of have that bond again."
The two became best friends immediately, and Cook called Salvatore 'the grandson I never had'.
"The day I entered her apartment and spoke with her face to face was the day my life was changed forever," Salvatore said.
Salvatore says he was going through a rough break-up at the time, and it helped to be able to talk to Cook.
During their talks, Salvatore also learned that Cook had been diagnosed with leukemia 10 years ago and recently had to give up her car.
She was also struggling to make ends meet, with no money saved up and most of her Social Security check going towards rent each month. Cook divorced at the age of 43 and never had any children, so she also didn't have any family in the state to look after her.
Over the next four years, the two grew close through their many champagne happy hours and dinner parties. Salvatore also helped Cook out whenever he could by driving her to the doctors, the bank, the pharmacy and even going with her to vote this past November (Cook wore a Nasty Woman shirt to the polls, leaving no ambiguity over who she cast her ballot for.)
Salvatore would regularly post pictures with Norma, under the hashtag #MyNeighborNorma, and the two created somewhat of a following online.
As Cook's health deteriorated, doctors said she would not longer be able to live alone unless she had 24-hour care, something she did not have the funds for.
Salvatore helped raise over US$30,000 (NZ$41,528) for her medical expenses, and then went a step further, inviting Cook to move in with him.
The two spent their time cooking, watching the news and enjoying, as always, a little champagne.
"Norma reminded me that we all are created to love and all desire to be loved,' Salvatore said following her death on Wednesday. "Each of us is lovable even with all of our differences. Love has no boundaries."
"Perhaps Norma's lasting legacy is that her story helped the world to see the true meaning of love."