Friendships and families form in the most unlikely of places–and often the line between friend and family is blurry (which is definitely not a bad thing!), proving that family isn’t just blood-relation. For 31-year-old Chris Salvatore, he did not anticipate that his best friend would be an 89-year-old woman named Norma Cook.
For the LA neighbors, their friendship was definitely surprising, but also instant. Four years ago, Salvatore, who is a singer and actor, moved into Cook’s building. Cook is a former interior decorator, and would often wave goodbye to him when he would leave his apartment–so Salvatore went to talk with her one day–and it all became history when she offered him a glass of champagne.
At the time, Salvatore was depressed after going through a break-up, and mentioned how speaking with Cook taught him how to be kinder and more compassionate:
“Just knowing she was there and listening to me made me feel better, she was able to help me through some dark times.
I love her, she’s my best friend. I would do anything for her. I believe that human kindness is a magical thing and can heal what doctors can’t.”
Sadly, Cook’s health started declining last year after a 10-year battle with leukemia. This is when Salvatore decided to become her primary care-giver, as she has no family, children, or partner in the area. Since Cook was told she only has a few months to live, she was clear that she wanted to spend her last days at home with her cat, Hermes. Because she has no real savings, Salvatore started a Go Fund Me Account to help raise money for her living expenses. The campaign, which uses the hashtag #MyNeighborNorma, is already at the 57k mark.
What Salvatore did after is incredible: He moved Cook into his apartment to live with him and “spend as much time together as we can.” He spoke to People about how hard it has been for him to watch her health deteriorate:
“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.
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.”
His friendship has taught him to “be more kind to strangers and neighbors you may see who may seem different than you,” which is a lesson he encourages everyone to take to her. Watch this tear-jerking video of Salvatore and Cook below: