Keeping the Faith: Officer Tommy Norman Remembers Daughter Alyssa, Shares Wisdom for Mental and Physical Health

 

Everyone knows who Officer Tommy Norman is.

 

A big-hearted cop with a warm smile, Officer Norman has amassed a following of millions on social media for being the ideal role model of community policing. 

 

But this story isn’t just Officer Norman’s story. This is also his daughter Alyssa’s story.

 

And the Norman family’s story is one of grief, addiction, health and loss. But this story also offers hope, and a whole lot of faith. 

 

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“Alyssa was a daddy’s girl,” Norman recalls. “Growing up, she was just like any other little girl. She was happy. She made friends very easily. She was involved in sports. She had her brother, Mitchell, whom she was close to, and she looked up to him. She had her mom, and she looked up to her. She had a lot of mentors and role models. She loved her blood family, she loved her extended family. Any time there was a family function or a family reunion, she was always there smiling and making other people happy.”

 

Even at work, Alyssa would always make friends easily. She’d inherited her father’s smile. 

 

“I’d run into customers that would see me and tell me that they’d met Alyssa and that she was so nice and so kind,” Norman says. “She formed a lot of relationships with people that will never be forgotten.”

 

But as Alyssa entered her early adulthood years, her bond with Norman began to grow strained. 

 

“There were times that I wasn’t there for her, and we didn’t speak. We wouldn’t talk for a few months, and then we’d talk again,” Norman recounts. “I’ve been a police officer for 25 years; there were times that I should have been there for her. Maybe I should have spent less time out in the community and more time with her and my family.”

 

Alyssa fell in with a bad crowd. This crowd led Alyssa to do and try things that she wouldn’t normally give a second thought to.

 

“She would smoke marijuana, as a lot of young people did and still do, and then I’d hear from her mom or her brother that she’d gotten arrested or gotten in trouble for having drugs. She’d do well and clean up, and then she’d fall off track a little bit.”

 

Marijuana led to other substances, such as pills, that Alyssa would experiment with. 

 

When her relationship with drugs seemed steadier than her relationship with her father, Alyssa decided it was time to make a change. When she was 25, she admitted herself to Harbor Home, a faith-based restoration home for women facing the struggles of addiction. 

 

Alyssa reached out to her father by letter and told him that she wanted to reconnect. Norman surprised Alyssa on the next visitation day, and the two began to make up for lost time. Alyssa had a new passion for life. She passed her real estate licensing exam before entering Harbor Home, and she successfully sold her first home. She was spending more time with her father and her family, including her 3-year-old son. Alyssa had been recently baptized and reconnected with her spiritual roots. Alyssa found purpose and meaning and was exuberant about a long, promising life ahead. 

 

She texted her father before bed, as she usually did.

 

“Daddy, I just got off work. I love you.”

 

Norman smiled as he crawled in bed, preparing for an early morning shift. 

 

“I love you, too.”

 

When Norman fell asleep, all was well.      

                                                           

That would soon change.

 

“If God didn’t want men to cry, why did he give them tears?” – Angie Corbett-Kuiper

 

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Usually, with the sunrise came a text from Alyssa. Norman was accustomed to hearing from his daughter about her daily plans and well wishes. But when his phone vibrated, it wasn’t Alyssa.

 

It was Harbor Home.

 

“They told me she had overdosed. I asked ‘Where is she? I want to see my daughter.’ They told me, ‘Alyssa’s not here.’”

 

Norman rushed to Harbor Home to see his daughter’s body being carried out. Norman soon discovered that the powerful drug fentanyl had claimed another victim in a moment of weakness, just minutes after Norman and Alyssa had exchanged I love yous. 

 

A grief unlike anything Norman had ever seen or felt carried him out to sea and swallowed him whole.

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“This was a grief that I never knew existed.”

 

Norman sits quietly for a moment before expounding.

 

“I’d lost an aunt or an uncle or grandparents or a co-worker or someone I knew in the community. …But to lose your own daughter? It’s a grief that will cripple you … it cripples your body and your heart. It makes you tired, and it makes you want to lose hope.”

 

Norman’s world moved in slow motion. Each day, he struggled to stay above the rising water line.

 

“On Nov. 17th, from me receiving that phone call, me seeing her body carried out, attending visits with the funeral home, to the visitation, to the funeral … you go to visitations when people pass away, you hug them and tell them you’re sorry, but you never think that people will be walking up to you and hugging you,” Norman whispers. “You never think you’ll be in those first few pews, or that you’re going to visit a cemetery to visit your daughter and tell her you love her and you miss her. It’s something that you don’t want to acknowledge is happening to you in real life.”

 

Norman turned to daily prayer for insight and guidance — a lifebuoy on the stormy sea. 

 

Sometimes, though, when the body has to bear the weight of the mind, it can collapse. A combination of genetics, physical health and incredible stress had taken its toll.

Four months after Alyssa passed away, Norman had a massive heart attack. 

 

*****

 

“My cardiologist said it was, medically, a massive heart attack. But he thinks it was a broken heart,” Norman explains. “Had I waited any longer, I wouldn’t be here. God saved me. Alyssa saved me. There was still work to do.”

 

Norman now had a new lease on life. He had been spared from the snares of death and hauled up onto the deck of the Life boat. 

 

“I’m taking life more seriously. I’ve lost weight, I’m getting in shape, and every breath I take is a breath I’m thankful for.”

 

Norman began to grapple with his health, both physically and mentally. That meant facing the sea of grief head-on.

 

“With addiction and with fentanyl … it took Alyssa’s life. She stopped breathing, and she passed away. I was able to talk to her the night before she passed away, so there is some comfort in knowing that, in our conversations, and our text messages some of our last words were ‘I love you.’ Grief is something I initially ran from, but I learned right away that you have to reason with it and run alongside it and become grief’s friend. It’s not going anywhere.”

 

The loss of his daughter has also impacted the way that Norman sees policing and the community that he keeps an eye on.

 

“I was off work for about a month after Alyssa passed away. The first overdose call I was dispatched to was tough. The anxiety really amped up. I kept thinking about Alyssa.

 

“Every time I hear one of those calls go out, I think about Alyssa. Alyssa’s death is not going to be quiet. We’re not going to sweep it under a rug. We’re going to let people know, and we won’t let Alyssa’s death be in vain. If her death saves one life, then it won’t be in vain, and I truly believe that her death has saved multiple people’s lives. I really feel like I could be doing more to fight drug addiction and raise awareness, but right now, I’m still healing.”

 

Until Norman takes the fight against addiction to a battle on a grander scale, he’s taking the time to tackle addiction one-on-one. 

 

“In almost 25 years of policing, I’ve answered a lot of overdose calls and seen a lot of drug addicts. But you learn that everybody needs friends. On our way to jail, I’ll talk to that person about getting help and encourage them to do better. That five- to 10-minute conversation on the way to jail can make a difference.”

 

Alyssa was strong, Norman recounts. She would often tell Norman, “Daddy, I got this.”

 

“When Alyssa was turning her life around, she got a job, a gym membership, a car, some new clothes, and she would always say, ‘I got this.’ When I had my heart attack, God saved my life, and Alyssa did too. Alyssa knew how much her dad loved community service. And I think that day she said, ‘Daddy, not yet. You got this.’ She played a big role in keeping me here.”

 

A year after Alyssa’s death, the grief still remains, but things have begun to get easier.

 

“I can be out and around people, and I didn’t want to do that before.”

 

In the midst of mental and physical anguish, though, Norman found solace in one of the last tools in his box: faith.

 

“I’ve always had faith. My amount of faith has always gotten me to the next day and the next step. It got me through this. God provides that faith. My family got me through this, as well as my friends and my circle of close friends. It was all faith.”

 

As the conversation draws to a close, Norman offers one final note to end on.

 

“If there’s anybody out there who reads this who has a strained relationship with their kids or parents or even their friends, try your best to reconnect, because life is so precious,” he says. “I can only imagine if Alyssa and I had been in a strained relationship and I’d gotten that phone call. I’m thankful that God reunited us. Alyssa reached out to me, and we made up for so much lost time from June until she passed away. Maybe God was preparing Alyssa to bring her back home. We had so much fun those last few months of her life.”

 

In the last year, Norman lost his daughter, nights of sleep, and plenty of weight. But as he turns his mental and physical health around and prepares to serve the community once more, one thing he never lost is his faith.