The promise of a life lived well

4 Aug

Jack was already asleep when his mom took her last breath. I left hospice to wake him up and tell him, and although I had already explained to him that this was going to happen he was shocked by the news and was struggling to shake off the deep sleep he was in moments earlier. As we drove to see Kim I explained to him that he would see a lot of different emotions from the people there. Some people might by crying because they are sad, some may be laughing because they were telling fun stories that helped them remember her, some may look relieved, and others angry – but all of those reactions are ok, and any emotions he felt were ok too. I told him there was no right way or wrong way to do this.

Before Jack and I got to Kim’s room I sent someone ahead to gather all the friends and family back to her bedside with the direction to follow my lead even though at that point I really had no idea what I was doing. I felt the weight of this big parenting moment, and regretted that with so much time to prepare I still did not know what to do next and then I remembered my own advice, “there is no right way or wrong way to do this” and the advice of a dear friend, “follow your gut.”

I told Jack that mom’s body had died and that after the body dies we all put one hand on her and take time to reflect on all the things that we get to take with us. Everyone put a hand on Kim’s body and Jack did the same as I told him to think about what he would remember about her, how he would feel when he saw things that reminded him of her, and to fill his heart with how much she loved him. I told him that when each person was ready to say goodbye they would remove their hand from her body and now it was up to him to decide when he was ready. I whispered to him that he could stay there as long as he wanted but that when he was ready to say goodbye to her body he should remove his hand. His eyes scanned the room as, one by one, hands left Kim and each time they did, he looked at the person to soak in the emotions in their faces and their body language. He turned his face away for a time to seek a shred of privacy and then he very purposefully removed his hand. I told him it was a tradition that as the youngest person in the room he would receive a hug from everyone else who was present and he went around the room and gave a deep hug to each person. I moved to his side and put my hand on the back of his neck and asked him if there was anything else he felt he wanted to do before he said goodbye. He thought for a moment and said, “No. I think we should do something fun now like watch a movie or play I spy for things that are purple.”

Know that Jack is talking about how he feels, asking questions and that he is emotionally strong and whole. Jack is going to be ok.

Since that night I have watched Kim’s friends and family come to grips with the reality of this moment, reach for ways to touch Kim through pictures, symbols, and stories, and comfort each other with long, deep hugs. I have witnessed the purposeful breaths and release of tension and emotion. They all, in their own way, said goodbye to Kim’s physical form and collected the memories and lessons learned to keep close as they moved forward. Now it is time to do something fun.

The wisdom of Kim’s Journey with ALS comes down to this I think: the motivation for nearly every decision we make in our lives can be boiled down to either avoiding what we fear or pursuing what brings us joy. One path is filled with worry and regret, and while the other does not always work out the way we want it to, it holds the promise of a life lived well.

This is my last blog entry. Kim’s Journey with ALS has ended and I am ready to embrace what life has in store for us next. Thank you for reading and sharing this story. Wherever you are and whatever your own journey has in store for you I hope you find peace and joy. If peace and joy are within your grasp I hope you find the courage to embrace them both without delay.

Don’t postpone joy.


Tree Wisdom

4 Aug

Kim wrote this poem on January 24th, 2014 and asked that it be read by her brother at the close of her memorial. So many people in attendance asked me if I would give them a copy that I thought it best to share it here.

Tree Wisdom 

If there is anything 
I have forgotten 
To tell you, 
I trust the trees
To whisper in your heart,
Ancient wisdom 
That you and I 
Have heard before
And will hear again.
We have been
Together always 
Collecting the silent
Sacred words of the 
Druids, fairies, wood sprites, gnomes –
Listening for the murmur
Of the sap rising, the respiration of the leaves 
The stately still bubbling of
Resplendent in the green and brown
Spanning heaven and earth, 
Reminding us of who we are
Yet rooting us here. 
Take shelter in their shade 
And know that I am with you 

Ithaca, NY Celebration of Kim’s Life

25 Jul

A celebration of Kim’s life will take place at Stewart Park, on Sunday August 3rd at 9am in Ithaca, NY. The setting will be informal and surrounded by nature in front of Kim’s favorite place (Cayuga Lake). Please bring blankets or lawn chairs if you would like to sit. 


Kimberly Marie Kathan Pijanowski, a mother, teacher, scholar, and yogi, died on Thursday, July 17th, 2014 at 9:04 pm surrounded by friends and family. It is often a custom to announce the passing of someone who dies from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) by saying that today, “she won her battle with ALS” but Kim won her battle with ALS long before her last breath. She chose to banish fear and embrace each moment of her life as sacred. She opened her heart and continued to forge new and deeper friendships throughout her illness. She doggedly sought ways to improve towards becoming the person she aspired to be. In short, she rejected the notion that she should be defined as someone who was dying and instead embraced the life of someone who was living with a terminal disease.

Kim always found a way to take the ordinary opportunities in her life and shape them into an extraordinary experience…

People often study hard; Kim almost always got the highest grade in the class.

People go on vacations; Kim took a year off to hike national parks and ski out west.

People vote; Kim quit her job and helped Hillary Clinton get elected.

People visit Washington DC; Kim went to the White House Christmas party.

People learn how their government works; Kim was paid by the United States Congress to learn how the government works through a prestigious Madison Fellowship.

People take a yoga class; Kim lived at the Kripalu Yoga Center to learn how to teach yoga.

People are not afraid to look silly dancing at weddings; Kim did an imitation of the Elaine dance from Seinfeld that would bring the house down with laughter.

In many ways Kim did the same things other people did, she was just able to do them with more enthusiasm and less fear than most.

Kim’s legacy includes a bright, precocious son with a love of healthy food, a keen sense of adventure and Kim’s eyes, hundreds of students who were inspired to work harder and reach deep into their communities to make a difference, countless friends who carry her light in their hearts, and a loving family that raised her, supported her, and played with her all of her life, including her dear brother with whom Kim shared a bond unbounded by time or space.

She lived passionately, shared her light freely, danced wildly, cared deeply, worked intensely, and played with her heart wide open to all the possibilities that her life offered her.