Saturday, January 8, 2011

Dear Kim

My friend Kim died this week after a two year battle with pancreatic cancer.

I've never met Kim. How is it possible to call someone you have never met your friend?

When my daughter was 1 year old, I joined a listserv of working mothers.  I came to this list in a roundabout way.  I had initially found one of those pregnancy lists - you know, the one by month and date?  So I was a member of the April 1997 pregnancy list.  After Emma was born, I didn't last too long on that list since it seemed that most of the women were stay at home moms - I went back to work when Emma was 2 months old because her father was still in graduate school and I was the only one making some money.  While back at work, I was also pumping breast milk every day and having a hard time of it so somehow I found a pumping list.  From there,  someone  (Pip?) recommended this list for working mothers and I've never looked back.

For the first few years, it was toilet training, starting school, balancing work with all the kids activities, etc.  Now our kids are older and the issues seem to be more serious.  We've had spouses die, children die and parents die.  We've had divorces, marital problems, remarriages, and kid problems.  This was the first time one of our members died.

Over the years, I have met many of the women on the list.  Either from my own travels or their visits to DC.

Two years ago, Kim wrote the list that something wasn't right. Her stomach hurt.  After that, she made the decision to share with the list her struggle with what turned out to be pancreatic cancer.

She was a biology teacher so in the beginning, we all got very detailed descriptions of her diagnosis and treatment.  After a year of radiation and chemotherapy, Kim's diagnosis was not good.  For the past year, she has shared with the group her preparation for dying.  She got all her ducks in order.

This summer, she organized a group of moms to come to her home in Long Island - a reunion of sorts.  Unfortunately for me, the timing was bad and I wasn't able to attend.  The moms who did attend related to the group the energy and joy they all felt for being there, being with Kim.

Kim and I corresponded privately about our families, our love of nature, our values.  Even though I never met her, I considered her a close and dear friend.

We are a tight-knit group and we are all grieving the death of Kim.

Our friend Robin wrote a eulogy with help from group.  Several of the moms from the NYC area and another who flew in, represented us at the memorial service.  Here is what was read:

Thursday January 6, 2011

We come to you as representatives from the Internet.  Fifteen years ago, in the Internet’s early days, Kim became a member of a fledgling email list of working mothers, called, cleverly, "Working Moms."

Kim was a central part of our little email list as it evolved from a mild-mannered support group of working moms to, fifteen years later, an unbelievably tight group of women from around the world -- the Internet equivalent of family.  As we became increasingly immersed in each other’s lives -- supporting each other through serious marital difficulties, illnesses in family members, and every parenting and work challenge from toilet training to psychotic bosses, Kim was a hugely strong voice.

I’m sure it comes as no surprise to learn that Kim’s emails were always fiercely smart, straight-shooting, funny, deeply felt.  She knew EVERYTHING but was totally matter-of-fact about it: she knew how to repair a Mac (oh, and had incidentally written a book on the subject), she knew how to run a web-based business (since copied by corporate America), she knew how to cook anything (and now all around the world wmoms bake her lemon poppyseed cake in her honor), she knew why some people could smell their own pee when they ate asparagus (it’s a one-gene simple dominant-recessive trait, of course!).   She had astonishingly deep knowledge of an astonishing number of subjects and she shared it all.

She shared it all.  She shared what it was like to be blindingly in love with your own son.  She shared what it was like to burst with pride every time you look at your own daughter.  She shared what it was like to keep a dead fox in the freezer (I still am not entirely sure why) and then to realize that Stu’s acceptance of that, ummmm, quirk meant that he was the guy for her.  She shared her pain with business and family and political foibles; she shared her deep, fierce love of teaching (boy did she ever land in the right job or what?) and over and over she shared big chunks of her soul.

And then last summer she shared her home and her family with us, inviting all the working moms – many of whom had never physically met – to her house for one last, loud, heartbreakingly wonderful week-end.  At first we argued with her – she had metastatic pancreatic cancer, for pity’s sake, why not let somebody else host it?  But Kim fiercely, passionately wanted to share her life with us, and boy oh boy did she.  We arrived at the home of a woman who had already outlived her prognosis and she had planned out (on the ever-present white board!) an entire week-end of menus, games, beds, food, tours, campfires, song-singing, beach-combing, and, get this:  CRAFT PROJECTS.  Yes, Kim the teacher, the astonishing organizer, motivator, leader, had created silk screens for t-shirts, and garden stones for her yard, and we played and laughed and talked and sang away one of the most memorable week-ends of our lives.

And for the last two years she shared her illness with us.  For many of us, this was the first time we had confronted an ill contemporary or the inexplicable tragedy of a mother leaving behind her kids.  She didn’t whitewash it, she never tried to assume a Lifetime Movie of the Week approach.  When things were hard, she said they were hard.  When things started to suck, she said they sucked.

She taught us so, so, so much about priorities.  She wanted, in the worst way, to live.  When it became apparent that she couldn’t, she shear-willed her way through Easter, to another vacation, to the AP bio test grading.  And then, when it became clear that her body’s fierce hold on life was fading, her hugest priority – being there for her kids –  became accompanied by her desire to die as well as possible, as true to herself as possible – to her grit and her grace and her fierceness and her family.

This disease has broken our hearts.  Our hearts are broken for Stuart, and for Justin and for Emma – and we can only promise you that you have aunties all over the world and that we will never ever forget your mama; that we will hold her in our hearts always.  And that we will never forget that in the end, after all the emails and the careers and the journeys, her family family family was her fiercest priority of them all.   

Written by Robin Schoenthaler, read by Eileen Winrock, Jenny Hausler, Joanna Wissinger, and Wendy Schweigert, with contributions by wmoms from around the world.

"...Let me say before we part
So much of me
Is made of what I learned from you
You'll be with me
Like a handprint on my heart ...
And now whatever way our stories end
I know you have re-written mine
By being my friend...
Because I knew you...
I have been changed for good."
(Changed for Good, Wicked) 



  1. Stacey - this is a beautiful tribute. I wish I could have met Kim, too. - ALLISON

  2. PERFECT post beautifully summarizing an incredible woman and an amazing bond. Love, R