“Unexpected kindness is the most powerful and most underrated agent of human change.”
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood—
She took the one to travel with me
In November 2018, Hilary read in the San Diego Union Tribune an obituary for Joan Kazmarek. It was beautiful. It even opened with a slight variation of Robert Frost’s infamous poem, The Road Not Taken. It was obvious to Hilary it was written by Joan’s only child, another Robert.
[Here is a link to the memoriam on Legacy. Com JOAN KAZMAREK (1951-2016) and it is also included in full at the end of this post]
Hilary didn’t know Joan or her son.
But Hilary was so moved by what he had written, she posted a message on Legacy.com. Hers was the only one.
Hilary’s and Robert’s exchange speak volumes and for themselves.
This message is for Robert, the loving son of the incredible Joan. I didn’t know your mother, but the amazing story you wrote of her life brought me to tears and inspired me. You have honored her in the best way in putting your heart and soul into this announcement of her loss. I am her same age, and have shared this with friends who have also, like me, chosen Motherhood. Your deep appreciation for that choice honors us all, and we thank you. I lost a son a decade ago and promise you this grief you must be feeling will soften, and the love you feel will always remain. God Bless your family. Hilary Gauntt
If we’re being honest, Hilary is a year older than Joan… I digress. She received a reply two days later.
Hello Hillary – thank you for your kind message. It, in
turn, brought me
to tears when reading it. I always knew that my Mom was a special
individual, both for me and for everyone, yet I unfortunately could not
appreciate it fully until after she passed. When I reflected on all the
birthday and Christmas and even Halloween cards, the baked goods on
Saturday morning when I woke up, the helping hand in the yard when I was
doing chores and getting tired in the sun… and countless acts I never saw
and will never be able to truly recognize and appreciate… that all came
to me as what unconditional love is, a type of love only a mother can give for her children.
The choice of Motherhood is an act of love, hope and
sacrifice that is without peer.
I am terribly sorry to hear that you lost a child far too soon. My
grandparents – Mom’s parents – lost their first born to cancer when he was
11 years old. The only time I ever saw Grandpa cry – as stoic an individual
as there ever was – was when Bobby’s ashes were interred a second time, this
time at a church in San Diego after previously having been in Detroit. Sixty
years later and the pain of losing a child was all too real. I wish it did
not happen to anyone, and I am sorry that it was a pain that came to you.
Being faced with mortality is a heavy burden and it had my mind go down
dark roads, imagining in one case what would have happened had I passed for
some reason before she did. I don’t even wish to imagine, as surely that
would have been a fate worse than death for her, for that exact reason of
what unconditional love is. That kind of thought process forces me to
reconcile the biblical phrase, “it came to pass.” I shudder at that thought
that she came to pass, while at the same time being ok with knowing that I
came to pass. They are humbling thoughts that I never imagined being faced
A good friend of mine, when I solemnly shared that Mom had passed, replied
to me, “the thought of losing my own mother is unbearable.” Had one asked
me that before I got that phone call, I surely would have said the same.
And now, I somehow have to “bear it.” I’m honestly not sure what it means
that this pain was not enough to break me, that I can “bear it.” I do know
that I don’t like any of these thoughts and I just wish I could give her a
big hug and a kiss and we could laugh a carefree laugh about nothing in
I’m not really sure what else to say to be honest, other than it ends up
as its own road in a yellow wood. I’ll travel along it because I have to,
yet I’ll be looking to the side and behind me constantly as a reminder of a
Thank you, truly, for your very kind mail, and for in the process allowing
me some space to share a few additional words.
Wishing you peace and love now and always. Rob
So, you have the answer to the opening question.
Was there ever any doubt?
Although Hilary didn’t know it when she reached out to Rob, he graduated from UCSD in 2004, and over the next several years he built his business career in Bangkok, Tokyo and San Francisco. He was at UC Berkeley working on his MBA when his mother passed away in November of 2016. Rob’s memoriam for his mother appeared in the UT two years later.
Rob wrote so beautifully and painfully about the mother-son bond. Hilary knows about that only too well, which made reaching out to Rob—the act itself—as well as her words so meaningful and powerful.
The raw beauty of true empathy and compassion.
Once again, when distilled down to its true essence, it’s all about connection, connecting—the universal energy source of making a connection.
And what Hilary did was so pure and simple.
She wrote a few carefully chosen heartfelt words and posted a message.
With daresay the same impact as if she had grabbed this young man and pulled him into her bosom.
It was so powerful because it was genuine, sincere and from the depths of Hilary’s soul. She knew what this only child, only son, was going through.
Hilary knew we can feel so alone with our grief.
Hilary knew when we’re suffering, we so welcome a heartfelt touch, message, some acknowledgement.
Hilary felt Rob’s considerable pain—his grief—which he screamed loud and clear in the obituary he wrote for his Mom.
Hilary’s act of kindness and compassion was to let him know she heard—loud and clear—he was not alone.
Hilary didn’t “know” Rob and Joan Kazmarek in that more common sense of being a friend or colleague, or someone you see at church or the gym.
But she “knew” about their love, their bond, and she definitely “knew” what Rob was going through.
That is the same foundation for our Fraternity of fathers who have lost kids. We don’t need to “know” a dad to know what he’s going through and reach out to him.
It’s a gift we, who have lost someone we deeply love, can give to someone else.
Even someone we don’t “know.”
Hilary did and wrote something extraordinarily beautiful.
Rob’s Memoriam For His Mother
JOAN KAZMAREK (JULY 1951-NOVEMBER 2016)
By Robert Kazmarek
Encinitas -Lightly adapted from Frost’s well-known poem.
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry she could not travel both
And be one traveler, long she stood
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, she kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
She doubted if she should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and she
She took the one to travel with me,
And that has made all the difference.
Joan Elizabeth Kazmarek, impact nigh too voluminous to scribe, chose the path of motherhood and all the joy, love, challenge, and sacrifice required of the task. Born in Detroit in 1951 to Robert and Sally Kazmarek, Joan was one of seven brothers and sisters, five surviving today to revere her memory. As a girl, her curious spirit and quest for knowledge led to a PhD program in nutrition at Michigan State. The alluring blend of art and science evolved into a years-long cross-country adventure on ranches in Montana and Colorado, at once being both a cook and cross-country skier in the Great West wilderness. As but one example of her talent, she could discern the temperature of an oven based on the smell of the wood she was burning in the kitchen.
Upon reaching a break in her yellow wood, financial offers to found bakeries and restaurants in hand, Joan chose motherhood. Married in 1980, Joan gave birth to her only son, Robert, in 1981 and Joan and her young son began traveling this new road together. As devoted as she was courageous, Joan created quality time innumerable and memories immemorial. Yet the path of motherhood branched beyond merely Robert. Throughout her 35 years of professional service, largely spent sleuthing out oft-overlooked intricacies of government contracts in the medical device industry, Joan’s passion for goodness and fondness for life touched colleagues, coworkers, neighbors, and friends. The homemade baked goods, a listening ear, a gentle smile, or observations expounded upon from the porch of her home gave warmth and hope to any and all within range, and even those beyond it.
Mission of motherhood complete, Joan began the uncommon task of doubling back to travel her long invisible yet never forgotten second path. Galvanized by sisters Diane and Lois, she became drawn to the allure of a new life in retirement and began embarking on this new dream with a zeal matched but by the love shared with her son. Santa Fe home picked out and boxes at the ready, Joan began traveling her second path, in the process revealing magic, excitement, and a promise of untold enchantment. One couldn’t say what lay ahead her new path lay as unspoilt as the one she first set upon all those years ago. God saw fit, however, to recall Joan before her New Mexico dream could fully blossom into the wondrous new life everyone aspired for her to enjoy. As tragic as her sudden loss is enlightening, Joan is survived by her inspired son and her ever-present reminder that dreams are for today. She was happy up to the moment she passed, having the rare fortune and blessing to travel one path and embark upon another, and she surely gazes upon her loved ones and friends with that same warm smile none of us will ever forget.
Joan Kazmarek: dream chaser, beloved mother, cherished daughter, treasured sister, adored aunt, curious nutritionist, trusted colleague, inspired painter, lifelong learner, divine baker, esteemed cook, thoughtful photographer, master knitter, horticultural enthusiast, authentic laugher, posture corrector, radiant smiler, process lover, avid reader, dog supporter, flexible yogi, unrelenting wordsmith, quality time enjoyer, memory creator, free spirit and dear friend.