Most people don’t give much thought to how they will die. Unless they have a terminal illness and know it may be painful.
Glastonbury resident Kim Hoffman, who died Jan. 18 after 8½ years with cancer, knew it would be painful and spoke about it on numerous occasions at the Legislative Office Building in Hartford. Friends, family, and colleagues say her compassion and life work touched countless people, as a career counselor, a masterful musician, educator, contra dancer, storyteller, and an advocate for Connecticut’s Medical Aid in Dying bill for the last several years.
In her work supporting the legislation over the years Hoffman said it was meant to help people achieve dignity and have choices in the face of death and pain. The law would allow terminally ill adults, with less than six months to live, the option of when and where to end their suffering. For Hoffman, living life to the fullest also meant having the choice to die, at home with loved ones, without being doped up on narcotics in a hospital bed, she said.
The very option she fought so hard for was not available to her. Yet, one week before her death, former Vermont lawmaker Willem Jewett died using the medical aid-in-dying law that he helped pass nine years ago, before his terminal diagnosis, according to VTDigger.org. He was 58. Hoffman was 59.
“Had Connecticut legislators last spring done right by the voters of Connecticut, 75% of which support this legislation,” Hoffman said in a video made a few months ago, “then I would have the peace of mind and the comfort in knowing there is an end to the suffering.”
Columnist George Will also interviewed Hoffman shortly before her death. His piece was published hours after she died late last Tuesday:
George Will opinion: Medical aid in dying should not be proscribed by society’s laws or condemned by its mores The Washington Post
Hoffman lived with passion and purpose, always standing up for what she felt was just, which she showed in her commitment to a vegan lifestyle, activism, and constant advocacy for those in need, said her longtime friend, Kent Aldrich, and her wife, Joy Cipollo. They said she touched many lives, often through her musical talent, effervescent personality, and her many jokes and stories.
She grew up in Newton, Massachusetts, and earned three master’s degrees; in Biochemistry at the University of Massachusetts, in Social Work at the University of Connecticut, and in Integrative Health at The Graduate Institute. She had a 28-year career as a Social Worker at Conard High in West Hartford where colleagues say she had a passion for helping young people. She was also the head coach of the girls’ tennis team there for 14 years.
“In June of 2013, I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer,” Hoffman wrote for Compassion and Choices, a nonprofit that has been advocating for several years for the passage of medical aid-in-dying legislation in Connecticut and elsewhere around the nation. “The news stunned me. I was healthy, active, and days before my diagnosis had run a 5k, 20-obstacle course race through the mud. I was an athlete. No one, including my doctor, thought I had cancer.”
After surgery, she learned that she had cancer and also that it was far more advanced than expected.
“I could feel myself tearing up and starting to shake my head in disbelief,” Hoffman said, recalling her journey in an online statement. “I have been through eight different rounds of chemotherapy and just recently began a ‘last hope’ trial after no longer responding to standard treatment. My disease has metastasized to multiple organs and my pain, discomfort and physical limitations have escalated.”
“My destiny should be in my hands,” she said, in a video. “I’d love for my end to be peaceful and pain free.”
It is disappointing for those who worked so hard with her, that aid-in-dying failed to pass last year and as such was not extended to her at the end, said Tim Appleton, a Connecticut resident and Senior Campaign Director for Compassion and Choices.
Appleton said he knew Hoffman well.
“She was in so many other communities; a rich community of music lovers and musicians, a community of teachers and social workers, and it became clear that the charisma and the larger-than-life personality that she had, touched so many people,” he said. “Her death is a real loss for so many people. She knew so many people and touched so many lives. The more people I speak with about her, the more people I realize loved her so very much, and mourn this loss as I do.”
Appleton described the first time he met Hoffman.
“She was one of the brightest shining lights I have ever met,” he said. “She came in with a handful of ribbons and medals she had attained for athleticism to show what a vibrant life she had lived … She did what she wanted to do, whether protesting against injustice, playing music, or supporting legislation, her life was lived with intentionality. And, for her to not have access to that same intentionality, access to aid in dying at the end of her life really bothered her.”
“She was one of the most effective advocates whose voice will carry on after her death,” Appleton said. “Kim played a key role in getting the bill out of the Public Health Committee for the first time after 14 separate tries. Her work made all the difference.”