Son's gorgeous tribute to his late father lost to coronavirus goes viral

Francesca Gariano

John Pijanowski posted a tribute to his late father, Donald John Pijanowski, on Twitter after he passed away on April 1, 2020 from COVID-19. He was 87.

In the viral thread, Pijanowski, a professor at the University of Arkansas, shared heartwarming anecdotes about his father, telling stories of his childhood, good heart, work ethic and family values.

"My dad was a great man," he wrote in one passage. "There are no buildings named after him, he left behind no fortune, and there are no books that tell his story. He was not great in the way we often try to define the term — he was great in that he was such a *good* man — good to his core, unfailingly good."

Pijanowski told TODAY that he first caught wind that something was not right with his father when he called him on March 29 like he usually did every Sunday and he didn’t pick up. He asked one of his brothers still living in Buffalo to check-in on him.

“He found him really not doing well,” Pijanowski said. “He was on the floor, basically couldn’t move. We weren’t even thinking coronavirus because we didn’t have any indication that he was sick at all. I thought he just fell or something."

But when paramedics took the elder Pijanowski to the hospital, he was tested for coronavirus after exhibiting multiple symptoms of the virus.

Three days later, he died.

Donald John Pijanowski and his grandson.
Donald John Pijanowski and his grandson.

Pijanowski memorialized his father on Twitter the day of his passing. The thread was full of memories about his father’s childhood growing up in Buffalo, his love for sports and his impact on his community.

“He was a guy who is at the center of just about every important community event in my entire life growing up,” Pijanowski said. “My memories of him, a lot of them are around playing sports. He loved helping neighborhood kids. From the time I was a kid — whether it was playing ice hockey out in the driveway, youth nights at the local church, baseball games for his company league — he always had to thrust himself into the center of those things."

He added, "Because of that and because he was such a giving guy and loving guy, I think a lot of kids in the neighborhood saw him as kind of the dad of the neighborhood. He was a surrogate dad for a lot of people.”

Due to hospital procedures amid the coronavirus pandemic, Pijanowski and his brothers were unable to be with their father in the hospital after he was admitted.

“When he was in the hospital it was so unbearably hard to not be with him,” he said. “All of our instinct was to immediately get to Buffalo as fast as we could to get to the hospital. Of course, nobody’s allowed inside of the hospital and it’s not the right thing to do for other people who are working there, the community or our own families. We had to follow those rules because they’re there for a reason to keep people safe, but it’s hard.”

He continued, “I have a tremendous amount of appreciation and faith in these doctors and nurses. They did a great job communicating with us. They reassured me that in those moments, when family’s not there, that they are there with a loving touch to keep them company and make them so they’re not alone.”

Large gatherings are also prohibited to stop the spread of the virus, making it difficult for loved ones to mourn during these heartbreaking times.

“We can’t have a funeral, we can’t all be together and do the things that we’d normally do: be silent together, cry together, tell stories that are funny and have awkward laughs together," he said. "But we can’t let ourselves get isolated. We have to find a way to reach out and find people. Find them online, find them on FaceTime, Zoom, phone calls. It’s a tremendous experience to be able to connect with people like that.”

“Buffalo is the city of good neighbors, that means something different now than it did a couple of weeks ago," Pijanowski concluded. "We just have to adapt and find new ways to be good neighbors to each other.”