August 1, 2013

Tweeting the death of his mother

Goodbyes and Grief in Real Time

Scott Simon’s first Twitter message about his mother, dated July 16, squeezed a universal story involving heartbreak and humor into 21 words. He wrote: “Mother called: ‘I can’t talk. I’m surrounded by handsome men.’ Emergency surgery. If you can hold a thought for her now … ”

The ellipsis hinted that he’d have more to say later, and he did. “We never stop learning from our mothers, do we?” he asked on July 25. By then his mother, Patricia Lyons Simon Newman, 84, had spent several nights in the intensive care unit of a Chicago-area hospital. And Twitter users around the world were getting to know her, thanks to the short bursts of commentary by Mr. Simon, the host of “Weekend Edition Saturday” on NPR.


 Scott Simon Tweeting Grief


The tweets captured the attention of a significant portion of the social-media world for days.

Mr. Simon wrote on Monday morning that “her passing might come any moment,” and that evening it did, when she died after being treated for cancer. Borrowing from “Romeo and Juliet,” he wrote, “She will make the face of heaven shine so fine that all the world will be in love with night,” and then stopped tweeting for half a day.

“When I began to tweet, I had almost no thought that this was going to be my mother’s deathbed,” Mr. Simon said in a telephone interview on Wednesday, after the outpouring of emotion — his Twitter audience’s as well as his own — had made national headlines. His mother, he said, had originally gone into the hospital for a blood test.

“As it got more serious, she was just so marvelously entertaining and insightful,” he said. “I found it irresistible.”
--
Mr. Simon said he wanted people to know that “I wasn’t holding my mother in my arms and tweeting with my free hand.”

He added: “As you may know, an incurable illness like this is a lot like war. There are moments of panic and anxiety, separated by hours of tedium.”
--
Sometimes Ms. Newman gave Mr. Simon, and by extension some of his 1.2 million Twitter followers, a reason to smile or chuckle: “Believe me,” she told him on Saturday, “those great deathbed speeches are written ahead of time.” Sometimes, she seemed to want Mr. Simon to share bits of advice. On Sunday, he encapsulated this thought from his mother: “Listen to people in their 80s. They have looked across the street at death for a decade.”
Posted by Jill Fallon at August 1, 2013 11:15 AM | Permalink