Live tweeting your mother’s death
WHAT did you make of the NPR’s Scott Simon decision to live-tweet his mother’s dying in a Chicago area hospital?
You wake up and realize: you weren’t dreaming. It happened. Cry like you couldn’t last night.
Meghan O’Rourke had a view:
Simon’s Twitter feed was not an imposition of his mourning on others, not some kind of gruesome exhibitionism. It was simply a modern version of what has always existed: a platform for shared grief where the immediate loss suffered by one member of a community becomes an opportunity for communal reckoning and mourning. As the novelist Marilynne Robinson once said, suffering is a human privilege. Grief is the flip side of love. Mourning has become an all too isolated experience—but Facebook and Twitter have become a place (strange as it may seem) where the bereaved can find community, a minyan of strangers to share their prayers. Yes, it might seem strange to stumble upon announcements of death or the intimate details of dying amidst updates about summer trips to Costa Rica, Anthony Weiner’s escapades, and the arrival of a new puppy. But this strangeness is the strangeness of the real.
Will more and more people tweet from hospital rooms? It’s possible. It’s already common on Facebook, where people often announce that a loved one is in the hospital or has died. While some have bemoaned this—the Social Q’s column, in my recollection, once pronounced that Facebook was not the place to announce a death—it doesn’t feel morbid or inappropriate to me. It’s our equivalent of the ringing of church bells in the town square, for better or for worse.
Is any shock based on the idea that he was invading her privacy? Do we feel it as unusual because the tweeter is the dying woman’s son – he loves her – than a TV news crew reporting on a war or famine, filming the dying and dead for a TV show?
Photo: Simon’s parents on their wedding day.
“When I first went to my mother in the ICU here in Chicago, more than a week ago at this point, I didn’t know it was going to be her death bed and I, of course, was hoping and praying that it wouldn’t be her death bed. But she was so interesting. And of course I was there all day, and it was the most interesting thing I was hearing all day. She was funny and perceptive and bright and sparkling and this is just something that I wanted to share.
“I don’t think it’s any less sacred because it was shared with a lot of people and it must be said, you know, there was a lot of stuff that I didn’t share. There was a lot of stuff that I will tell only my wife and maybe someday my children. I certainly had a sense of proportion and delicacy. I don’t think my mother knew much about Twitter or social media platforms but I would read her an occasional message from someone in Australia, someone in Great Britain or Singapore and she was very touched. She was an old showgirl and I wouldn’t — I didn’t tweet anything and wouldn’t have that I didn’t think she would be totally comfortable with.”
Simon has down is introduced us to his mother and then let us better understand the aftermath:
So much important flotsam in the wake of a life. USPS says fill out change-of-address for deceased. Wish I knew to where…
Very few of us are prepared for death.
Tweets from Scott Simon @nprscottsimon:
“When she asked for my help last night, we locked eyes. She calmed down. A look of love that surpasses understanding.”
“Mother cries Help Me at 2;30. Been holding her like a baby since. She’s asleep now. All I can do is hold on to her.”
“Thought that my mother won’t get another glimpse of the city she loves is unbearable. My wife, from France, points out—’She is seeing Chicago in the faces of the loving, tough, & kind souls working so hard for her in the ICU.’ She’s right.”
“I love holding my mother’s hand. Haven’t held it like this since I was 9. Why did I stop? I thought it unmanly? What crap.”
“Was my mother saving this line? My family flies in. My wife & I joke about me sleeping in the ICU (‘All the beeps! Can’t you med people keep it down?’) Tell my mother I’ll see my wife downstairs, back in 10. Mother says, ‘Have a quickie!'”
“Breathing hard now. She sleeps, opens eyes a minute, sleeps. I sing, ‘I’ll always be there, as frightened as you,’ to her.”
“Mother groans w/ pleasure–over flossing. ‘When they mention great little things in life, they usually forget flossing.'”
“I think she wants me to pass along a couple of pieces of advice, ASAP. One: reach out to someone who seems lonely today.”
“And: listen to people in their 80’s. They have looked across the street at death for a decade. They know what’s vital.”
“Oh, and: Oh earth, you’re too wonderful for anyone to realize you. It goes too quickly.”
“City is cool, bright, & lovely this morning. My mother touches a splash of sunlight w/ her fingers. ‘Hello, Chicago!'”
“I just realized: she once had to let me go into the big wide world. Now I have to let her go the same way.”
“ICU seems to be staffed by good, smart young docs who think they know everything, and wise RN’s who really do.”
“When my mother woke briefly I sang her My Best Girl. She replied w/ You Are the Sunshine of My Life. Broadway in the ICU.”
“Derek, mother’s kind & wise nurse, says ‘Get some sleep. Mothers like to see sons sleep.’ But I hold her hand while I can.”
“Wake up, see my hands shaking. Mother holds them, murmurs, ‘Goodnight Sweet Prince.’ Morphine, but no sleep for her.”
“Mother asks, ‘Will this go on forever?’ She means pain, dread. ‘No.’ She says, ‘But we’ll go on forever. You & me.’ Yes.”
“I don’t know how we’ll get through these next few days. And, I don’t want them to end.”
“Mother called: ‘I can’t talk. I’m surrounded by handsome men.’ Emergency surgery. If you can hold a thought for her now…”
The more you read, the more you understand. And it hurts. Boy, does it hurt…