Live-tweeting has become as common in some circles as face-to-face conversation. And just like in conversation, there are certain topics that are often frowned upon. One of those is death.
It’s a subject we tend to stay as far away from as possible. We’re not comfortable with it. We associate it with negative feelings, discomfort and fear. Stay away from us, we say to it, we’re not ready for you around here.
So it is with extreme bravery that NPR journalist Scott Simon decided to live-tweet the death of his mother.
Without ever announcing his intention to do so, he began writing about his mother, age 84, in the ICU, after tweeting that she had emergency surgery on July 16.
What follows though, is a touching, incredible journey through his thoughts and reflections as he sits with his mom during the last days of her life.
Over the past week, Simon told his more than one-million followers about being alive. He thanked them periodically for the good wishes they were sending.
At one point he said, “I am not sure my mother understands Twitter or why I tell her millions of people love her – but she says she’s ver [sic] touched.
“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 80s. They have looked across the street at death for a decade. They know what’s vital.”
It’s breathtakingly honest and brutal in its pain.
“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,” he tweeted.
He becomes a young boy before our eyes – fragile, anxious, afraid.
“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,” he went on.
“Mother asks, ‘Will this go on forever?’ She means pain, dread. ‘No.’ She says, ‘But we’ll go on forever. You & me.’ Yes.”
And he injects humour into an otherwise serious, sobering time. “I know end might be near as this is only day of my adulthood I’ve seen my mother and she hasn’t asked, ‘Why that shirt?’ ”
It’s a heartbreaking story, told in 140-character bites. Simon sings with his mother, reads with her, sleeps beside her. He points out how nice everyone is in the ICU. He shares the fact that his mother had tears in her eyes when she watched Will and Kate holding their new baby.
She said, “every baby boy is a little king to his parents,” and when Simon says he had tears too, it’s like we were all there in the room with him, feeling the imminent, not wanting it to happen. You know the inevitable is on its way but you wish so hard you could stop it, if only so that Simon can spend more time with the woman who taught him and loved him so fiercely.
On July 29, he tweeted: “Heart rate dropping. Heart dropping.” And then: “The heavens over Chicago have opened and Patricia Lyons Simon Newman has stepped onstage.”
And you realize you wish it didn’t have to happen – that you could spare this person from a life without his mother, that you could somehow fix what just happened.
It is the conversation we dare not go close to, done with grace. Have we just been avoiding the topic for so long because we don’t know how to do it properly, how to do it the way Simon did? It can be beautiful, his Twitter feed shows.
It’s beautiful and raw. If you haven’t read his journey and thoughts over the past week, you need to do that now. It’s a story unlike one you will read anywhere else right now. Tragic and incredibly brave, it is brilliant.