NPR’s Scott Simon turns the personal into the universal with tweets about his mom’s death

Scott Simon’s tweets about his mom’s final days in the ICU were well-written and deeply personal. They gave us a glimpse into Simon’s past and showed a grown man’s struggle to part with his dying mom.

Simon, host of NPR’s “Weekend Edition Saturday,” tweeted that he wished he had held his mom’s hand more throughout the years. He tweeted about her reaction to the Royal Baby’s birth (“Every baby boy is a little king to his parents“), his appreciation for the ICU nurses, and the powerful role reversal he experienced when holding his mom like a baby as she fell asleep in his arms.

Simon’s mother died in Chicago Monday night. He didn’t tweet much about the way he felt the moment she passed away, but he didn’t have to. His tweets leading up to her death revealed his raw emotions, and this tweet about her death summed it up well: “She will make the face of heaven shine so fine that all the world will be in love with night.” It conveys hope that things will be ok.

It’s no surprise that Simon’s tweets, which read like mini memoirs, have gotten so much attention. For starters, he has 1.3 million followers. But beyond that, his tweets speak to universal truths we can all relate to — loss, love and the pain of having to let go. They remind us that losing your parents is difficult, no matter how old you are or how you lose them.

As someone who lost my mom to breast cancer when I was 11, I can relate a lot to Simon’s tweets. They made me wish Twitter had been around when my mom died, so I could preserve that day in writing. The tweets would be a helpful resource to me now, as I write a memoir about my mom and the impact her death had on me. I wrote in my journal at the time, but writing in a journal isn’t the same.

Writing about death publicly makes us vulnerable; it forces us to face reality instead of running from it. That’s scary, but it can also be liberating and help us grieve.

As Twitter has become more mainstream, people have gained a greater appreciation for experimentation on the platform. In 2008, a Rocky Mountain News reporter was chastised for tweeting from a funeral; journalists at the time called the move “repulsive” and “tasteless.”

Now, it’s not as unusual to see people tweet from intimate settings. The key is figuring out how to still be respectful. In an interview with NPR, Simon explained:

“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.”

Other journalists have tweeted about their personal experiences with death, including Ben Montgomery of Poynter’s Tampa Bay Times. In 2011, he tweeted from his father’s funeral.

“I don’t think in any sense it was therapeutic,” he told me at the time. “It’s what I do; I write about things, and this was no different. We’ve been writing about death for thousands and thousands of years in a million different ways — in books and magazines and newspapers, and subway tunnels and on the rear windshields of automobiles and cave walls. Tweeting just feels like another version of all that.”

Similar to Simon and Montgomery, author Laura Zigman used Twitter to seek support after her mother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and author Beth Wareham tweeted about her father’s time in the ICU. Tech writer Xeni Jardin tweets regularly about her struggle with breast cancer.

These writers, most of whom I interviewed, said they turn to Twitter because it has helped them be more in touch with their emotions, capture the present day in writing, resurface memories, gain strength, make the unknown less daunting and build a virtual community of support.

Simon’s tweets have no doubt resonated with readers — and the responses seem to have resonated with him.

“Thank you for all your warm wishes and prayers,” he tweeted Monday night after his mom died. “Such love drives the world.”

Related: What Twitter teaches us about writing short & well

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