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Life, Death, Love and Loss in 140 Characters: It's Time To Look At Twitter in a New Light

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I have a story to tell you.

It belongs to someone else.

It is their words.

It’s a story about life, death, love and loss.

A story about mothers and sons and the unbreakable bond they share in life and beyond.

“My mother in ICU sees Kate & Will holding baby and tears: “Every baby boy is a little king to his parents. ” So I tear too. I am getting a life’s lesson about grace from my mother in the ICU. We never stop learning from our mothers, do we? My mother knows the name & story of every nurse & doctor in the ICU. She keeps no one a stranger.

My mother & I just sang Que Sera Sera 3 times. God bless you Doris Day for giving us such a great theme song. I consider this a good sign: mother sez when time comes, obit headline should be Three Jewish Husbands, But No Guilt.

My mother drifts to sleep listening to Nat’s Unforgettable. I keep things light, but moments like this hard, if sweet. Mother can’t sleep. We listen to music, her face feels puffy, hot. We talk of much. I say “You need sleep.” “Not really.” Thanks for all good wishes. Mother says, “We can get through this, baby. The hardest part we’ll be for you when it’s over.”

Nights are the hardest. But that’s why I’m here. I wish I could lift my mother’s pain & fears from her bones into mine. My mother: “Believe me, those great death bed speeches are written ahead of time. ” Mother: “I don’t know why this is going on so long. I’m late for everything I guess.”

I tell my mother, “You’ll never stop teaching me.” She said, “Well don’t blame me for everything.” Anytime you’ve heard me being gracious & kind, it reflected my mother’s teaching. Anytime I was unkind, I fell short. My mother is breathing, finally sleeping. Docs asked what priority is. I just want to take her to sit in our favorite park. I don’t know how we’ll get through these next few days. And, I don’t want them to end. Mother asks, “Will this go on forever?” She means pain, dread. “No.” She says, “But we’ll go on forever. You & me.” Yes.

Wake up, see my hands shaking. Mother holds them, murmurs, “Goodnight Sweet Prince.” Morphine, but no sleep for her. I see dawn coming in sky and want to hold it back to keep my mother from what’s ahead–to keep my mother, period.

If we only truly realized how little time we have…

Derek, mother’s kind & wise nurse, says “Get some sleep. Mothers like to see sons sleep.” But I hold her hand while I can. ICU seems to be staffed by good, smart young docs who think they know everything, and wise RN’s who really do.

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. Listen to people in their 80’s. They have looked across the street at death for a decade. They know what’s vital.

Breathing hard now. She sleeps, opens eyes a minute, sleeps. I sing, “I’ll always be there, as frightened as you,” to her. 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.

In middle of nights like this, my knees shake as if there’s an earthquake. I hold my mother’s arm for strength–still. 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. Her passing might come any moment, or in an hour, or not for a day. Nurses saying hearing is last sense to go so I sing & joke. When she asked for my help last night, we locked eyes. She calmed down. A look of love that surpasses understanding.

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?”

Heart rate dropping. Heart dropping.

The heavens over Chicago have opened and Patricia Lyons Simon Newman has stepped onstage.

She will make the face of heaven shine so fine that all the world will be in love with night.”

The painfully beautiful, heart-achingly sweet account of a mother’s passing through her sons eyes, was written on Twitter over the course of four days. Each sentence was a tweet from NPR host, Scott Simon. As an account of a mother’s passing, the narrative is undeniably stunning. An eloquent commentary on life, death, love, loss and the powerful bond between moms and their babies. Nonetheless, the reaction to Simon’s decision to tweet his mom’s passing wasn’t entirely positive.

In a thoughtful post on MamaPop, the very talented Jeni Marinucci says that Simon’s tweets weren’t touching or heartbreaking isn’t up for debate. She questions whether it’s an appropriate use for social media. “The public and private spheres are now overlapped and the borders which hold them apart is rapidly dissolving. Is the death of a stranger appropriate for wider public consumption? Is live-tweeting a death an act I’d argue is more intimate than birth or any human experience which comes before it is it okay? I don’t know.” Underneath all the sadness and grief the tweets brought forth within her, Marinucci describes feeling uncomfortable and even “dirty” for reading Simon’s feed.

Not everyone was as eloquent as Marinucci in describing their negative reaction to Simon’s tweets. Granted, on the whole, the reaction to Simon’s tweets has been positive but a few people aren’t as willing to give praise. In the comments of a Wall Street Journal article on Simon:

“So now death itself in real time is the subject of internet sponsored chatter. If the dying moments of your mother can now be the subject of 140 character publicly disseminated sound bites, then any regard for privacy, and any sense of awe of life’s end, has been seriously anesthetized.”

And on Twitter:

@ValeWolf: My last moments with my mom? Let me tweet about it! RTs and favs > my last minutes with her, ever!

If you had originally read Simon’s words in book form, or in a New York Times article, or even in a blog post, I submit you would have been touched beyond words. Because you’re accustomed to those forums of communication. But Twitter, being relatively new, isn’t a forum you hold in as high regard as that article in the NY Times. Maybe because everyone and their dog, literally, has a Twitter account? Maybe it’s the fart jokes? Whatever it is, you need to get over it.

Twitter has been used by people in war-torn countries to share the truth, it’s been memorialized as the last words of those we lost far too soon, it’s used to announce divorce, it was used to announce the birth of a royal baby, it’s used and often seen as the most direct, unfiltered communication for celebrities, leaders, politicians and yes, it’s used for fart jokes. But, just as a book of ‘Yo Mama’ jokes doesn’t take away from the masterpiece that is Dickens’ Great Expectations, your nephew’s fart jokes don’t take away from Simon eloquently holding up love and death for examination.

And if it’s the “live-tweeting” aspect that concerns you I urge you to get over that as well. Many Internet commentators hiss the term “live-tweet” as an implication that the person tweeting was more consumed with attention on the Internet than what they’re tweeting about. As if by “live-tweeting” an event that doesn’t involve what you’re eating for lunch you’re somehow degrading that about which you are tweeting. Not true.

Example: In many Internet circles I’m known as ‘The Woman Who Live-Tweets As Her Home Burns’ Over a year ago our house caught fire and, in the aftermath, I sent out two or three tweets that our house was on fire and how devastated I was. Does this mean I paused during our rush to get out safely to send out those tweets? Does it mean I ignored my terrified family in search of attention on the Internet?

The answer, unequivocally, is NO.

Has your house ever been on fire? Do you know what happens? You stand there for hours helplessly watching your house burn until family members or neighbors drag you away because nothing more can be done until you’re allowed back in your home days later to pick over the ashes.

In our case, we rushed our kids and dogs into the car, threw our computers in the front seat and drove it down the street, facing away from the house so the kids couldn’t see what was happening, then waited as firefighters battled the flames. As the kids listened to their Raffi, or whatever it was, to drown out the sirens, I noticed my computer was still on and had Twitter and Facebook up and, as we were parked in front of the neighbors’ house, I still had a connection. My husband was down the street watching the house burn, my mom wasn’t answering her phone, so I reached out to friends and family via the Internet. Thus I was callously dubbed ‘Woman Who Live-Tweets House Fire.’

Did Simon tell his dying mom to hang on just one minute longer so he could issue a tweet on her rapidly declining condition? Were doctors manning the defibrillator while Simon worked his iPhone?  No. Ever sat vigil at someone’s death bed? It’s hours and hours of monotony punctuated by moments so intense and painful it is only human to want to reach out to others for comfort or in an attempt to articulate the experience you’re going through.

What better way to reach out then social media?  It’s the “live” aspect that makes it so revolutionary. This is happening now.  It’s not an article written about something that happened last week or last night, it’s right now.  Like it or not, Twitter is a modern means of communication and I see no difference in Simon’s tweets or an interview with Diane Sawyer in a few weeks sharing the profound experience of his dying mom. Voyeuristic? Perhaps. But that doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing. In a world of sex tapes, crap reality TV and TMZ, Scott Simon’s tweets helping us examine the human experience in all its terrible beauty should be held as a shining example of the heavenly heights we can reach with social media when we use it the right way.

And this… This was the right way.

Image source: blogrbutr.com

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