Scott Simon says Goodbye, I love you in 140 Characters

arspilka August 1st, 2013, 6:53 PM
Abby R. Spilka, Hospice Volunteer
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twitter logoI don’t Tweet personally. I understand that Twitter is a powerful social media tool and its uses are boundless… from announcing a revolution to writing disparagingly about the name of a celebrity baby. This past weekend, Twitter entered the national conversation about death and heralded a new chapter in communication.

The Twittersphere and the mainstream media were transfixed by NPR’s Scott Simon tweeting from his mother’s hospital room post-surgery until the day she died. I have been wondering all week how I feel about what he did, and I still don’t know.

I think a lot about death, and I write a fair amount about death and dying, and as readers of this blog know, I spend time with strangers as they lay dying. When I am in those situations I marvel at how intimate they are. It is a closeness, a connection that I can’t explain.

When my step-mom was dying last September and some of my siblings were gathered around her ICU bed, I was grateful to be sharing these moments with them. We had created a circle, our community was just big enough for us.

I admire that Scott was able to be at once poetic, poignant, and pithy as he described his mother’s final days. Their humorous exchanges have made me smile and tear up, sometimes at the same time.

From his mom: “Believe me those great deathbed speeches are written ahead of time.”

From Scott: “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?”

In an interview with his NPR colleague Audie Cornish, Scott said that when he went to see his mom in the hospital he had no idea that her life would take the course it did. He found her so interesting, he says, “She was funny and perceptive and bright and sparkling and this is just something that I wanted to share.”

One might ask, is it oversharing? Says Scott, “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.”

ABC News had an interesting take on this story, one that I appreciated more than most. As a public figure, Scott chose to include his 1.2 million followers in this emotionally draining experience, one that he admits he wasn’t prepared for. ABC interviewed Art Caplan, director of medical ethics at NYU Langone Medical Center about Scott’s choice to tweet at the end of his mom’s life. “This is the tip of a very big iceberg shift in thinking about privacy and intimate moments, when someone that prominent does that,” said Dr. Kaplan: “Society finds it very difficult to talk about death and dying. But it would be better if we could get people to talk about it before and not in the middle of it.”

And yet, Scott’s 1.2 million followers were reading these tweets and retweeting them, increasing their reach exponentially. The Washington Post put it more eloquenly: “It led perfect strangers to tell Simon that he had made them burst into tears. Which led readers to think about good deaths and good lives.”

And in the end that’s what we all desire: to live a good life and to have a good death. In the end Scott shared his mom with the world and the world was grateful to have a glimpse of a son and a mother being vulnerable, funny, honest, open, and loving.

I guess I now know how I feel about Scott’s tweets. Thank you, Scott. May Patricia’s memory forever be a blessing.


  • I respect Scott for sharing his last moments with his Mom with his friends and followers. My mom was to private to have ever wanted any of us to do that and I would actually be sobbing through every letter I typed, so I would never ever have done what. Scott did and that was his way. I relive magic moms life and her smiling eyes many moments of day, and the unexpected news of her illness and shocking sudden passing to many times a week. Honestly, did haven’t excepted she is gone, in fact she will never be gone. In fact she is here with us right now saying, “don’t you dare tweet about me.” And following that she quietly asks, “sweetie, what’s a tweet?” I love you Abby.

  • Don’t mind my typos, I was writing through teary eyes.

  • Thank you, Matt, for your stirring comment!

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