Scott Simon, Twitter, and Grief

NPR host Scott Simon recently made national news as he tweeted from the deathbed of his mother. Based on the comments sections of various articles, some people have difficulty stomaching the expression of grief in such a public space. Grief, as we are told, should remain private. Twitter might seem like a silly or trivial venue for writing about something as serious as the death of a parent but, for many people, including myself, social networking sites are more than just places where I hear news, gossip, and commentary. They are where I connect with other people, share my thoughts, expose my vulnerabilities. The people in our feeds do mean something to us. We care about them and, even though we will never meet them in our everyday lives, we feel an intimacy with them.

When my stepfather had a heart attack in March of this year, I immediately began tweeting. I was at college, many miles away from home. My mother called me in the morning to tell me my stepfather was about to have bypass surgery. She was alone. I was alone. It would take time for her to pick me up from college (I don't own a car). So to cope with my terror and anxiety, I posted some tweets about what was happening. It helped me to bear witness to what I was experiencing, to share it with other people. I feel that it gave me the strength to be there for my mother once we were together, at the hospital, trying to pass the hours in the waiting room. Throughout the day, I tweeted. I worried that I was being too open, giving "too much information" but what mattered more than anything was facing this traumatic event with my sanity intact. Twitter provided an outlet for my fear, and I am grateful for that. I am also grateful for the support people offered me at one of the darkest times in my life.

Writing tweets as your mother dies is not for everyone, and no one is saying that it has to be for everyone. For Scott Simon, it is comforting. But something more is happening. Simon is sending a message. One of his tweets, in particular, confirms this :

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.

Simon is realizing too late that he has made mistakes. After we lose someone, or as we are in the process of losing them, we scrutinize ourselves. Did I love them enough? Did I show that love? Did I truly appreciate this person while I had them? Often, we feel we have failed them. Simon, through his tweets, is warning other people to not make his same mistakes. While you have your mother, hold her hand. Don't be scared to show your affection and love. Simon is tweeting in the midst of death but his message is life-affirming. At a dark and painful moment in his life, he is choosing to share his feelings with the world. His way of grieving may not be for everyone but it is his own. Grief comes in many forms and we can learn from all of them.