If you are among NPR host Scott Simon’s 1.3 million Twitter followers, you likely know the news. Simon’s mother, Patricia Lyons Simon Newman, entered a Chicago hospital on July 21st and died Monday night. She was 84 years old.
Over the weekend, when it became apparent she would not be leaving the ICU, Simon began tweeting the experience of sitting — and sleeping — at his mother’s bedside, and how he and Newman spent those final hours together.
It was a tender, lyrical and public way of saying goodbye. As The Washington Post put it, “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.”
Simon spoke with All Things Considered host Audie Cornish on Tuesday, from his mother’s apartment in Chicago. We’ve excerpted much of the interview, below.
On the outpouring of support
“I must say, among the millions of people we’ve been hearing from are of course NPR listeners. And it means a lot to our family because they all seem to say that they’re not just giving condolences to me as someone they know, but that something my mother said meant something to them. It’s pretty gratifying.”
On sharing his mother’s final moments on Twitter
“When I first went to my mother in the ICU here in Chicago, more than a week ago at this point, I didn’t know it was going to be her death bed and I of course was hoping and praying that it wouldn’t be her death bed. But she was so interesting. And of course I was there all day, and it was the most interesting thing I was hearing all day. She was funny and perceptive and bright and sparkling and this is just something that I wanted to share.
“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 show girl and I wouldn’t — I didn’t tweet anything and wouldn’t have that I didn’t think she would be totally comfortable with.”
On the banter between he and his mother
“A constant, constant source of play between the two of us — ‘Why that shirt?’ And tie. That sort of thing. You know I always try to dress well for her and I always felt like I never dressed quite well enough for her. Although, I’m glad on the last day we had with each other, she looked up bed and said, ‘You really look lovely today.’ “
On what his mother taught him
“When she just looked up at me and said ‘Oh Earth, you’re too beautiful for anyone to realize,’ I think we can all stand to learn that. To know that in our bones. And when she told me, ‘Honey, always take time with people in their eighties,’ I hear her voice coming back into mine now. ‘Always take time with people in their eighties because for more than a decade, they’ve been looking right across the street at death and they know what’s really important in life.’ I don’t know about you but I can stand to hear that message.”