Simon, who was not able to respond to e-mail from the hospital, did seem to indicate that his mother had some idea of their audience. “I am not sure my mother understands Twitter or why I tell her millions of people love her — but she says she’s ver[y] touched,” he wrote Sunday.
A few years ago, people began live-tweeting weddings, births, celebrations, even funerals — but the intimate intricacies of dying represent a scarcely charted frontier. Americans’ daily relationship to death (until we, ourselves, are sitting next to that hospice bed) is usually limited to contributing $5 to condolence flowers for someone at the office.
“It’s the last taboo that we have,” says Larry Samuel, who just wrote a book about it, “Death, American Style.” “Death has become almost embarrassing, like a mistake of nature that you’re going to die, instead of the most natural thing in the world. Cemeteries are on the outskirts of town; bodies are whisked away.”
The Victorians used to be better at it, with their cemetery picnics, death portraits, hair lockets, black clothes. A century and a half ago, there were a dozen ways for people to communally express their pain, but now stoicism is seen as strength instead of repression.
We’ll publicly RIP Cory Monteith on Twitter, but prolonged and sustained displays of personal emotion are frowned on. “Grief is a luxury I can’t afford right now,” the president tells someone on “24,” and this sentiment is supposed to be admirable.
It’s fashionable to roll one’s eyes at oversharing in public. Oversharing is crass, a symptom of a society with ego and without boundaries. But reading about a grown man crumbling over the bed of his dying mother apparently penetrated the hard shell of the Internet. It was reminding people what it meant to feel, and to be bare, and most of all, to have a mother.
Patricia Lyons Simon Newman Gilband, Scott Simon’s mother, died Monday evening, and her son announced it on Twitter. A few hours before, as millions of people waited to find out what was happening in a stranger’s family, Simon posted: “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?’ ”