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4:04 pm
Tue July 30, 2013

Scott Simon On Sharing His Mother's Final Moments On Twitter

Originally published on Tue July 30, 2013 5:33 pm

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 21 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."

NPR's Andy Carvin rounded up Simon's tweets and the responses from the social media community. 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.


Interview Highlights

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.

"I don't know why people have responded so powerfully. I think this is obviously a singular event that not only has to do with the death of my mother and the universal experience that is for all of us really but I think that also has to do with the impossible to duplicate presence of my mother, who was a one and only. So I don't try and analyze that."

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 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."

On the banter between him 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 from her 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 80s,' I hear her voice coming back into mine now. 'Always take time with people in their 80s 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."

On their song

"She and I sang to each other a lot, in the ICU. I wish I could tell you it was grand opera. The song that kept popping up and we kept singing to each other, is Nat King Cole singing 'Unforgettable 'and I will hear that song again for the rest of my life and I bet I will sing it to my wife and sing it to my children. I will never hear that song without thinking of my mother."

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish. You

Our WEEKEND EDITION host Scott Simon has put his mother's stories on the air before.

PAT SIMON NEWMAN GILBAND: My name is Pat Simon Newman Gilband.

(LAUGHTER)

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

But you forgot Lyons, the name you were born with, though.

GILBAND: Begin again, all right.

SIMON: That's OK, you can...

GILBAND: My name is Pat Lyons Simon Newman Gilband.

SIMON: Way to go, exactly.

GILBAND: Oh, boy. What a monogram that is.

(LAUGHTER)

CORNISH: That was Scott's mother in 2008 when she joined him for StoryCorps' National Day of Listening Project. Well, recently, Scott has been telling a different story about his mother. She went into the ICU over a week ago and last night she died. She was 84 years old. Scott has been tweeting the entire experience of sitting and sleeping at his mother's bedside, a lyrical and quite public way of saying goodbye.

Scott joins us now from Chicago. And, Scott, first of all, I'm so sorry for your loss.

SIMON: Oh, thank you, thank you, Audie. Nice of you to say that. And I must say, among the millions of people we've been hearing from, of course, are a lot of NPR listeners and it means a lot to our family because they all seem to say that they're not just saying, giving condolences to me as someone they know, but that something my mother said meant something to them. It's very gratifying.

CORNISH: Tell us how you ended up making this announcement on Twitter. You did it in a tweet, actually. I don't know if you remember what it was.

SIMON: Yes. My mother is an old showgirl and I think I said about an hour after she died, the heavens over Chicago have opened and Patricia Lyons Simon Newman has stepped onstage. And then borrowing from the Bard, I said: She will make the faces of heaven shines so fine that all the world will be in love with night. A lot of people, by the way, are complementing me for my eloquence, not knowing that that's a pretty famous Shakespearean line.

(LAUGHTER)

SIMON: And I'm grateful for their - I'll accept the compliment today.

But, you know, Audie, when I - you know, I have an active Twitter account, as you know; as NPR hosts not only have but are supposed to have in this day and age. It's a good way of communicating. And 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 deathbed. And I, of course, was hoping and praying that it wouldn't be her deathbed. But she just 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.

CORNISH: We can hear in that interview, you two kind of laughing and later on in the interview you're crying. And it sort of reflects what we've seen in the posts, your tweets as well. One example from yesterday: I know the end might be near as this is the only day of my adulthood I've seen my mother and she hasn't asked, why that shirt?

(LAUGHTER)

SIMON: Yes, indeed. That was a constant source of byplay between the two of us: Why that shirt, why that shirt and tie - that sort of thing. You know, I always tried to dress well for her and I always felt I could never dress quite well enough for her. Although, I'm glad on the last day we had with each other, she looked up from her bed and said: You really look lovely today.

CORNISH: What was her understanding of you sharing this experience with so many people? I mean, you have, I think, 1.3 million followers on Twitter and that's a lot of people to share what ostensibly is a sacred moment.

SIMON: Well, 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, you know, 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.

I mean, my mother was to a degree of public figure. I've written about her before in a book I wrote years ago called "Home and Away." I always - you know, I interviewed her own StoryCorps. She was married to two men who were public figures of various note. And I wouldn't - I didn't tweet anything and wouldn't have that I didn't think she would be totally comfortable with.

But when she, for example - I think when the reality that these were her last few days, or even hours, beginning to crash in on her, when she just looked up and said: I guarantee you, those great deathbed speeches, they were all written in advance. I mean, that's just so funny and wise, I think it deserves to be shared. And when she just looked up at me and said: Oh Earth, you're too beautiful for anyone to realize, I think we could all stand to learn that, to know that in our bones.

And when she told me, she said: Honey, always take time with people in their 80s. I hear her voice coming back into mind now: Always take time with people in their 80s, 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'm - I can stand to hear that message.

CORNISH: Scott, one more thing, you talked about your mom. You've described her as a funny, flinty old showgirl. Is there a song that you'd like to go out on that could be a tribute to her?

(LAUGHTER)

SIMON: Yeah, I mean, there are several. She and I sang to each other a lot in the ICU. And I wish I could tell you it was a grand opera. At one point she looked at me during the one long night we had - two nights we had, up 48 hours together, never slept - and she said: Maybe we should listen to some opera, it always put me to sleep when I went.

(LAUGHTER)

SIMON: But a song that kept popping up and we kept singing to each other...

(SOUNDBITE OF WEEPING)

SIMON: ...is Nat King Cole singing "Unforgettable."

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC, "UNFORGETTABLE")

SIMON: And I will hear that song again for the rest of my life. And I bet I will sing it to my wife and sing it to my children. I will never hear that song without thinking of my mother.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "UNFORGETTABLE")

NAT KING COLE: (Singing) ...that's what you are...

CORNISH: Scott, thank you so much for sharing this with us.

SIMON: Thank you, Audie.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "UNFORGETTABLE")

COLE: (Singing) Unforgettable...

CORNISH: That's NPR WEEKEND EDITION host Scott Simon, talking about his mother, Patricia Lyons Simon Newman, who died last night at the age of 84.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "UNFORGETTABLE")

COLE: (Singing) Like a song of love that clings to me, how the thought of view does seem to me. Never before had someone been more unforgettable in every way. And for evermore...

CORNISH: This is NPR. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.