Scott Simon of NPR just threw the door open on a new way to grieve. While his mother lay dying in a Chicago hospital this weekend, he tweeted repeatedly about their conversations, his emotions, her condition, and finally her end.
Instead of keeping it private, he shared with his 1.2 million followers, at least the ones who could take it. He didn’t sugar coat what the experience was like. Caught between the wish that her pain would end and the knowledge that once it did he would lose her, he told the truth, step by step, day by day. His vigil became a shared vigil.
It is easy to see that his humor originated with her (on why she was lingering so long, she cracked that she was late for everything), and that they had a topnotch relationship (she tells him that their relationship will reach beyond death). And that his mother had heart, suggesting that everyone reach out to a lonely person, and pointing out that not just William and Kate had a little king, but that every set of new parents does too.
Some followers found it too raw to bear, others found it comforting. Differences in custom, personality, and experience can make us all look quite different in the way we grieve, but the underlying feelings of loss have a lot in common.
As a grief counselor, I tell people that expressing those feelings, even if it is just writing them down on paper, is wonderfully therapeutic and creates a whole new perspective. Shared with other people, they can become even more powerful, drawing in support and understanding.
I also tell them that grieving is a group activity, not a solo one. After all, without a relationship, there is no grief. Maybe it is the cost of love. The loss can be healed by other loved ones.
Finally, I tell people that the greatest opportunity that grieving provides is the chance to put it into action to advance personal growth, and make the world a better place, in honor of the person who has died.
Scott Simon was the guy to put all of this into practice. As he chronicled their singing together, talking, touching, with his own commentary on the experience, he gave the rest of us a gift. Some of us may have to take a pass; others will be heartened and comforted. Even though the rest of us don’t have 1.2 million people listening on Twitter, his openness and frankness may invite the rest of us to follow his lead in our own way, and bring grieving into a more open and visible place.