Patricia Lyons Simon Newman died in Chicago at the age of 84 this week, but her wit stayed with her to the end. Her son, NPR's Scott Simon, tweeted continuously from her bedside in the intensive care unit as their time together came to a close.
I consider this a good sign: mother sez when time comes, obit headline should be Three Jewish Husbands, But No Guilt.
Thank you for all of the kind notes and messages, from truly millions of people.
When I flew to my mother's hospital room here in Chicago a couple of weeks ago, I did not expect it to become — and prayed it wouldn't be — the place where she would die. I didn't set out to keep a deathbed vigil in short bursts, and am only now beginning to appreciate how the glimpse of her spirit in those tweets touched something raw and beautiful in so many.
I was a son trying to help his mother. But as we sat up through the long days, filled with beeps, bleats and fears, and struggled for sleep over long nights, she was just so charming, funny and interesting.
"All those great deathbed speeches," my mother told me, "They had to be written in advance."
But as our hours wound down, her wit and insights seemed to sharpen and deepen.
"Listen to people in their 80s," she said. "They've stared just across the street at death for a decade. They know what's important in life."
The last errand my mother asked me to run was to give a little cash to two women in her neighborhood: one who did her nails, and a seamstress who had pinned up a pair of slacks.
"They work hard to support their children," she told me, "They need this."
Both women were touched and tearful; they refused the cash. "She went to the hospital before I could do her nails," said the manicurist. "I can't take this."
"My mother tells me that you have a little boy," I told her, and she said, "Yes. He's 6."
"Well, my mother once had a 6-year-old boy," I replied. "She worked as a secretary and a salesclerk and a lot of other jobs to support her son. And here I am. And we both want you to have this."
Any time you have heard me be gracious and kind on our program, it reflected my mother. Any time I've been snippy or sarcastic, I fell short of what she taught me through her grace.
A few nights ago my mother recalled the names of some friends, family and Chicago characters who are in the cemetery where she was interred yesterday. "We'll have parties at night," she said.