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August 19, 2015

Unforgettable: A Son, a Mother, and the Lessons of a Lifetime

UnforgettableUnforgettable: A Son, a Mother, and the Lessons of a Lifetime

By: Scott Simon

I was initially drawn to this title because I recognized the name of author Scott Simon, a clever and insightful radio personality on NPR’s Weekend Edition – Saturday. Upon finding that the book is a memoir, written in memory of Simon’s recently deceased mother, I was further intrigued.

The bones of this piece are a series of 140-character Twitter posts that are scattered throughout the chapters. Simon composed these brief missives on-the-fly during his mother’s final days – days they spent constantly together in her hospital room.¬ Simon likens her mortal illness to a war of sorts, “moments of panic between hours of tedium.” Simon and his mother spent those precious hours reminiscing and sharing thoughts, stories, and comfort with each other and a few special visitors.

This particular mother/child relationship was unusually close, with Simon being the only child of a single working mother at a time when this was far from the norm. The alcoholism that blighted the life of Simon’s father had fractured the family when Simon was a small boy and shouldered his mother with the sole responsibility of his care and upbringing. She rose to the challenge with compassion, style and panache, resulting in a boyhood experience that was anything but traditional.

Dubbed as Mother and Grand-mere, Patricia Lyons Simon Newman Gelbin concluded her life with a “railroad train of a name,” having survived two of her three husbands and wringing every last drop out of life before succumbing to lung cancer at the age of 84. Her work experiences were varied, ranging from model, to nightclub hostess, secretary, typist, ad agency receptionist and boutique sales-clerk. Patricia did whatever she could to keep herself and her boy afloat. A colorful cast of characters formed a family of-sorts, providing camaraderie, love, and support. A virtual posse of “aunties” and boyfriends became fixtures in the household, celebrating the good times and surviving the bad together.

How does one say good-bye to the woman who has bestowed life, love, and myriad lessons through the course of a lifetime? Using his tweets as touchpoints, Scott Simon shines a light on the irreverent, honest, and trailblazing woman who nurtured him and launched him into adulthood, “a classy guy” with manners. His beautiful prose takes the reader along for a life-in-review from which we can all gain useful lessons.
Simon pulls back the curtain on an intimate and enlightening experience as he copilots the precious final weeks, days, and hours of his mother’s life-journey. Approaching the end of life with devoted dignity and unrelenting honesty and humor can provide valuable insights – after all, this is an appointment we each must keep sooner or later. The language and situations presented can be brutally raw on occasion, particularly under the heightened stress of challenging medical bureaucracy. But don’t let that discourage you from devouring this book; as Simon says early on, “Death drives life. It frightens and inspires us.”

Review By: Pam Lamberger