When US comedian Laurie Kilmartin found out that her 83-year-old father was dying from lung cancer she responded in the only way she knew how, using jokes – and social media – to “surround him with love and sarcasm”.
She has been live-tweeting her father’s death for just over a week now, her observations and pictures showing a mixture of humour and fortitude that would make any parent proud.
Kilmartin, who is a staff writer for Conan O’Brien’s late-night talk show, began her twitter vigil on 20 February: "Dad now in hospice. I told Dad if he sees Chris Hitchens, inform him that women not being funny wasn't the only thing he was wrong about."
Her father, Korean War veteran Ron Kilmartin, has undergone six rounds of chemotherapy and a week of radiation treatment, although Kilmartin admits that other members of the family might have different prioritites:
I said, "Grandpa's dying," and my 7 yo son looked up at me with his big brown chocolate drop eyes and said, "what about his iPad?"— Laurie Kilmartin (@anylaurie16) February 26, 2014
Internet users across the world have been directed to Kilmartin’s tweets after fellow comic Patton Oswalt applauded her undertaking as "epic", describing her stream as a mixture of "death and hilarity" to his 1.6 million followers.
Kilmartin’s own response to the extra attention was typically glib:
Losing Dad, gaining followers. The Lord truly works in mysterious ways.— Laurie Kilmartin (@anylaurie16) February 26, 2014
Her tweets range from darkly humorous to understated observations that will resonate with anyone who has lost a loved one: "First 2 days of Dad's hospice, I wouldn't leave the room w/o telling him "I love you." Now we're into day 5, I just say "We're cool, right?""
Many of Kilmartin’s tweets focus on the difference in politics between her and her grandfather - she is a liberal while her father is a staunch conservative.
"How I check that I've put Dad's hearing aids in correctly. Whisper "testing, testing, Obama is a Muslim," then look for the thumbs up," tweeted Kilmartin on 26 February.
"Can't bear to see cancer devour my Dad. Gonna give him a heart attack instead by showing him how much $$$ I've donated to MoveOn .org," she messaged later, noting that the political differences were also taking a toll on her: "Reading Drudge headlines out loud to my Dad. Michelle Malkin's column is next. He feels better, I feel the life draining from my body."
Kilmartin’s response to her father’s death is moving in itself, but it also shows how completely meshed social media has become with our daily lives. In July last year US reporter Scott Simon live-tweeted the death of his mother, telling NPR later that the messages of condolences from the internet at large meant a lot to his family.
"I don't know why people have responded so powerfully," wrote Simon at the time. "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."
Certain things, it seems, are universal - and death and laughter are just two of them. See below for more of Kilmartin's tweets, or click here to visit her feed yourself.
Focussing on Dad's faults so I don't feel too sad. Like that time he said "good job" instead of "great job." jerk— Laurie Kilmartin (@anylaurie16) February 26, 2014
Guys, I'm just trying to grieve in advance, so I can relax and have fun at the funeral.— Laurie Kilmartin (@anylaurie16) February 26, 2014
Every day, I set a new goal of not seeing Dad's genitals when I help him off the toilet.— Laurie Kilmartin (@anylaurie16) February 26, 2014
just promised Dad I'd be nice to Mom. Damnit.— Laurie Kilmartin (@anylaurie16) February 26, 2014
It appears that Dad will die as he lived, covered by horrible crocheted blankets.— Laurie Kilmartin (@anylaurie16) February 26, 2014