Thoughts on Mona Simpson’s Eulogy for Steve Jobs

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Steve Jobs was one of those rare celebrities whose attitudes and actions affected our daily lives. And because we felt more connected to him than to most celebrities, his death touched us more deeply. We felt we had a right to grieve his death, because we felt loss, and we wondered about what the future would hold now. And that mixture of gratitude for what he had done for us, and anxiety about the future, felt similar to the way we feel when we lose a close member of the family. 

For that reason, it seemed we had earned the right to share in his final moments, and we were granted access to those moments through the public eulogy written by Job’s sister, Mona Simpson. It’s beautifully written. (Here’s a link that won’t be affected by the New York Times paywall). Simpson is a novelist, and she uses all her skills as a writer to let us see a version of Steve Jobs that is very different from the one we thought we knew. Her eulogy takes us into his personal life, gives us a glimpse of how he lived and lets us see the special bond between Jobs and his wife, Laurene. 

Reading this eulogy, I was grateful to Simpson for sharing this loving picture of Jobs with the world. And then I came to the end of the eulogy, when Simpson reveals Jobs’ final moments, and his last words, and I felt a little differently.

I have been with someone — my mother — in the moment of death. And I understand the need to share that moment with others. But death is such a private experience, I’m not sure it should be shared with everyone. My mother chose to have only her three closest living relatives with her when she died — her two children, and her brother. I don’t know what Steve Jobs’ wishes were. It’s very possible he wanted his last moments, and his last words, revealed to anyone and everyone. 

But coming to the end of Mona Simpson’s eulogy, I felt a little ashamed, frankly. I felt I was peeking behind a curtain to peer into a private scene I had no business seeing. Immediately after reading it, I tweeted that it was a “privilege” to read those words. That was my first attempt to articulate what I was feeling, the sense of having been allowed into the inner sanctum to witness something so terribly personal as someone’s moment of death.

Now, part of me wishes I hadn’t read those final few paragraphs. Did Steve Jobs really want me there with him when he died? Did he want me to hear the final, ecstatic sounds he made? 

Oddly, I care about him enough (a feeling his sister’s eulogy helped to cement) to feel that I should not have looked onto that last, most private scene. I don’t judge Mona Simpson for letting me, I just wish I hadn’t.