A comedian watched her mom die from COVID on an iPad. Her live tweets will break you

Jill R. Shah
  (Los Angeles Times)

In heartbreaking and astonishing detail, comedian and writer Laurie Kilmartin used Twitter to document the final hours of her mother’s life Thursday morning to her 85,000-plus followers. Thousands of people responded with messages of support and sympathy as they accompanied her journey through the loss.

JoAnn Kilmartin died at 9:40 a.m. Thursday after complications from COVID-19, according to the tweets. Laurie Kilmartin is a staff writer for late-night talk show host Conan O'Brien's show, "Conan."

After a hospital stay, JoAnn Kilmartin entered a skilled nursing facility and was free of COVID-19 at the time, Laurie Kilmartin said in an account on Twitter. Her mother was diagnosed with COVID-19 after arriving at the facility. Her condition rapidly worsened over the last week, and she developed heart and liver failure.

Over the past week, Kilmartin’s Tweets offered a vivid and real-time portrait of losing loved ones to COVID-19. She wrote about saying goodbye with vulnerability and at times, wry humor.

Many of the Tweets read like diary entries, underscoring the unnatural ways people are forced to connect and communicate with their loved ones in hospitals right now, when coronavirus means visitations can be restricted.

The experience was mediated by iPad and FaceTime while Laurie and her sister struggled to get visitation access.

In an email to The Times, Laurie Kilmartin said she lives in Burbank, only 17 minutes from the facility where her mother was hospitalized. But Kilmartin was unable to see her mother in person until visitation was granted.

Kilmartin noted her mother's breathing and appearance in intimate terms, showing the perceivable, outward effects of the disease.

She described the negotiation of end-of-life care and the reality of caring for a family member while unable to be at the hospital.

Like many mother-daughter relationships, theirs had been rocky at times, and Kilmartin Tweeted about the amends she made at the end of her mother’s life and joked about their dynamic.

And she added some choice words for those refusing to wear masks during an infectious disease pandemic.

The death toll from the coronavirus pandemic continues to rise in the country with more than 120,000 deaths so far. Kilmartin's tweets allowed people to bear witness to the suffering, a small window into the grief that blankets the country. They serve as a reminder of the humanity and the incalculable loss behind each death.