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Everyone And His Mother: Twitter Embraces A Nun's Complicated Story... By Her Son


When Mark Miller's 92-year-old mother died this past Sunday, the grief he felt was complex.

MARK MILLER: After 33 years and seeing her not very frequently, the relationship devolved more to sort of like a great aunt than a mother.


Ann Russell Miller spent those 33 years as a nun at a Carmelite monastery in Illinois. Before that, she was a wealthy San Francisco socialite. Members of the order give up their worldly possessions for a life of quiet contemplation, so Miller never left the building, and she was silent for 23 hours a day. Visitors could only see her through a wall of metal bars. No hugging or touching allowed.

KELLY: Mark remembers when she sat all 10 of her children down all those years ago - first, the five girls, then the five boys - and told them her life was going to change. Well, her family was shocked. Being a nun just did not seem like the mother they knew.

MILLER: I was somewhat doubtful that they would keep her because she was just so energetic, sociable, hosting parties. So the monastic cloistered life just didn't seem to fit with this person I knew.

CHANG: But she stayed in the monastery, even though several of her children didn't support her decision.

MILLER: Some were quite angry that she chose to go into the convent with her mother still alive and children and grandchildren and potential grandchildren, her not being a part of their lives.

CHANG: When his mother passed, Mark Miller wasn't sure how to honor her memory. That night, he logged on to Twitter and started to write her story. He didn't think it would reach very far.

MILLER: You know, I don't have that many followers, and, you know, it's mostly friends and things like that. So I was just popping it on there for them, mostly.

KELLY: The tale of a vibrant socialite turned nun and her son's complicated feelings about their relationship, it did resonate with a lot of people, thousands. Some responded with stories about their own complicated mothers, which Mark especially appreciated.

MILLER: There is definitely a growing appreciation for the fact that the standard 1950s definition of a mother is not applicable in so many cases. And the traditional Mother's Day cards and flowers and acknowledgments don't fit for everybody.

CHANG: Mark is focusing on traveling from his home in San Diego to his mother's funeral in Illinois. He says he is sure everyone on Twitter will have forgotten the story in a week or so. For now, all the likes, the comments, the retweets, they haven't slowed down.

KELLY: Not everyone was comfortable with the conversation sparked by Mark's thread. Some people called his honesty a betrayal, while others leapt to his defense. He has a message for them.

MILLER: Anyone who's thinking about battling in the timeline, just practice kindness to one another. I think my mom the nun would appreciate that.

CHANG: Ann Russell Miller died on June 6 in Des Plaines, Ill. She was 92.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ailsa Chang is an award-winning journalist who hosts All Things Considered along with Ari Shapiro, Audie Cornish, and Mary Louise Kelly. She landed in public radio after practicing law for a few years.
Lauren Hodges is an associate producer for All Things Considered. She joined the show in 2018 after seven years in the NPR newsroom as a producer and editor. She doesn't mind that you used her pens, she just likes them a certain way and asks that you put them back the way you found them, thanks. Despite years working on interviews with notable politicians, public figures, and celebrities for NPR, Hodges completely lost her cool when she heard RuPaul's voice and was told to sit quietly in a corner during the rest of the interview. She promises to do better next time.
Mary Louise Kelly is a co-host of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine.