Random Conversations

Is It a Conversation When Only One Person Speaks?

Is It a Conversation When Only One Person Speaks?

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My mother turned 100 on September 2nd, and that brought with it a mix of emotions.

Mom almost died before I was born. She was saved when her doctor presented her case at a Cleveland Clinic conference and took the advice of a physician who had treated a similar condition. Removing her spleen was the cure.

Her abdomen bore the scars of multiple surgeries performed over the years, and I grew up questioning if she would die young. The answer is pretty clear on that one. What’s more, she’s the last one standing (or sitting, more to the point) among her siblings and their spouses. And she’s still physically healthy!

Ours has not been an easy relationship. Communication has often been fractured, and now we have moved into a time in which she no longer speaks. She occasionally nods her head to indicate yes or makes a sound to indicate no, but mostly she is silent, often with her eyes clenched shut.

Turning 90

Just ten years ago, she was happily enjoying her life, loving the apartment she moved to, power walking her beloved dog. She loved playing poker and was an active participant in the poker group she founded. She also loved playing slot machines and was a frequent visitor to her local casino.

Her surprise 90th birthday celebration was, of course, at a casino. My cousins and niece kindly traveled from California and Ohio to be with her in Arizona. I was there from New York. My brother, sister-in-law, and friends represented the local contingent.

I called Mom from my hotel room on the morning of her birthday. To keep the surprise, I told her I was sorry I couldn’t be there with her. She responded as was her norm – with judgment and guilt. When she saw me in person, she laughed and apologized. That is the only apology I can remember.

Regressing to the Womb

Just a few short years later, a UTI brought the onset of dementia and her long decline began. First, she stopped walking, and then she stopped feeding herself. It’s questionable if she wears her hearing aids, but listening was never a priority.

One day she started squeezing her eyes tightly shut – like a child blocking out the scary scenes of a movie. She seemed to be slowly cutting herself off from every earthly sensation, and I questioned if she was completing her journey back to the womb. And now she has turned 100.

I have a theory about Mom's decline. I believe this time has been her one and only experience of being nurtured, and it’s a gift that she has had this opportunity. On a soul level, I believe that gaining this experience has been a critical component of these recent years.

Being Nurtured

Mom was born near the middle of seven children and was orphaned at a young age. An aunt and uncle took her to live with them and their large family.

I'm quite sure that nurturing was in short supply in both families. There were too many to feed and clothe, and another young one would often be on the way. I can attest that there was no nurturing in her marriage.

With her dementia, Mom moved into a wonderful care home. The owner and her staff are incredible and supply a nurturing environment for each of the up to five people living there.

She receives abundant hugs and demonstrations of kindness – a deep caring. On some level of awareness, I know she feels the warmth. I hope it helps fill the hole she has carried with her over her lifetime.

Our Current Conversations

Our physical conversations are by phone. We tried a video call early on and Mom was totally confused by it. I chatter away for a minute or two while she remains silent. I am often told that she is nodding her head, but I’m not exactly sure what she is acknowledging. And then I say goodbye until the next time.

Our conversations in spirit are very different. It is there that I tell her I hope she is comfortable and at peace. I wish for her that she is experiencing exactly what she needs – whatever that might be. I tell her that I hope she is feeling the love of those in spirit who are waiting for her, as she now straddles both worlds.

These are the conversations with her that don’t fracture. There are no old patterns for us to fall into. The emotional baggage is gone. On a soul level, we connect together – very possibly for the first time. And it feels good.

Mom on Her 90th Birthday – Photo from the Author’s Collection

Cathy Joseph is the author of the Random Conversations blog and is currently seeking representation for her book, The Art of Having a Delicious Conversation.

© 2022 Cathy Joseph. All rights reserved.

6 thoughts on “Is It a Conversation When Only One Person Speaks?”

  1. Awww – that is such a poignant story, Cathy. Wishing your mom a happy and healthy milestone year. May you have many more conversations. Yes, I believe they are conversations if only one is speaking, but all parties are listening/hearing/reacting.

  2. Thank you for sharing this Cathy. I appreciate your vulnerability and especially your gift of describing eloquently what we feel as our parents move into another place.

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