It’s been years since I’ve had a substantial conversation with my mother, who years ago was diagnosed with dementia. But recently during a visit with her at her apartment in New York, as we sat over bagels, lox, and cream cheese at her kitchen table, I looked up to see her gazing adoringly at me, an unexpected twinkle in her eye.
Completely startled, I did a double-take.
At breakfast the next morning, she reached across the table and grabbed my right hand, placing our two palms together, and began to marvel at how similar they were: their size, their shape, and the way they fit together. Then she slowly pushed her palm away from mine so that only our fingertips were touching, and then back to prayer formation.
Later at lunch, she reached up, cupped my face in her hands like a vase, and looked at me tenderly.
The following morning, she leaned over and slowly traced the contours of my Fu Manchu moustache with her finger while I stared at it cross-eyed. She ran her finger along each section—across the top, down each side, and over the patch beneath my lower lip—saying, in a childlike, singsongy voice, “You have this. And this. And this.”
What made these moments so striking was how unprecedented they were. My mother had never been comfortable with this level of intimacy, or any emotional or physical expression of feeling. In most of the photographs taken of us together over the years, we look like two people standing next to each other in a…