“What did you do!” exclaims my mother, accentuating each word. A dragon has inhabited her body, and her eyes are exhaling fire. I breathe deeply before explaining that I put the bed covers I used during my visit with her in her laundry basket. My mom stamps her feet. “I never wash the covers. This is my house. I’m in charge. We do things my way. My way!” she repeats, even louder.

“Please forgive me, Mom,” I say. “You’re 100% right. I’m totally wrong and very, very sorry.” Usually, I’m not one to grovel. But I know this isn’t really my sweet, kind mother talking: She’s under the power of both her vascular dementia and Alzheimer’s, the most prevalent form of dementia.

I became well aware of the data five years ago, soon after her double-dementia diagnosis. It worried me to read that as a whole, dementia is the seventh-leading cause of death from disease and a rising cause of a number of disabilities. (WHO, Sept. 2, 2021). Still, I know my mother is among the lucky ones, having both a home health-care policy and the funds to remain at home in the presence of aides. Even after she exceeds the policy’s limits, there is money for her to continue to remain in her house. My brother and I are also fortunate. We oversee her care, but neither of us has been challenged by the deep weariness that my full-time caretaker friends are experiencing—or have experienced—with their own parents.

Some say that within each illness, there is a gift. I haven’t had to dig too deeply to unearth the opportunities that my mother’s dementia has offered me. One is to patiently listen to her fits, to perhaps atone for all the times I did everything BUT stamp my feet. Another is to actively choose to fly from New York to Florida every six weeks or so, to share meals, laughter (when it comes) and remaining memories.

My visits aren’t simply obligatory or payback for the care she extended throughout my life. I feel the deep pull to spend time with her, especially now. Perhaps when the time comes and she forgets my name, she’ll remember that she has a daughter who loves her. Who has always loved her.

Finding the gift that my mother’s dementia has given my independent and largely private mom, of course, requires a far deeper search. She is no longer able to communicate with her friends: mostly the group of ladies she sat with during dinner at her independent living facility. She appears bored as I leaf through picture albums, hoping to jar her memory. I caught on. Most of her family and friends are now strangers anyway. She stopped painting on canvas and hand-painting greeting cards. Sharing her home with aides, accepting their help with taking her medications, pouring milk in her cereal and having her tea hot all reinforce her dependence. She’s painfully aware of that dependence.

Nearly three years ago, my mother began her “night strolls” around the apartment, unaware of where she was. Sometimes, she sat up in bed, still half-asleep, and then ran to the front door, responding to a knock or a phone call only she heard. I explained to my mother that it was no longer safe for her to be alone at night, and that it was time to schedule aides around the clock. “You’re taking away everything I am,” she accused me between sobs.

After logic failed, I used some powerful ammunition. I told her that I won’t be able to sleep at night knowing she might be in danger. It wasn’t a lie. “I never want to hurt or worry you,” she said, tears still in her eyes, as she reluctantly consented. Later, she told me, “I love you as high as the sky.” Who, I ask, wouldn’t want to be around a mother for more of that?

I, for one.

There were times in my life when I would have preferred to stay far away. Times when I felt overwhelmed by her caring. Times when I was too caught up in myself and the blame game over things that now seem so inconsequential that they’re laughable, sadly laughable. Those wasted times I passed over the opportunity to convey my love. But perhaps feelings of guilt help pave the road to redemption.

In my case, it wasn’t too late.

Perhaps as long as a parent is here, it is never too late.

I am reminded of this each time I think about the fifth commandment that G‑d gave Jews on Mount Sinai, a universal commandment: “To honor one’s parents.” To do so, perhaps, especially during more difficult times.

As the Chinuch (Mitzvah 33) explains: At the root of this mitzvah lies the thought that it is fitting for a person to treat with lovingkindness the person who treated him with goodness. ... It is for a person to realize that his father and mother are the cause of his being in the world; hence in truth it is proper for him to give them every honor and every benefit that he can ...

I look briefly at my mom, who no longer cares about what she wears or whether her face is washed. Who sometimes, from her own frustrations, speaks to me in a clip or nasty manner. Then I take a more careful look, a deeper look. I see that despite my mother’s impaired mind, there remains a glow to her heart, an essential kindness in her eyes that has always been there. With my own refreshed eyes, I see just how capable my mother is of still perceiving love and of giving it, at least to the best of her ability.

The most essential part of my mother is still here. It just takes a bit more focus on my part to find it.

My mother starts to cry as we hug goodbye.

“You’ll come again, right?” she asks.

“Yes, Mom,” I say, hugging her more tightly. “I’ll see you very soon.”