I suppose I feel as if it’s my job, along with taking care of my mother’s financial and medical affairs, to try to convince her that as long as she’s alive there is joy to be found, at least occasionally, somewhere, from something. In pistachio ice cream or lights on a Christmas tree or a zen koan. In her favorite hippie yoga instructor. Or in my brother’s lovely and outgoing friend who spends three days a week with her, bearing art projects and word search puzzles and Rice Krispies treats.

When she’s talking to me she’ll typically have none of it. And when I looked through old family photos last month I began to wonder if my perseverance is an insult. She tells me I don’t understand. And of course she’s right – I have my husband, two dexterous hands and two strong legs, and a mind that can still grasp the complexities of Pirkei Avos. And here I sit telling the woman who studied Arabic and Hebrew, gardened with a passion and debated God’s goodness with monks and philosophy professors, to enjoy her hot dogs and beans.

But I don’t know what else to do. So I wish her a Merry Christmas, bring her presents, and light the little tree.