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  • Writer's pictureMiriam Green

Gutter Talk

“You’re only fit for the gutter, you are,” she angrily spat at me.

It hurts to hear her talk like that. I know my mom would never say that. But my Alzheimer’s mom says things like that all the time. And in that instance, that other mom hated me. Why? Because I had tried to guide her to a bench to sit while we waited for my dad to pick us up.

It is ironic that I’m using Mom’s designations—the other Jack, the other Miriam—to describe how I feel about her.

The truth is, Daddy and I are in a funk. How much more can we take of this belligerence, the refusal to shower, dress, walk the correct way home, the angrily yelled hostility. Is this our breaking point?

I might be painting this overdramatically, but sometimes that sweet smile of hers and her generous laughter do little to dispel the depression.

And why was Daddy picking us up from the mall? We’ve been walking there and back for the past four months with no difficulty. But Mom is on a new anti-psychotic drug, and some of the side effects she is experiencing are a deterioration in her walking (she now has a shuffling gait) and drowsiness.

Is the drug doing what it was intended to do, i.e., quelling her anger? It’s hard to know. On the one hand, her raging moods are less frequent and probably a little less frenetic. On the other hand, she is still expressing lots of anger and rambling incoherently.

We went together to the geriatrician yesterday. It was mostly an introductory visit after their move to Beer Sheva 4½ months ago. In fact, it took three months to get the appointment. I was hoping the doctor could help us understand the drugs she’s taking, or push forward Mom’s dental treatment. Wrong on both counts. He was pleasant, attentive, patient, but unhelpful. The psycho-geriatrician would have to sort out the drugs and only a dentist could write a recommendation for the outpatient dental clinic at the hospital.

What our visit did make me realize is that we are ahead of the curve. We are admirably taking care of Mom’s physical needs; and we are doing a pretty good job at engaging her in the world. What we currently lack is motivation, and even this waxes and wanes.

Mom’s schedule is hardest for us both on Shabbat. That’s the caregiver’s day off. Daddy is alone with her in the mornings when she is vituperative to the extreme. I come at about 9:00 am, and, with a little luck, we have a happy walk to the synagogue. While there, Mom snoozes through some of the service, sings at other parts, then says hello to all our friends. Even if I didn’t want to take her to synagogue with me, I know I must—my dad needs a break and Mom needs the social interaction.

In this game, I have learned to put my needs aside. I try to be an empty vessel to receive Mom in all her glory. It can be exhilarating to be with her, but it is also exhausting and numbing. And if I feel this way after intermittent weekly interaction, I can only imagine how my dad feels. He is questioning how much longer he can take it.

What are the alternatives? Drugging her even more so that she is less malicious—and less responsive? Putting her in a nursing home?

I am trying to find the strength to acknowledge the great gift I receive every time I’m with Mom. I am working on that sixth commandment of honoring my father and my mother. And perhaps tomorrow, when the sun is shining, when it’s warmer out, when the rain isn’t pouring down in grey streaks that match my mood, I’ll be in that place again to accept those immeasurable gifts.

While I’m waiting for my motivation to return, I’m going to eat this fabulous Chinese pepper steak. Can you see the steam rising from the pan? With beautifully fresh peppers and tomatoes, this dish is a flavorsome treat.

Chinese Pepper Steak

This savory dish is easy to make and is a filling dinner. Experiment! Add other vegetables. Or top with sesame seeds and spring onions.

1 lb (500 grams) steak, cut into thin strips

¼ cup soy sauce

2-3 cloves garlic, crushed

2 Tbsp corn starch

½ tsp ginger

3 Tbsp oil, divided

1 onion, cubed

1 green pepper, cubed

1 red pepper, cubed

2 tomatoes, sliced


Cut steak into strips and place in bowl. In a small container, dissolve corn starch in soy sauce and add spices. Toss on meat. Sauté meat in a large pan in half the oil on a medium flame, removing to a clean bowl once it’s browned. Steam onions and peppers in remaining oil. When they are slightly soft, return meat to pan and add tomatoes. Cook for another five minutes. Serve on a bed of rice.

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