Frances H. Kakugawa
Hawai‘i Herald Columnist
Omoiyari . . . Think of others first and good karma will return to you. — Frances H. Kakugawa
I am in Hawai‘i on a speaking tour as you read this month’s column. Let me indulge you with an excerpt from one of my talks:
I want to share with you the story of a mother teaching her daughter how to bake fish.
“First,” the mother instructed, “always cut the tail off before you put it in the pan.”
“Why?” her daughter asked.
“Because this is how I learned it from my mother.”
When the young daughter asked her grandmother, she got the same answer: “Because this is how I learned it from my mother.”
So in that family, the fish tail was always cut off before it was baked.
One day, the daughter asked her great-grandmother, “Why do we cut the tail off the fish before we bake it?”
Her great-grandmother answered, “I don’t know why you do it, but I cut the tail off because my pan is too small for the whole fish. I never got myself a bigger baking pan.”
So, one simple observation became a legacy of sorts for generations in that family.
Think of what we caregivers are capable of doing in preserving human dignity and the humanities for generations to come. We are that select group of people who live the humanities day after day. In our busy lives, we may not be aware of the impact we are making on the lives of our children and their children, and others outside of our home due to the demands of caregiving. There is no medal or special ceremony, no pause button for reflections. But our acts of compassion and human kindness are being observed and learned and passed on to our children. Can you think of a more lasting and genuine legacy to contribute to our world?
Whenever my mother and I visited her physician, she (the doctor) always thanked me for the lesson she was learning from me. “I hope to be as compassionate as you when it’s time for me to care for my mother,” she said. So, as I was receiving medical help in the care of my mother, her physician was also part of this learning circle — all three of us making an impact on each other’s life. Each of us was making a difference in the world.
It’s inconceivable to even imagine what the world will be like decades from now with the advancements in the science, technology and the ever-changing environment. I would like to believe that the one constancy is what caregivers live with day after day — that human element of what we call the humanities.
So, caregivers, do not take lightly what you are doing for humanity.
There will be no Nobel Prize for what we do,
no trip to Sweden, no medals — gold, silver or bronze.
But here we stand — caregivers, past and present —preserving
for all generations, this lesson learned in what it means
to be human . . .
Once we abandon this heritage, all the years spent, day after day, year after year, in the shadow of the thief . . .
all would have been for naught. Bruised, frayed, tattered,
like a flag after battle, we stand
with human kindness and compassion,
a legacy for ages hence.
– ©Frances Kakugawa
Sometimes we do something extraordinary with the simplest of acts, don’t we, by simply remembering to dignify another human being, and this leaves us with the feeling that we’re pretty decent people. Caregiving is a powerful tool in sensitizing us into becoming aware of our human environment.
Here’s an observation I made at the mall.
Red, a former caregiver for his mother, and I were having lunch when he stood up and went over to speak to a woman at another table. She was an elderly woman with deep lines on her face. She was sitting with her daughter.
He told the elderly woman what a beautiful face she had and how much history it must hold. This resulted in a long conversation between Red and the woman. Her daughter sat, smiling and nodding at her mother, listening intently to her words. Having been a caregiver myself, I sensed how much she appreciated this attention being given to her mother by a complete stranger, and, perhaps, she was hearing some of her mother’s stories for the first time.
They are still there; yes, they are still there.
When I helped Red care for his mother, Isobel, I didn’t become her nurse. We became two women conspirators. This was not for her sake alone; it was fun for me, too.
I went into her room with her meals, and my conversations were often directed to her womanhood: “Hey Isobel, how about finishing your dinner so the two of us can go bar hopping? Let’s go look for some handsome men and maybe go dancing.”
She was at a babbling stage, but her eyes lit up. She moved her head back and forth to match the animated babbling that flowed from her. She laughed away and waved her hand in the air. For years, she had not said an intelligible word, but we didn’t care. We just talked and babbled.
Red would come to the door, see it was all women talk and walk away. He didn’t have a clue of what happens when you get two women together in a room. We had many such conversations, one woman to another.
Isobel never spoke a word. Each time I entered her room, I told her, “I’m Frances.” One morning, I was leaving on a trip, so I went in to say good-bye. She was silent. As I was walking through the door, I heard, clearly, my name. She had said, “Frances.” It was the first word she had spoken word in years.
I turned around and she was back into her silent world.
Being raised with superstitions, I was so sure the plane was going to crash so she was saying her good-bye to me. Needless to say, I was nervous until we landed.
So yes, they are still there, both men and women.
Babbling . . .
sounds without words
a soliloquy on stage
her eyes on fire
her head nodding with passion
periods and commas disappear in her babbling
Continuous chuckles and laughter . . .
We speak our French, Italian,
English and even Japanese,
but no one, no one
has taught us Babblelese.
ON THE LITE SIDE OF
CAREGIVING . . .
I was mother-sitting a caregiver’s mother at the mall. I had an assortment of chopped fruits in a container, which I fed her now and then as we sat at a table. She no longer spoke, so our conversation was a monologue as I told her how pretty she looked, or people-watched. She didn’t respond at all until she saw a man walking past.
She quickly looked up, her eyes lit up and she moved her head to the side in a flirtatious manner, calling out as loudly as she could, “Yoohoo! Yoohoo!” The man tuned his head, looked at us and hurried away.
She returned to her silence and my chopped fruits until another man walked by. Once again, she called out, “Yoohoo! Yoohoo!” She was very selective, calling out only to well-dressed men in suits or sports jackets. I believe well-dressed men were images from her era. Both men walked away, puzzled and confused.
How I wished one of them had stopped to tell her how lovely she looked. How I wished one had even planted a kiss on her forehead, or on the backside of her palm.
Men . . . when you hear an elderly woman calling out to you, please stop and acknowledge her as a woman in her prime. You will have made not only her day, but that of her caregiver, as well. We women will do the same for you when your times comes.
Am I picking on the men folks? Let me hear from you.
Until next month, take care . . .
Frances Kakugawa was her mother’s primary caregiver during her five-year journey with Alzheimer’s disease. A native of Kapoho on the Big Island of Hawai‘i, she now lives in Sacramento, Calif. Frances has melded her professional training as a writer and teacher and her personal experiences as her mother’s caregiver to write several books on caring for people with memory-related illnesses, including one for children. Frances is a highly sought-after speaker, both in Hawai‘i and on the Mainland, sharing strategies for caregiving, as well as coping with caregiving.