Frances H. Kakugawa
Special to The Hawai’i Herald

Omoiyari . . . Think of others first and good karma will return to you. — Frances H. Kakugawa

Take a moment and look at the people around you, for you may be one of those individuals who are turning the caregivers’ world into a community of humanitarians. These are the people who are helping to make the caregivers’ world a little less isolated, who enter the caregivers’ world with acts of kindness. These are the people who live the humanities, not for the purpose of fattening up their resumes or to score points with their conscience. These are the young girls and boys who do the right thing — not for school credit, or as part of a school project, or something to add to their college entrance essays. These are the people who have become altruistic neighbors.

A friend of mine from Maui spent six months in Seattle with her husband, who needed treatment at a cancer center. When she returned home, her lawn and the pastureland behind her house had been mowed and cleaned. Her house looked as though she had returned to an Open House. Her neighbors had silently risen to the occasion.

Another story . . . Years ago, my niece and her husband from Hilo had to go to Seattle so he could receive a bone marrow transplant. Her co-workers from Okahara & Associates in Hilo and Kona and on O‘ahu donated their own vacation time so that my niece could have paid leave to be with her husband. When she returned home alone, her co-workers cooked meals to help out as she helped her daughters, then only 4 and 8 years old, through the grief of losing their daddy. She said it was these acts of kindness that helped her after her husband’s death.

Frances Kakugawa with her mother, Matsue Kakugawa.
Frances Kakugawa with her mother, Matsue Kakugawa.

These stories are boundless.
Linda, a caregiver, shared this story:
“On my way home after taking Mom to the doctor, we stopped at Peet’s Coffee for Mom’s favorite cookies and coffee. It was becoming increasingly difficult to get her in and out of the car, so when we got back to the car, I had to put down my wallet and shopping bag to maneuver her back into the passenger seat. I then picked up my shopping bag, put it in the back seat and drove Mom to her residence.
“When I arrived home, I didn’t have my wallet. I called the doctor’s office, Peet’s and the staff at Mom’s residence, thinking I might have left it in one of those places, but no, my wallet was gone.
“So I resigned myself to canceling my credit cards and applying for a new driver’s license. Then someone knocked at the front door. Before me stood a young man, probably high school age, with his bicycle and backpack. He asked, ‘Are you Linda Donahue?’
“When I said ‘yes,’ he handed me my wallet, saying he had found it on the freeway overpass as he was bicycling. Everything was in it, including almost $80. He had ridden 2 miles out of his way to return it to me.
“I suspect I left it on the roof of the car and forgot about it after helping Mom into her seat.”

These acts of kindness are possible because they were received with grace. Once we attach obligation to these gifts, we turn each act of humanity into one of indebtedness, destroying the gift in the spirit in which it was given.

Red was a caregiver for his mother for more than 10 years.
“During these 10 years, my lawn was always mowed,” he said. “Until today, I don’t know who did this and it’s not important for me to know, nor is it important for that person to be thanked. We both know why my lawn was mowed.”

Sometimes it takes longer for that light bulb to click on when it comes to omoiyari. At the bakery this morning, the clerk admired my T-shirt. Her interest was more than mere social contact. She wanted to know where I had bought it and told me why the words on my shirt meant so much to her.
When I got home, I thought of my mother and the teller at the First Hawaiian Bank branch in Hilo, who always admired my mother’s blouses. My mother often gave these blouses to the teller at her next visit. It gave her so much joy. I will be my mother’s daughter.

Thus we “pay it forward” when we repay these gifts of kindness to others instead of to the initial benefactor. And when we do this, the feeling of sheer joy about oneself is immeasurable. Sometimes, all it takes is to leave the door to your kitchen unlocked.

Fanny’s kitchen was always open
to grubby little me who, in want of a Pepsi
always knew where to go.

too shy for social etiquette,
I sat on her porch,
waiting to be seen.

soon her voice, “Oh, Hideko,
I neva see you. So hot today,
you want some Pepsi?”

my nod took me
into the kitchen where she poured
warm Pepsi into a white porcelain coffee cup.

she could have used crystal,
it would have been carefully held
between my hands, as I sipped and felt

warm Pepsi flow down my parched throat.
there was no ice in our village, no electricity
or supermarkets. deprivation was bliss.

looking back, I hear the dialogue
between Fanny and her children:
“Ma, what happened to the can of Pepsi?”

“oh, that Kakugawa girl was here again
so I gave it to her.”
“oh man, she always here, drinking our Pepsi.”

when I became a caregiver
for my mother with Alzheimer’s,
I sought Fanny’s kitchen once again.

she was gone then, and we were
all scattered, after Pele’s red hot fingers
snaked their way over our village.

oh, how I needed a Pepsi drink
living half in fear in the eerie world
called Alzheimer’s.

using that Kapoho girl savvy
I found solace in Jane’s home.
a Fanny in every aspect.

her door unlocked for my visits,
I went straight into her kitchen, declaring
“I need a mother,”

and sat myself down at her kitchen table.
“I dropped my mother at adult care
and I’m tired and hungry.”

that brought Jane to her feet. brewed decaf coffee,
lunch or breakfast, pending time of my visit,
dessert and more decaf while I kept one eye on the clock.

there is something so comforting to hear,
“eat, eat. you look too thin.”

once again I hear the conversation at the end of Jane’s day,
“don’t we have leftovers for dinner?”
“oh, Fran was here today.”

it was a place where I sat to gather,
a self that was being gnawed away, too,
by that relentless Alzheimer’s thief.

Jane died last week and I grieve
for the kitchen she offered me, no matter what time of day,
a mother when my own was slowly taking leave.
there’s a kitchen here in Sacramento
since my move ten years ago, a kitchen with another
name, but the same kitchen as long ago.

Mary’s kitchen is where I now sit,
when my need for a mother, or a friend
creeps up on me.

I sit and sip freshly brewed coffee,
or hot green tea with healthy snacks,
vegan-made by Mary’s hands.

a sense of peace falls over me,
watching squirrels run up oak trees,
and patches of sky in morning glory vines.

I honor all three women this quiet day,
for their kitchen without lock, and warm Pepsi
to soothe a parched life.

— Frances Kakugawa
In gratitude to Fanny Kobayashi, Jane Uyemura and Mary Swisher

Frances Kakugawa was her mother’s primary caregiver during Matsue Kakugawa’s five-year journey with Alzheimer’s disease. A native of Kapoho on the Big Island of Hawai‘i, Frances now lives in Sacramento, Calif. She has melded her professional background as a writer and teacher with her personal experiences as her mother’s caregiver in writing several books on caring for people with memory-related illnesses, including one for children. Frances is also a columnist for the Herald, sharing caregiving advice and thoughts in a column called “Dear Frances.” Her strategies for caregiving, as well as coping with the stresses of caregiving, make her a highly sought-after speaker, both in Hawai‘i and on the Mainland.


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