Frances H. Kakugawa
Hawai‘i Herald Columnist
Omoiyari . . . Think of others first and good karma will return to you. — Frances H. Kakugawa
Here are some stories filled with practical wisdom sent in by Genie, Mary and Bob.
Your past column on preserving the humanities and on humor jarred some memories.
LEGACY OF THE HUMANITIES
There’s much to be learned from how the previous generation treated us, and many ways to improve, but we are also examples for those who see what we do and succeed us. This is so, even if our caregiving is completing a circle of life — mother caring for daughter caring for mother. I know I saw the love my mother gave HER mother in Grandma’s last months of life. Grandma loved food; Mom always made sure she could eat. Grandma loved roses; Mom took her a freshly cut rose every day. These “little” things loved and affirmed the person who was my grandmother. Remembering this, knowing it, I did my best to perpetuate the favor, to reflect and affirm my mother’s personhood to her.
It still makes me laugh out loud. Imagine taking her to a store! Lesson number one: You, the caregiver, are not responsible for this other adult’s behavior, even though it may feel like it at times!
Once, Mom turned around in the grocery store line and lit up at the sight of a nice-looking, tall man in line behind us, cocked her hip and said with a certain musicality, “Oh, you’re fine,” and the man acted flirty and kind right back. He played the appreciation game. Bravo!
Another such incident happened right at home. My father and his wife had come up for a visit at Christmas. My father’s wife knew how overwhelmed I was and had told me she would do all the heavy Christmas cooking. So, bright and early, she and my dad came over so she could start getting the Christmas dinner ready — way too early for anyone else in my family to be around. She and I were working in the kitchen and my dad was lounging in the living room, giving us commentary every so often.
At some point, my mom woke up and came padding out in her jammies, with sopping wet, great big droopy drawers. I mean, her pajama bottoms looked like they were going to fall off. Of course, I immediately went over to hustle her out of there, get the wet stuff off her and also keep her from getting everything in her path all wet. But, no, she saw my dad, stopped in her tracks, did that hip-cocking thing again and, with her hand on her hip, said, “We-ell, WHO-o are YOU?”
I’ve never seen such a stunned, almost-afraid expression on my dad’s face before, and then he tried to recover, straightening his posture, trying to make himself all serious and formal and in-control, and intoned in as deep and measured a voice as he could muster: “Joyce . . . I am the father of your children.”
It was hilarious, and even he had to laugh! And the lesson is (you all already know this) . . . amidst all the tedium and the exhaustion and the craziness and the uncertainty, try, try, try to remember to let yourself enjoy the bits of life and personality that peek out when you least expect them!
These stories are precious. I hope readers will remember the story I shared about sitting with your mother at the mall. At my mother’s nursing facility, I made it a point to wheel Mr. Y into the dining room, because the women were still women. They sat with their spines a bit straighter and sent glances toward him throughout their meal. One day, a woman told him, “You are very handsome.” He blushed and said slowly in a very deep voice, “Call me Ted.” So yes, they are still men and women, very aware of the opposite sex, even in their dementia state. How wonderful is that?
Thank you for your stories.
I want to share a story that appeared very funny at first, but later, I thought of how I really need to pay more attention to Bob, who has dementia.
I bought a pair of grey sweat pants for myself from Target. It was too small, so I left it on my dresser with the sales tag still on to be returned for a larger size. They had vanished once before and I had found them in Bob’s closet. This time I looked everywhere, asked Bob if he had seen them and he said, “No, but do I have them on?”
I said, “No silly, you have your jeans on.” After giving up and deciding the grocery was all I was capable of handling at this point, Bob said, “I think I have them on,” and, sure enough, he had them under his jeans.
They were too small for me, but just right for Bob with his skinny jeans on top. I went to Target and got me a dark grey shade a size bigger — and now we both have new sweats. Bob is the Houdini of stuff.
Thank you for reminding us to listen and to not brush off their comments. On a more serious note, there are times when our loved ones speak of someone taking their possessions or money. It’s easy to regard them as mere symptoms of the disease, but, in reality, we have found this to be true. In many instances, elder abuse begins because we fail to listen.
I wrote this poem about a problem I’m having. How do you handle people who call you on the phone just to chat? I wish I could make my friends and family understand that I’m knee-deep in work and that I don’t have time for social calls. I wrote the following poem to express my frustration. What do you think?
HOW ARE YOU?
Ring, ring . . . Hello. Hi Bob, this is Debbie. How are you?
I wish I knew how to answer this question.
Shall tell you about my latest adventure catering to my wife till 4 a.m.?
Shall I tell you I’m hungry because I have yet to have breakfast?
Shall I tell you how emotionally depleted I am,
unable to calm my wife’s anxieties?
Perhaps I should describe my expertise at cleaning BM off carpets.
Or the very effective enema that I administered,
leaving a trail from bedroom to bathroom.
How about that trip I took to ER at 2 o’clock in the morning?
Would they believe my stories — surely I must have embellished them.
I wish I did not have to answer this question,
Especially from close friends and family members
Who have sent me remedies, articles and videos,
All claiming a curative for Alzheimer’s.
I wish I had the time to verify the efficacy of these curatives.
But time is so dear and precious to me that all I can say is,
I’m fine, Debbie, thank you for calling.
I’m sharing your poem with the hope that your friends and family will read this. You’ve also given us something to think about.
There are as many circles to caregiving as there are caregivers. To family and friends of caregivers — we need to be up-front with caregivers and come to some agreement on questions such as: How can I help you? Can I drop by with some lunch? Do you appreciate calls from me? If yes, when is the best time to call?
Long conversations may interfere with the caregiver’s chores.
Some caregivers who are isolated in their world of caregiving may not appreciate hearing stories or seeing photos from your vacation. Still others may want to enter your world to remind themselves that there is another world out there. The response will vary with each individual, so we need to check this out.
When I call caregiver friends, I begin with, “Can you talk?” If they’re busy, we both hang up and hope for another time.
If I want to drop off something, I keep it brief: “Will you be home in 10 minutes? I want to drop off something.” We meet at the door and if they invite me in, then I know there’s time for a short visit.
The other day, I dropped off a colorful doormat for a caregiver, and she was delighted. I still remember Tomi, who dropped off cooked pumpkin for my mother. Our visits were short and we often met on the street between our homes.
Thank you, Bob, for bringing up this subject. You handled it well. I sense writing the poem helped to ease some of your frustrations. Remember that people who make these calls are not aware of your situation and may need to be told. Yes, send them your poem. And when they call you to ask, “How can I help?” be sure to give them a list! Or, tell them to subscribe to The Hawai‘i Herald!
A postscript to this discussion . . . A few months ago, Bob was losing sleep because his wife was experiencing deep insomnia. Jill, a former caregiver who is a member of our support group, went to Bob’s house and told him to sleep — she said she would stay with his wife that night so he could catch up on his sleep.
Frances Kakugawa was her mother’s primary caregiver during her five-year journey with Alzheimer’s disease. A native of Kapoho on Hawai‘i island, she now lives in Sacramento, Calif. Frances has melded her professional training as a writer and educator and her personal caregiving experiences to write several books on caring for people with memory-related illnesses. She is a sought-after speaker, both in Hawai‘i and on the Mainland, sharing strategies for caregiving, as well as coping with the stresses of caregiving.