Editor’s note: Frances Kakugawa was a good poet and writer before Alzheimer’s disease attacked her mother and forever changed Frances’ life. She took her love for the written word and turned it into a weapon in fighting the dreaded disease. And then she shared her weapon with others and taught them how to fight with words. The poems on this page are reprinted with permission from Frances’ two books of poetry on caring for loved ones with Alzheimer’s disease — “Mosaic Moon: Caregiving Through Poetry,” and “I Am Somebody: Bringing Dignity and Compassion to Alzheimer’s Caregiving” — both published by Honolulu’s Watermark Publishing.
Where did it come from?
It began with one phone call
At 9:45 p.m., June 27, 2001
From Mom who identified herself
As Natsuyo, instead of Mom.
She had fallen, taken two hours
To crawl from the foot of her bed
To the nightstand for the telephone.
A rush to her home,
I find her in her bedroom,
A call to 911
ER until the wee hours of the morn.
Finally to a vacant lot
Where I back my car into a pole.
Where did it come from?
This pole in a vacant lot?
Yes, where did it come from?
My lifestyle of art lessons,
Docent at the Japanese Cultural Center . . .
With one phone call
From Mom who called herself
— By Elaine Okazaki from “I Am Somebody”
It’s me again. Guess what, Thief.
She’s way smarter than you are.
I’ll bet you one Social Security check
That you’re sitting there smugly gloating,
Thinking of all the memories
You have stolen from her
These past five years.
You haven’t stolen anything.
Every memory that has been hers
Her trip to Japan at age three
To say farewell
To a dying father.
Her return to Hawai‘i
And being christened Agnes
By her teacher,
For the Americanization
Of the little girl
Who spoke not a word of English.
Her work in the cane fields
As a young single woman
With still another given name,
For leading her co-workers
To a sit-down strike, to rebel against
An overly demanding boss.
Her arranged marriage
By her older brother.
It was on her wedding day
That she would see her betrothed
For the third time in her life
As she rode the train
From Onomea to Kapoho
In her splendid bridal kimono
In the downpour of a storm.
Oh, and of how she sat
On the futon on her wedding night,
Unsure of the stranger
Who was now her husband.
All these memories and many more
Have been carefully preserved
In each of her children.
You see, Thief.
She not only fed and clothed
And nurtured her children.
Every significant moment
Of her historical past
Was told again and again
With such storytelling art,
That each memory
Became part of each child.
Did she perhaps suspect
You were already lurking
In her shadows?
Whatever you think you have stolen,
They’re still here
Carefully deposited and locked
In each of us who call her Mother,
Only to be released
For the future generations to come.
So I ask you, Thief,
What do you think of that?
— By Frances H. Kakugawa from “Mosaic Moon”
For Dr. Marianne Tanabe
Who is she, this woman
Who speaks so gently to me?
Is she my daughter? She must be.
Only a daughter would speak with such care
And such kindness.
She doesn’t call me mother,
She must be someone
Whose face I cannot name.
Did someone call her Doctor?
She asked my permission
To put her stethoscope to my heart.
She thanked me for
allowing her to examine me.
Her fingers on my buttons are gentler than mine.
Her hands touch me oh so carefully.
She treats me like I’m crystal and fine china.
So much respect from someone
Whose face I do not know.
Who can she be this most gentle of people
Her voice is so filled with such joy and laughter;
She must be happy to be with me.
But who is she?
I am so confused, is she a daughter
Whose name I’ve lost?
But she doesn’t call me mother.
I can’t recall her name or her face.
But this much I know,
This is such a safe place to be.
With someone so gentle and kind.
Who is she?
— By Frances H. Kakugawa from “I Am Somebody”
In anticipation of his shower,
Daddy says, “So, we’ll have a cleanliness massage.”
One day, first thing in the morning
When he walks into my room, he states,
“I love you and want to get married.”
I say, “But I’m your daughter — we can’t get married!”
He replies, “OK,
I’ll respect your wisdom in these matters.”
Another day after he wanders away
And I have to call the police who bring him home
Two hours later . . .
I am shampooing his hair in the shower.
Rubbing his head, telling him he should never do that again.
And he quips, “Don’t rub it in,” smiling from ear to ear.
Once I tell him he’s a handsome man, and he says,
“Maybe 30 years ago. Maybe 100 years ago.”
The caregiver tells him he has nice hair, and he
“What little there is left of it.”
One day I remind him that he had won
The Distinguished Flying Cross in WWII, and that he’s a hero.
He looks me in the eye, driving the point home and says to me:
“You’re a hero, and you should be honored for it.”
— By Jody Mishan from “Mosaic Moon”
Where have all the children gone
They came for candy and ice cream
To pet Bella and run their fingers over
Her silky fur then screamed with
Delight as Bella kissed away morsels
Of ice cream from their lips.
They came to sit with Grandma
Or to watch an artist at work
And learn from the master
The art of drawing.
They came for Grandma’s
Unconditional love and attention.
Then came Alzheimer’s and
Now she is strange and distant
Grandma can only smile at them.
The house is silent.
— By Bob Oyafuso from “I Am Somebody”