Kevin Kawamoto

Special to The Hawai‘i Herald

On Oct. 31, The Hawai‘i Herald’s “Dear Frances” columnist, Frances Kakugawa, was presented a Puaka‘ana o ka lä (“Rise Up!”) award from the Sunrise Ministry Foundation, along with community leader Ho‘oipo De Cambra and physician/educator Dr. Kalani Brady. The awards were presented at a daylong interfaith event themed, Journeys to Wellness IV, and billed, in the printed program, as “a gathering offering thoughtful reflections and spiritual practices toward achieving a healthy and harmonious body, mind, spirit and community.”

Kakugawa also delivered the keynote address at the event. In a presentation titled, “The Healing Power of Voice and Silence,” Kakugawa talked about embracing the caregiver experience and the relationship between caregiver and care recipient. She acknowledged that when she first took on the role of caring for her mother, Matsue, she was “a frightened caregiver.” Her fear resulted, in part, from the negative ideas and images that circulated in the mass media about Alzheimer’s disease. She decided that she had to come up with “a new definition and a new narrative about being a caregiver for our elders.”

Kakugawa then shared stories about caregiving, a topic she has become well known for, thanks to her books and public talks on the subject. The first poem she read to event participants who filled the Community Church of Honolulu in Nu‘uanu attempted to see the world through the eyes of someone who has Alzheimer’s.

“Speak to me, for I am still here,” Kakugawa read out loud from her poem, “Emily Dickinson, I’m Somebody.” The poem is included in her book, “I Am Somebody: Bringing Dignity and Compassion to Alzheimer’s Caregiving.” She continued reading the poem: “I understand hugs and smiles. And loving kindness. Speak to me and not around me.”

Kakugawa alternated between reading poems and sharing wisdom gained from the caregiving experience. She related an incident from years ago when her friend, Setsuko Yoshida, a former cancer and AIDS nurse, told her that there is something “very divine in being a caregiver.” Kakugawa said she did not ask Yoshida what she meant because she wanted to discover its meaning by herself, which she did. Caregiving, she said, enables us to be loving, compassionate and capable human beings “because this is who we are. And, whatever we do to others, we do to ourselves.”

Following her keynote address, three respondents were asked to reflect on Kakugawa’s talk. The respondents were Puanani Burgess, a poet and cultural translator who was named a “Living Treasure of Hawai‘i” in 2009 by the Honpa Hongwanji Mission of Hawaii; Rev. Ron Williams, senior minister of the Community Church of Honolulu since 2008; and Bishop Eric T. Matsumoto of the Honpa Hongwanji Mission of Hawaii. One of the insights Bishop Matsumoto left with the audience members was how contemplation and creative expression can help us “transform challenging experiences into meaningful experiences.”

Participants were able to take part in an array of workshops in the afternoon — titles such as “Qigong and Taijiquan,” “Mindfulness Meditation and Practices,” “Essence of Ho‘oponopono,” “Lomilomi: Traditional Hawaiian Spiritual Healing Touch,” “Movement: The Prayer of the Whole Self,” “The Okada Health and Wellness Program” and “The Tao of Caregiving: A Map.” Some participants chose to meet with Frances Kakugawa and the respondents to her keynote address to engage in further conversation.

According to the Rev. Wally Fukunaga, founding director of the Sunrise Ministry Foundation, the idea behind the Journeys to Wellness event involved the realization that wellness is not only about medical care but also about the nurturing of body, mind, spirit and community. The workshops gave participants a chance to learn about spiritually derived activities to achieve balance and healing in life.

For example, the workshop titled “Movement: The Prayer of the Whole Self,” offered by Sister Yoo Soo Kim of the Maryknoll religious order, invited participants to use movement, sacred dance, music, contemplation and creativity to connect with the divine spirit — and to each other — beyond what words alone are able to achieve. Sister Yoo Soo talked about a time in her past when she was deep in prayer, but could not find the words to express her thoughts and feelings to God. Almost uncontrollably, her body began to move in a way that helped her express what was within her. At first, she resisted these movements, but she came to understand and appreciate that these Sacred Dance gestures are a form of communication, and she embraced them as a gift. (Sister Yoo Soo demonstrated Sacred Dance at the opening of the Journeys to Wellness IV event, gracefully dancing from the back of the church to the altar with a beauty and passion that are difficult to describe in words.) Participants in her workshop learned to use physical movement as a form of spiritual communication and expression — the idea that expressing oneself from within can be a healing experience. Participants of all age groups were surprised that they had the ability to both choreograph and demonstrate Sacred Dance using simple, expressive gestures.

Between the morning session and afternoon workshops, Sarah Loui prepared a lunch of healthy salads and a variety of delicious homemade dim sum. Rev. Fukunaga observed that the lunch always gets rave reviews on the participant evaluation forms. Besides nourishing the body, the lunch break was also a time for participants to meet and talk story, fulfilling the “community” aspect of wellness that emphasizes social ties and fellowship. Some of the participants had attended previous Journeys to Wellness events; others were first-timers. Strangers became acquainted with each other, in some instances sharing resources and ideas and even making plans for a future get-together on their own.

Sister Joan Chatfield, chair of the advisory board of the Sunrise Ministry Foundation, summarized the day’s activities as the Journeys to Wellness event came to a close. Sister Joan is a longtime advocate and leader in the interfaith and ecumenical movement in Hawai‘i and was a fitting speaker at the day’s end, as her words brought the diverse participants together for a final reflection. She observed that the one word that stood out to her from Frances Kakugawa’s talk earlier in the day was the word “dignity.” It was a concept from which all of the other activities and lessons of the day seemed to emanate.

The day ended with a “Circle of Aloha” with participants gathering in the church’s courtyard, holding hands and joining in an interfaith prayer and song. Then the group dispersed, all the wiser, to continue their respective journeys of wellness in the larger community.

Kevin Kawamoto is a longtime contributor to The Hawai‘i Herald.


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