Frances H. Kakugawa

Hawai‘i Herald Columnist

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


I am a poem

And I am ageless.

When I was one and twenty

I spoke of lingering sunsets into night,

Envying that solitary bird flapping vigorously,

Racing the sinking sun at end of day.

Decades and one later

I am still poem.

I am that sunset, sinking into the sea.

That golden leaf, waiting for that last fatal breeze.

I am that autumn moon hanging

Over crayoned fields, now free of summer harvest,

Waiting for the last flight home.

I am still poem.

I am ageless.

— From: “I Am Somebody”

January 2016

Dear Readers,

Happy New Year! Here’s to another birthday in the new year. Be it your 80th, or your 25th, make it a celebration of living! My mother defied aging to the very end of her life. In fact, on New Year’s Day, she often said she didn’t like New Year’s because it meant she would be another year older.

She never once said she was old. It was always, “I must be getting old.” She died a few weeks before her 90th birthday and I tried to respect her determination to not let numbers age her. Here, I use humor in dressing her for her wake service. Humor helps to bring all the fragments together, unlike Humpty Dumpty and all the king’s men and all the king’s horses.


“Black is for old people.

Brown is for old people.”

Her birthday has escalated to 80.

She tells her grandson,

“I’m going to go backwards from now on,

“I’ll be 79 next year.”

“When I’m old,” she tells me,

“I’m not going to those places

To crochet, play bingo and sew bottle caps to make hotplates.

That’s for old people.

“When I’m old, I’m going to live near a movie theater

So I can see movies instead of being with old people.”

At age 85, on my calendar, her voice echoes:

“I must be getting old.”

After Alzheimer’s muted her voice

I continued her script and replaced her wardrobe,

Lavender, light blue, green dusters; elasticized pull-up pants;

Loose blouses for easy access for stiffened arms.

Nothing in brown or black.

Black and brown are for old people.

“Bring in a blouse for the final viewing of her body at the wake”

Sinks into the new reality.

I end the call from the mortuary.

A rush to the mall . . . the chilled January winds whipping through my hair . . .

She needs to be warm . . . She needs to be warm . . .

Black is for old people. Brown is for old people.

I move hangers in the petite section, searching for a lavender or blue warm, woolen coat . . .

Where in Hawaii will I find a lavender woolen coat?

Spent from my search, with hands on the clock racing away …

I settle for the only petite size coat, in brown.

Okasan, I’m sorry, I’m sorry; I know brown is for old people.

But this will keep you warm on your final journey.

I add a tiara on her head, sprinkle vanda orchids over her folded hands.

I hear her chuckle join mine.

Dear Frances,

I’m running out of ideas for birthday gifts for my mother. Her closets and dresser drawers are filled to the max. Do you have any gift suggestions for elders?



Dear June,

Here are a few suggestions:

• A subscription to magazines and newspapers. At a retirement home here in Sacramento, a friend told me that they are always “fighting” to get the local newspaper. Imagine the scene of a group of elders all clamoring for the comics or sports page. I gave my friend her own subscription to the local paper. She calls me every now and then to thank me and to tell me that she thinks of me each time she gets the paper. She’s able to read it at her leisure in her own room, which brings her much joy.

I have also given subscriptions to The Hawai‘i Herald to friends in New York and elsewhere. They enjoy the Herald because it connects them to their home state.

I know of a woman who enjoys reading People magazine. How about giving an elder a golf magazine, or perhaps a subscription to Playboy?

• Here’s another great idea: How about giving a gift of yourself? I bought an ‘ukulele recently and bring it along with me when I visit an elder who loves to sing — we do sing-alongs of the oldies. Do something playful and silly, and don’t forget to include the children.

• I also gave a sexy negligee to an elder, who giggled and laughed when she opened my present. She won’t wear it, but it reminded her of her earlier years — when she refused to wear flannel PJs.

My father, before he even opened his gifts, would guess, “Ah, must be another pajamas.” I wish I had been more creative in buying presents for him because he was always right.

• For a woman in a nursing facility I got a large, floppy, soft-stuffed dog. She keeps it on her bed and hugs it when she’s napping. She had to give up her dog when she entered the nursing facility, so the stuffed dog is a happy reminder of her beloved pet. Besides, we all need to give and receive hugs.

Here’s a creative look at gifts should you one day want to give me a gift:

When I am old, my dearest,

Bring me no flannel nightgowns.

Long-sleeved with buttons up to my chin,

House slippers lined with flannel.

Whoever told you old is cold

Ought to be hung up from an oak.

Let me feel once again that red spaghetti strap of

A negligee falling off my shoulders,

As I lay in bed between satin sheets.

(Maybe not satin, as I could easily slip to the floor.)

Let me feel that cold oak floor under my feet.

I want to feel! I’m not dead yet, you know.

Come sit with me, even if the cat’s got my tongue.

Just sit and read or do what you enjoy most.

Sharing oxygen in silence brings far more joy

Than a Q&A on what I had for breakfast

Or a game to jumpstart my memory.

Ah, memory. How I hate that word.

But listen. Since I don’t plan to be old,

Delete this poem and let us just be.

Tell me a joke, take me to the mall,

Bring me a red rose, or simply sneak in

A glass of rosé. And laugh with me

For no reason at all, as we sip

Together in our Happy Hour.

Happy New Year, everyone!

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. 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.


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