Frances H. Kakugawa
Hawai‘i Herald Columnist
Omoiyari . . . Think of others first and good karma will return to you. — Frances H. Kakugawa
I just wanted to thank you for your inspiration. I have been keeping a journal, which has been extremely helpful to me since my husband had a major stroke in December and passed Jan 7. Thank you so much for your support.
I’m sorry to hear that you lost your husband. Keep writing in your journal to explore your grief and, someday, you may find yourself preserving other memories of life with your husband.
Thank you! The article on my mother was beautiful. She continues to feel independent, allowing her the freedom to be physically active.
When I think she’s stubborn or not listening . . . I say, “She’s forgetful.” We are growing in our own way.
Keauhou, Kona, Hawai‘i
Yes, one word can make a difference in how we feel and view caregiving. Replacing “She’s stubborn” with “She’s trying so hard to retain her own dignity or the self that is disappearing” can make the difference we spoke about at the conference. I feel your joy.
Your haiku and caregiving help have been extremely informative to me, as well as to countless others. Just wanted to add to your many appreciative people who have had much calming help from your articles and books. I’ve read “To Hell and Back” (by Charles Pellegrino) and found it most interesting.
Thank you, Irene. Letters like yours inspire me to work harder and I will continue to recommend books. — Frances
Just received my February 3 Hawai‘i Herald and enjoyed your column. I’ve read of high school students, as a service project, being involved with nursing homes and befriending older citizens with health issues, thus opening their eyes to what it means to get old.
Thank God for your gift of writing and your deep concern for the elderly from your experiences with your mother so you can share your thoughts with the world.
Yes, most retirement homes and nursing facilities would welcome students from all grade levels. When my mother was in a nursing facility, a kindergarten class visited the residents every holiday, bringing along their artwork. Even the residents who could no longer speak smiled and expressed their gratitude.
P.S. Hey Elsie, because of you, I can say we are being read from New York to Hawai‘i! Thank you.
I was inspired by your address at the Kona conference to do some writing. Here’s one straight from my pen.
Eternal nature is the root of who we are.
Nature is our source of awareness and growth.
Nature is our greatest teacher.
Watch a bird: Its stillness;
Its quick response to sound and movement,
Its lift, its climb, its soaring — no boundaries —
Its gliding, its veering, its slowdown,
Its finding a safe place to land.
All of this is important for us in the course of our days.
We need to let our minds lift up, go out and soar.
The spirit in life beckons us, glide and connect to our
Highest values — freedom and beauty,
To return to our depth within trusting we have all we need,
At one with everything, everyone, the fullness of emptiness.
Hölualoa, Kona, Hawai‘i
Thank you for taking us out of the caregiving room and bringing us into nature, where there is such an abundance of natural therapy for all of us — and it is right there, outside our door. Your poem speaks to all of our senses and brings both caregivers and our loved ones to a state of peace.
I sometimes come across a good book that I want to share with you. This month, I want to tell you about two such books, both memoir-related books. I won’t give away the ending, but I will share an anecdote from each.
The first is titled “When Breath Becomes Air” by Paul Kalanithi. At age 36, Kalanithi, a neurosurgeon, was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer. He writes about finding inspiration and courage by returning to the great literature of our time. In fact, he said he found more comfort in poetry than he did in the Scriptures. His story of seeing life instead of death in his diagnosis is inspirational.
One day, a young physician dismissed Kalanithi’s questions and he was reminded of a woman patient who told him that she always wore expensive designer socks to doctors’ appointments because when stripped down to only a hospital gown and her socks, they don’t see you — until they see your expensive socks. Then, they will think you are somebody and will treat you with the dignity that you deserve. So, folks, go out and look for a pair of expensive socks.
The second memoir is Jonathan Kozol’s “The Theft of Memory.” Kozol tells the story of his father, who, until being diagnosed with dementia, was a noted brain disorders specialist. The elder Kozol evaluated Patricia Hearst and the Boston Strangler and also looked after playwright Eugene O’Neill, who was his neighbor across the street.
This is a story of dignity, so the son doesn’t discuss much beyond normal brain function. His belief in always telling his father the truth runs counter to my experiences of needing to “tell stories” and to enter the world of the dementia patient, if it becomes necessary. Sometimes we tell stories, hoping to create facts for the benefit of those with dementia.
Kozol offers a new view on the use of health directives and even questions the meaning of “quality of life.” Is “quality of life” life before dementia? He found “quality of life” in his father’s advanced dementia state. This book made me wonder whether we are using our health directives too soon.
He also provides good insight regarding the lack of good medical care in nursing facilities. Kozol cites the fact that the physician at his father’s nursing facility refused to give his father a flu shot because of his age, and he seldom visited the residents, even after calls from family. There’s much to learn from these two books. Do send in your thoughts on these books.
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, as well as coping with the stresses of caregiving.