Frances H. Kakugawa
Hawai‘i Herald Columnist
Omoiyari . . . Think of others first and good karma will return to you. — Frances H. Kakugawa
I enjoy reading your column in The Hawai‘i Herald. For the past 12 years, my husband and I have been caregivers for both of our parents, mainly for my parents. My mom is still alive and at 92 years of age, shows no signs of dementia and is still sharp mentally. She has had to go into an adult residential care home because two years ago, she suffered an illness that required her to be under supervision 24/7. I have learned a lot from reading your column and have benefited from all the sharings from the column. I can’t remember not ever tearing up after reading those sharings.
Downsizing my mom’s possessions from a home to a room in the care home meant that a lot of things that couldn’t be given away or thrown away now reside in my townhouse. One of those things is the 1949 high school annual called “Ka Nani O Pahoa.” My mom is pictured in the annual because she was the cafeteria manager at the time. One student, a senior, who signed my mom’s annual, was Sadaichi Kakugawa, who was the senior class vice president. I believe there is probably a picture of you somewhere in there, but only individuals in grades 10 through 12 were identified. There is a collector who collects Hawai‘i high school annuals and wants to purchase this one from my mom, but if you would like to have the annual for sentimental reasons, I would be happy to mail it to you.
What a kind and generous person you are. You made my day with your email. Thank you so much.
I can’t believe my brother, who died last February, signed your mother’s annual. I was five years younger, so I guess I was in the group class photos.
Sadaichi’s oldest daughter would like to have the annual. Can you mail it to her? Thank you very much in advance.
I love hearing stories about people in their 90s who are still mentally alert, so please check out my blog, http://franceskakugawa.wordpress.com. I have posted various views on giving care.
I understand how difficult it is to do clear out your home.
The following poem from one of my books is about a similar experience I had going through my mother’s belongings. I hope you enjoy it.
There is one remaining drawer.
A Pandora’s box. A flood of anxiety
increases my heartbeats. I don’t want any secrets,
no remnants of any grief or pain of her life.
She had enough with Alzheimer’s. Let this be a simple walk
through old paid bills and receipts.
I slowly pull out the drawer. It is packed with cards and envelopes.
Oh no! Outdated checks? A birth certificate of my illegitimate birth?
No, they are Mother’s Day cards, many browned with age,
collected throughout the years.
Many without a handwritten message of love.
They were all Hallmarks and she had kept them all.
Beneath the cards, a handkerchief. A square piece of now-yellowed handkerchief edged with bright green lace.
Memory sinks in; I had made that fifty-six years ago,
for Mother’s Day.
Once a week, we spent an hour called Practical Arts
with the cafeteria manager at Kapoho School.
It was probably a way to give teachers, all three of them
in grades one to six, an hour off. Girls learned to crochet doilies,
while the boys grabbed hoes and weeders.
I was in the fifth grade:
I had painstakingly crocheted a delicate row of
bright green lace around the edge of a square piece of
white muslin cloth.
I don’t think my mother ever used it.
My mother liked to save things for a better day. In her closets,
robes, sweaters and nightgowns, with their tags hanging like
upside down bats.
“I’ll save this when I go to the hospital.” She never did
go to the hospital until she had a minor stroke before her diagnosis.
This handkerchief was probably “too good to be used,”
saved for a tea date with the queen someday. Or maybe
an evening out with Lawrence Welk. Oh, how she loved
Lawrence Welk. She worried when he danced his jig a bit too fast.
“You’ll get heart attack!” she warned him at the screen. He was
her weekly Saturday night date. I wished then, I could have
tossed some magical stars to abracadabra her on the floor
with Mr. Welk, dancing to his ah-one-ah-two-ah-three.
I toss out the old Mother’s Day cards, but save the handkerchief.
I use it as a doily now and each time I see it, I smile, remembering,
adding my own fantasy: Each time she pulled out the drawer,
she was on the dance floor with Lawrence Welk, waltzing away
with the handkerchief held gently against his back.
And for a moment, she was given a life of glamour
in her quiet village life in Kapoho.
— From “I Am Somebody”
Thank you for the poem — it was very natsukashii * if that is the right word. It was especially emotional for me and my mom to find my dad’s things and to reminisce about what we found as we cleaned out her house.
And I will mail the book to your niece. I’m glad that it will be going to a child of your brother. My mom remembers your brother — I have to ask her again what she remembers. When I looked at the pictures in the annual, I wondered what happened to all those young men and women.
* natsukashii — nostalgic yearning
Your mom is simply incredible. Have you seen my “Kapoho” book? Maybe she’d enjoy some of the stories. We are all at that age where many are gone.
Hello to your mom . . .
I told my mom about our email exchange. She said that you sound like a very nice, friendly person. I told her that after all, she (Frances) is from the Big Island. My mom remembers that your family lived in Kapoho and that your brother, although very quiet, was very smart. We then wondered what happened to your family after Kapoho was covered by lava. I’ll see if I can get your “Kapoho” book and give it to her. I’m sure she would enjoy reading the stories. My mom did ask if she can look at the Pahoa School annual before I mail it to your niece. She still has her Laupahoehoe School annual.
Of course, your mother can look through the annual again.
Your mother still reads? That is so amazing — what a woman! I want to be like her when I’m 92.
After the eruption, we moved to Pähoa, about seven miles away, and that became home until my mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.
* * *
I was glad to see you mention the book, “We Are Not Ourselves,” by Matthew Thomas in your Oct. 6 column. I have and very much enjoyed the book because some of the places mentioned were familiar to me. The author is a graduate of Regis High School in Manhattan, where our son Christopher graduated.
I actually read that book twice. The author did a good job of letting us know the husband had Alzheimer’s even before the characters in the story did.
Thank you for getting in touch.
I look forward to your column every month. I wish you would do a column twice a month.
Thank you for being such a faithful reader. I’m sure if readers sent in their concerns to warrant another column, my “Boss Lady” would allow it. But as you can see, responses are scarce. It may be a good sign that caregivers need less help. I appreciate your interest.
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.