Frances H. Kakugawa
Hawai‘i Herald Columnist

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

Dear Frances,

I heard you speak a few years ago in Kona. I’m now caring for my mother. I’m trying to write down some of our times together. Writing does help. Here is one that I recently wrote:

As she wakes up every morning with a tear running down her cheek, she says, “My Daddy didn’t come home last night. I was alone in bed.”

I guide her to the table, where her breakfast awaits. She’s so quiet, as always.

I help her get dressed, and with her baby doll she sits in her favorite chair on the porch.

She sings and she laughs as she tells herself a story. Then she’s quiet and stares. There’s that tear running down her cheek. Then I ask myself: Does she remember, I wonder? Then there’s that confusion in her eyes. She closes her eyes, then she hums a song of delight. Then there’s that smile that I remember.

As the day comes to another end, I hear her say her prayers and she asks, “Please Heavenly Father, I miss my Daddy so much and I will be with him again. Until then, please help me remember his smile, his laughter and all his eyes. It’s his eyes that gave me comfort and knowing how much I love him.” She ends it with a quiet “Amen.” Then she looks up at me with that warm sweet smile. It’s time for bed. Tomorrow will be a better day.

I watch her as she drifts into a deep, sweet sleep. I kiss her forehead and say, “Good night my dear mother. May you dream of your loving husband tonight. For, one day, you will be with him again. You might not remember he has been gone for a year. But at night you’ll have those dreams of him. And that you’ll hold dear. So, yes, my Mother, tomorrow will be a better day.”

Alice Basque-Torres

Kea‘au, Hawai‘i

Dear Alice,

Yes, I remember you from Kona. I shared your story in one of my columns. Thank you for sharing your mother’s story now. You have captured and preserved a very special moment with your mother. This is what writing does. Otherwise, these moments may be forgotten in the maze of caregiving. Thank you, and continue to share your writings with us.

Frances

Dear Frances,

I’m a caregiver for my husband, who was recently diagnosed with dementia. I’m feeling very resentful. I was not in a good marriage, but I stayed for financial reasons because I had nowhere to go. I feel this resentment every day.

Sal

Sacramento, Calif.

Dear Sal,

Once we make a decision to become a caregiver for someone, even for someone whose relationship with us was not a positive one, it helps to return to our own humanity. See if you can be in the present — see your husband as a human being who needs care. When you do this, think of how you will feel to be able to say after he is gone, “I am a good human being, after all.” What more can we ask of ourselves?

If you cannot come to this level of giving care, it may be best for both of you to have another caregiver, because your resentment will affect you and your husband. One of my favorite lines to caregivers is: “Whatever we do to others, we do to ourselves.”

Right now, your husband deserves the best of care because he’s a human being. For you, it’s very OK to say, “I can’t do this,” and seek others to become his caregiver. Caregiving may run into years, and even if we become the best of caregivers, it will take its toll on our health and well being, and this resentment you speak of will become an added burden.

Also, Sal, I’m sure each act of kindness will be noted by your husband. You have the freedom to make a choice here, Sal.

Will this afterthought help you to know that your human needs may not have been met, but as you stated, your financial ones were met? Sometimes we need to dig deep to find a positive thread to connect to our humanity. I wish you well. Come join our support group.

Frances

Dear Frances,

I care for my mother. When I go into her room, I see her hand on her head. I ask her if she’s worried about something, but she won’t say anything. This bothers me a lot because I don’t know what she’s worried about.

Dan

Sacramento, Calif.

Dear Dan,

Sometimes we create our own problems by how we perceive things. We think that when people put their hand to their head that they are in deep thought, worried about an overwhelming problem. How do we know? Maybe your mother just likes the feel of her head. My point is this: We often put too much meaning into gestures that may mean absolutely nothing. As long as she is comfortable, I suggest you go easy on yourself.

If you saw me at the coffee shops I frequent, you will often see me cupping my chin, staring into space like Rodin’s “The Thinker.” It can be interpreted as a person deep in thought or worried about an unsolvable problem, but I often just enjoy staring into space, observing or thinking about nothing.

You’re taking such loving care of your mother, Dan. Maybe she’s thinking about how lucky she is to have such a loving son.

If you want to pursue this, take your mom for a walk and start a casual conversation with her. Approach your concerns in an indirect way, saying something like, “Hey Mom, do you ever worry about anything? Do you have any worries?”

Let me know how this works.

Frances

Dear Frances,

Thank you for your “Dear Frances” column on the remarkable women you met in Hawai‘i. What a difference this has made on me. I am determined to reach out to someone with kindness every day. I already began and I think I’m feeling more joy than the person I’ve reached out to.

Thank you, and by the way, the whole page looked so great with all the red clothing.

Jan

Honolulu, Hawai‘i

Dear Jan,

You are so right. Too often, we find it difficult to receive from others. But as you mentioned, if we don’t receive from others, how will we know the joy of giving? Your mention of the color red brought back memories of my mother. When she saw me wearing my conservative blacks and browns, she often told me, “You can use dark colors when you’re young, but when you become old, that’s the time to wear bright colors.” I must be listening to her, finally!

Frances

Dear Frances,

What happened to that woman in your memoir-writing group who came down with Alzheimer’s. Is she still writing?

Curious in Sacramento

Dear Curious,

She no longer attends our group. I have left telephone messages on her home phone because she no longer answers the phone. Her daughter who lives with her has not returned any of my messages, so I’m assuming she is no longer able to join us. I hope I’m wrong. Thank you for asking and for caring.

Frances

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.

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