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 was watching an Alzheimer’s program and it made me want to thank you for saving me from being who I was starting to become. It allowed me to change in caring for my mom.

It is really hard to know how many caregivers you are helping, but for that one person, you can save them from despair, as you did for me. For those who have never experienced caring for someone with Alzheimer’s, one can never know the sacrifice. But doesn’t it make one much stronger?

You saved me, and that matters to me. Thank you so much. My mother thanks you also, I am sure. I would have carried much more grief if I didn’t release the frustration of being such an angry son I had become. Thank you for allowing me to change.

I would never be who I am today if you didn’t help me to change. How could a man writing poetry make him stronger and a better caregiver? Yet, this happened to me. Thank you.


Dec. 4, 2018

Dear Rod,

I remember how we met. You attended my lecture quite by accident in Honolulu, and you told me, “I don’t read poetry; I don’t write poetry, so don’t expect anything from me.” I told you to sit and just listen.

At the end of my lecture, I invited the audience to write a poem or two. You were weeping over yours, so I read it. You wrote:


What do I see?

Do you see what I feel?

I feel more than you can ever see.

It hurts to feel.

I feel too, too much.

Minutes become hours,

Hours become days,

Days become years.

Years become a lifetime!

So sad to see,

So sad to feel.

I wish to feel nothing!

A few months later, you sent me over 30 poems you had written at 3 a.m. over a three-month period. I spread them out and after analyzing them, I saw how you had used the poetry-writing process to explore all that was going on . . . from first questioning your God, then life and, finally, you returned to yourself. The next few years, you became a vigilant, compassionate and very strong caregiver for your mother. I recall the many phone calls we had where you shared your poetry and discoveries about who you were becoming. Often you asked for confirmation. Before your mother died, you wrote:


In your hour of need,

I have learned to become a man.

A life to be a man,

A man who can feel the beauty

And warmth of a mother’s love.

I will always feel your love, Mom.

I wish to feel everything!

(These two poems are included in “I Am Somebody: Bringing Dignity and Compassion to Alzheimer’s Caregiving”)

After your mother died, you went to Fukushima to help the children at the orphanage who had lost their families after that disastrous earthquake and tsunami.

No, Rod, I only handed you your pen — you did all the rest . . . so, thank YOU.


Dear Readers,

There are many stories like Rod’s. Writing poetry can be very transformative, as can reading other people’s poetry.

I was browsing at Barnes & Noble and happened across this book, “Poems That Will Change Your Life: A Treasury of Inspirational Verse.”

The poems are grouped by topic: Inspiration • Encouragement • Hope • Faith • Joy • Celebration • Peace • Reflection. It’s a good book to pick up and read on restless nights. Here’s one by Emily Dickinson:

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –

That perches in the soul –

And sings the tune without the words –

And never stops – at all –

Excerpted from “Hope” is the Thing With Feathers

And remember this one by Robert Frost?

“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I —

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.”

— Excerpted from “The Road Not Taken”

Caregivers have shared stories that show us that even our loved ones with dementia are poets, if only we would listen.

A caregiver was making biscuits for her husband. “We’re having huckleberry jam,” she said. To which her husband replied, “That would be good on my Tom Sawyer biscuit.”

A man with early onset dementia saw highway workers hammering those raised white disks into the street to keep cars from drifting out of their lane. “Oh, look!” he said. “They’re buttoning down the road!”

Eventually, their language is reduced to what we call “babbling.” But if we really listen, we can still hear their poetry. I listened to a woman babble animatedly as she pointed to birds flying from tree to tree. She turned to me and continued her babbling, her eyes so alert and alive. If only I knew Babblelese. To honor her, and many like her, I wrote the following two poems:


What secrets lay hidden

Where the thief has not trodden?

Babbling . . .

Sounds without words.

Ah, the secrets you conceal.

Your passionate past, of lovers perhaps

They cannot be ours

But we will protect.

We know our French, our Italian,

English and even sukoshi Japanese,

But no one, no one

Has taught us Babblelese

So your secrets are safe.

Is this why the laughter?

Knowing all your secrets

Are being released?

And no one hears

Except the birds on

Whose wings they fly —

Yes, set them free

On sparrow wings,

Up to the skies.


Another misdiagnosis:

She ain’t got no language/perception decay.

She’s merely turning into a poet

A literary jewel of metaphors

A perceiver of images

Unseen by passersby.

Yes, she has entered

The final stages

Of language/perception ingenuity

Unequaled to any medical test.

Blessed are the poets

Born daily into our lives.

— Frances Kakugawa from “I Am Somebody”

As the new year begins, I thank you for your faithful readership and look forward to hearing from you. Through your participation, you have made this “our column.”

May peace, joy and human kindness fill your days throughout the year. Happy New Year, and thank you, Karleen Chinen, for your editing and 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.


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