Frances H. Kakugawa
Hawai‘i Herald Columnist
Omoiyari . . . Think of others first and good karma will return to you. — Frances H. Kakugawa
It was good being at your presentation again. When I first heard you a few years ago, I was at a critical point in my journey. My husband had taken a 30-day Amtrak train vacation cross-country before his illness. He wanted to take that same trip with me, so after retirement, we started the trip. There were no signs of his mild cognitive impairment.
Everything was beautiful until about 3:30 a.m. on the first morning of our 30-day trip. He climbed down from his berth every five minutes to go to the bathroom located across from our berth. He got lost each time and tried to go into other berths. I became very furious with him, which agitated him more. I simply didn’t know what was going on.
He told the conductor I had kidnapped him from his wife, left her in a hotel room and he needed to turn the train around to take him back. He became very vocal and threatening, so they placed security at our door so we could not leave. They later decided we had to be put off the train. I said we are in the middle of nowhere and we were not getting off the train. So they kept us on for another two hours until we came to Grand Junction, Colorado. They left our luggage and golf bags on the train and asked us to leave. Paramedics were waiting to whisk him off to the hospital.
They asked me not to come with them because he could not recognize me and I made him more upset. I followed him to the hospital. He finally calmed down and they had me come in and he said, “There is my wife, I told you she would come!”
The following morning, I paid $1,900 for us to get one-way tickets back to Sacramento. There were many stops along the way. The doctors said it was the motion of the train that brought it on. When I placed him in day care, I thought I was all alone on this journey. It was then you introduced me to pen and paper and I found a friend from then to now.
I don’t do poetry, but I convey my feelings to paper, and that was life-changing for me. I told myself I am now dating a new man and I see him as he is each day. Each day, I see a new part of who he is becoming and he is the light of my life. I have fallen in love all over again. I can say with confidence I’ve had the best of both worlds. Thank you for giving me the confidence needed to walk this journey. Yes, I am dating a wonderful man all over again!
Mattie Ruth Harris
Dear Mattie Ruth,
I recognized you in the audience last week. Thank you for your beautiful letter of how you are now “dating your husband all over again, discovering a totally new man.” Yes, I sound like a broken record suggesting to caregivers that we look at the new person evolving before us and build a relationship with this new person. No one has said it better than you. I hope you have seen the humor in that train ride, as devastating as it must have been at that moment. Thank you for your inspiring story.
I met Margie in Denver a few years ago when I was invited to her book club meeting to discuss my book, “Kapoho: Memoir of a Modern Pompeii.” When my book, “Dangerous Woman: Poetry for the Ageless,” was published, I signed it “To Margie, a fearless and dangerous woman.” Like many books I’ve signed, that autograph became my only connection to that moment.
Today, I received a call from Jill, who had hosted that Denver meeting. She told me that Margie is dying and would take her final cocktail on Sunday with her family nearby. Last week, she hosted a “Celebration of her Life” party for friends and family. Jill said Margie lived without any organized religion.
Jill said she visited Margie for the last time today and that Margie told her that she wished she could speak to me once more. She said Margie loved being called “fearless and dangerous” and wanted to thank me for that. How could I have known that a message I had written without much thought would mean so much to Margie?
So I called Margie, not knowing what to say. I could barely remember her face, but humor helped us through this conversation.
I told her that I was calling to help celebrate the life of the “fearless and dangerous woman,” to which she laughed in her very strong voice. I asked her to do me a favor: Wherever she is going, please save a place for me. And not just any old place, but a place with a recliner lined with a mink stole. She laughed and said she would do that. We ended our call with love. I wished her “Bon Voyage . . .”
“I’ll see you later,” she said.
“Yes, see you later . . .” I said.
I hope that when it’s my time, I’ll remember to do it with humor. Until then, I live with Margie’s lesson: What’s the big deal about dying. It’s part of living. Thank you, Margie . . .
And now, let me tell you why I cherish elderly men — not older men. Elderly men. Read on . . .
At the post office recently, I approached the door at the same time as an elderly man with a cane, so I opened the door for him. He thanked me, but didn’t walk through the door. Instead, he put his back against the door and let me enter first.
I thanked him. Yes, ladies first.
Leaving the post office, a young man came to the door from the outside just as I approached the door. He opened the door and entered, closing the door in my face.
On another occasion, while walking into the Alzheimer’s Association office, I saw a caregiver and an elderly man with a cane coming out of the office. I opened the door and the caregiver walked out. The elderly man exchanged looks with me: I got his message. He held the door open for me, steadying his balance, so I walked in, thanking him. Yes, ladies first. I watched him walk toward his caregiver, who stood waiting by the car.
And recently, after a business lunch in Hawai‘i, my host walked me to my car and opened the door for me.
“I can’t remember the last time someone opened a car door for me,” I told him.
When I was in high school, I asked one of the boys to open the car door for me. His response: “What? You cripple?”
But we forgive boys in high school, don’t we?
We speak in fear of what the electronic world is doing to humanity and how it is making the rest of us invisible. We speak in fear of people’s faces attached to their cell phones, unaware of the humanity around them. Are our elders our last remaining gentlemen?
“We need to introduce ‘Eh Uncle’ to the mainland,” an 82-year-old gentleman reader from Oregon wrote me after reading my “Eh Aunty” story in my last “Dear Frances” column.
This thing called life, passion, feelings or sexuality belong to us, men and women, of all ages.
We still see things we shouldn’t see –
We still feel things we shouldn’t feel –
We still hear things we shouldn’t hear –
We still taste grief, joy, fear,
In a world that vibrates
Through all of our senses.
We are not dead yet.
— from “Dangerous Woman: Poetry for the Ageless”
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.