Frances H. Kakugawa
Hawai‘i Herald Columnist
Omoiyari . . . Think of others first and good karma will return to you. — Frances H. Kakugawa
An Open Letter to the Press and Dr. Oz
Special attention is suddenly being paid to Alzheimer’s disease on television and in the news media because a famous person’s mother — Dr. Oz’s mother — was recently diagnosed with the disease.
Meanwhile, thousands of caregivers continue to live this life unrecognized, and/or without the financial means and the national sympathy. They live their lives with compassion, dignity and love as they care for their loved ones. These faceless caregivers deserve more recognition than those in the public eye. They deserve all the support and assistance to care for their loved one every hour of the day. There are families that depend on Meals on Wheels or need scholarship programs to participate in adult care. Others have no health insurance or cannot afford professional caregivers. Despite all those challenges, their humanity of knowing what it means to care for someone with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia or other illnesses is constant and always out of the sight of the cameras. We need to recognize and remember that.
I have worked with caregivers for over 20 years — ever since my mother’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis. I hope we do not forget the families who live outside of the public eye. Why aren’t they making the headlines? Don’t get me wrong: I sympathize with Dr. Oz’s mother, but I also applaud the invisible caregivers and their loved ones, who are the true heroes of the Alzheimer’s world.
Dr. Oz, I invite you to join us at our monthly poetry writing support group for caregivers at the Alzheimer’s Association office in Sacramento. We will teach you how to bathe your mother, how to strip a bed and use the washer/dryer at 3 a.m. and how to keep your mother hydrated to avoid urinary track infections. These are just a few of the physical aspects of giving care and just the tip of the iceberg, so to speak.
You wept openly because you didn’t see the symptoms of Alzheimer’s. We weep behind closed doors and, yes, we know, Alzheimer’s doesn’t appear overnight — it creeps slowly into our lives. There’s so much to be learned from caregivers who have walked your path. Come join us.
c/o The Hawai‘i Herald
917 Kokea St.
Honolulu, HI 96817
Frances conducts workshops and lectures on helping caregivers give care with compassion, dignity and love. Her books on caregiving are:
• “Mosaic Moon: Caregiving Through Poetry”
• “I Am Somebody: Bringing Dignity and Compassion to Alzheimer’s Caregiving”
• “Breaking the Silence: A Caregiver’s Voice”
• “Wordsworth Dances the Waltz,” an illustrated book for children on memory loss
Her “Dear Frances” advice column for caregivers appears monthly in The Hawai‘i Herald.
A CAREGIVER’S DAY
A dish rag, wet.
In today’s sink.
You Are My Sunshine.
A doctor’s appointment
Three days late.
Tomorrow . . . tomorrow
Is another day
Only if you’re Scarlett O’Hara.
— Frances Kakugawa
And, now, to something lighter.
Caring for my husband is turning me into an old lady. I actually wrote a poem about it.
THE SANDS OF TIME
The crashing waves of aging drown us in the tide of reality.
Our body betrays us.
Face, once smooth and taut,
Now appears like the craggy Scottish coastline.
Eyes, once keen and sharp like a watchful shark,
Now dim and foggy with no lighthouse in sight.
Brain, once quick and witty, thoughts
Now stuck upon a sandbar.
Arms, once muscular and strong
Now creased and wrinkled like stringy seaweed.
Hands, once adept and resourceful,
Now resemble an arthritic crab.
Legs, once tan and firm, now sport veins like jellyfish.
Feet, once fleet and sturdy,
Now appear in orthopedic shoes like stuffed lobsters.
Once able to multitask like an octopus with eight arms,
Now it’s one task at a time.
A beautiful body once sleek and curvaceous like a mythical mermaid,
Now shuffles along at the pace of a sea turtle on land.
Beauty fades, but the soul remains young, so say the philosophers.
Well, I want to hang on to what is left, the external trappings,
As the tide rolls out to sea.
I will not go gently into that good night.
I will kick and scream into that good tsunami
With my makeup bag, mixed metaphors, avoiding mirrors —
Sailing into that final sunset.
— Sally Peters (Sacramento, Calif.)
Excellent, Sally. Caregiving may be adding a sea of aging metaphors, but I also see a poet/caregiver, bringing smiles to our ordinary lives. Thank you for giving us a humorous pause in our lives. Your poem reminds me of a similar experience:
MORNING SHOCK WAVES
Who is this woman
In my morning mirror?
Who let this old
Japanese woman in?
I have fallen in aftershocks
From devastating earthquakes —
After-shocked from broken romances —
Avalanched by human cruelty —
But never, never, such
Aftershocks of this mirrored truth.
Get her out of here!!!
— Frances Kakugawa
I have dominated this month’s column due to silence from readers. Please send your comments and questions to keep this column in print.
ON THE ROAD AGAIN TO HAWAI‘I . . .
I will be back in Hawai‘i next month to talk on caregiving and for the release of my new book from Watermark Publishing, “Echoes of Kapoho.”
Please check this column, my blog or Facebook page for updated schedules. For now, here is my schedule:
• Monday, Nov. 7, 10-11:45 a.m.: I will be at the Ka‘ü Rural Health Community Association, Inc., in Pähala at an event for caregivers. It is sponsored by the Alzheimer’s Association, Ka‘ü Rural Health Community Association, Inc. and Watermark Publishing. Lunch will be served. The Community Association, Inc. is located at 96 Puahala St. Registration by Friday, Nov. 1, is required. Call Auntie Jessie or Auntie Theresa at (808) 928-0101 to register, or email Patrick Toal of the Alzheimer’s Association at firstname.lastname@example.org.
• Saturday, Nov. 9, 10-11 a.m., I’ll be speaking on caregiving at the Hawai‘i Island Adult Care conference. Call Marcie Saquing at (808) 961-3747, ext. 107, to reserve your seat.
And then, at 11:30 a.m., I hope you’ll join me at Basically Books (1672 Kamehameha Ave.) for the Big Island debut of my new book, “Echoes of Kapoho.”
I will also be visiting Maui on this trip, giving lectures/workshops on the following dates:
• Wednesday, Nov. 20, 6:15-8 p.m.: I’ll be giving a talk for the Alzheimer’s Association at Maui Adult Day Care site at the Nisei Veterans Memorial Center (665 Kahului Beach Rd. Call Christine Spencer for reservations at 808-591-2771: ext. 8235 or Kathleen Couch at: 808-871-5804.
• Friday, Nov. 22: Keynote address at the 18th Maui Family Caregiver Conference sponsored by the Maui County Office on Aging at the Grand Wailea Resort. Call Vicki Belluomini at: (808) 270-7233 for details and reservations.
And, finally, O‘ahu book signing dates for “Echoes of Kapoho” are still being secured. Please check my blog and Facebook page for the dates.
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.