Hawai‘i Herald Columnist
Omoiyari . . . Think of others first and good karma will return to you. — Frances H. Kakugawa
I’d like to introduce you to two male caregivers from my monthly support group in Sacramento. Bob first shared his “On Bathing Fran” two months ago. Then a month later, Ross responded to Bob’s poem with his “How to . . .” Their words speak volumes of who they are as caregivers and husbands.
This very intimate aspect of men bathing the women in their family varies depending on their relationships. Bob’s and Ross’ husband-wife relationships show the intimacy of this daily act, which is less intimate when the relationship is between a son and his mother, or a brother and his sister. On Oahu, a male caregiver for his oldest sister felt that baths were an uncomfortable intrusion on his sister’s life, yet, he felt he had no other choice. As the only unmarried sibling, his family had designated him their sister’s caregiver, believing he had the least amount of responsibilities. (We resolved one problem in dressing when I suggested that he stop using bras and instead change her blouses to heavier material. He was relieved.)
Another Oahu bachelor who was his mother’s caregiver shared this question: “I use my car sponge to bathe my mother. That’s okay, isn’t it?” I met with him privately to teach him the intricate nature of a woman’s anatomy. Car sponges are good for surface cleaning, but not for a human body. So, for Bob and Ross to share their experiences in our support group and then with you, our readers, this is a gift. I can’t say enough about the important role support groups have become as a learning center for caregivers.
ON BATHING FRAN
You look so calm and peaceful even as I scrub and wipe away stains and remnants of dinner from your lips and chin. Around your eyes I wipe slowly to remove any discharge and see the sparkle in your eyes. I wash your cheeks and neck and, like magic, your ethereal beauty appears. I kiss your cheeks and lips.
I take your rigid arm and, with constant pressure, unfurl arm and fist, then wipe from fingertips to armpit. Moving to your chest, I wipe across and under your breast, then spiraling each breast to the tip of your nipple. I kiss each breast.
I like cleaning your toes, especially running a small washcloth between your toes; I can almost feel the exquisite pleasure of my own feet being massaged. I continue with the soles of your feet and ankles, then work up toward your genitals.
Your legs are locked together like a virgin, but with constant pressure I separate, then spray Perineal cleaner from pubic to anus. Your catheter requires a delicate touch and I gingerly wipe around the rubber tube entering your body. I towel you dry, then lean over with my nose close to your pubic hair. The scent is all fresh.
Turning you on your left side, I wash your back and spray saline over the scar tissue that was once a bedsore. I place a fresh dressing over your scar, then turn you on your right side, wash it, and you are all clean.
I pick out a clean nightgown and fit the collar over your head, then pull it down to your neckline. Your left arm goes easily into its sleeve, but I must coax your stiff right arm into its sleeve. I feel joy and a sense of satisfaction seeing you clean, fresh and beautiful. It is almost a sexual experience, but not as good.
HOW TO . . .
Our friend the poet has told us how
each week, year by year
he carefully washes his wife
on her bed; unconscious, unresponsive
his cherished Fran
My wife’s bath is a by-the-numbers, mutual-aid affair: 1) I elevate her to her feet from the toilet and, holding tight, we cross the narrow bathroom in five uncertain steps; 2-6) carefully turn; 7) seat her on the white shower bench; 8) first taking her slippers; 9) then lifting off her nightshirt; 10) I grasp the petite ankles; 11) lift one leg; 12) then the second; 13) into the tub; and 14) on the count of three, bounce her tush to the middle of the bench.
Her cleansing is an effort of art
the washcloth passing over each feature
of her face leaves behind surprising beauty
15) With the shower wand, I wet my wife and slide scented bar soap over her; 16) and spray again to rinse her arms, back, tummy and legs; 17) while a washcloth passed beneath her breasts completes the phase; 18) now feet apart, she grips two handholds; 19) we lift, she stands; 20) and I quickly suds between her legs with clear soap; 21) flushing front to back with my hand and the wand until her skin squeaks to say it is clean.
He bathes the contours of her body
like a sculptor shaping shoulders
and hips from yielding materials
then blesses his work with a kiss
20) I am an efficient orderly, the amiable attendant who reseats his passive ward; 21) dampens and washes her hair; 22) closes the tap and wraps a dry towel around her shoulders; 23-24) before the 1-2-3 assisted bounce; 25) and rotation; 26) with each lifted leg brought out of the tub; 27-28) so that finally she perches on the end of the bench, feet on the bathmat; 29) to be dried under both arms; 30) breasts; and 31) down each leg.
Her feet and toes are given reverent care
the warm cloth washing them slowly
like a lover’s hand sensing the pleasure given by its touch
At last, it’s a 32) 1-2-3 lift . . . stand . . . pivot; 33) her stiffened arms rising enough to hold on to the grab handle, feet set wide; 34) allowing me to towel-dry between her thighs and apply medicinal powder with a cotton pad; 35-36) before I pull up the transport chair and seat her; 37) for the short journey to the bedroom to be dressed.
The poet’s ritual purification of Fran’s insensate form
is a passage of remembering and of communion
a summoning of her Avatar to accept again
his quiet promise of passion and caring
The rote method of our bath is tedious but brings a certain ceremonial comfort the well-practiced beginning, middle and end a daily performance by us of a three-act play for an audience of two within the small theater of our lives together
A BOOK REVIEW
Some months ago, I reviewed a book titled, “The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen, 83 1/4 Years Old” by Groen himself. Remember him? Imagine my delight when I found the sequel to this book.
At 85 years old, our favorite curmudgeon still resides at the retirement home. He wrote in his journal every day for a year and continues his journal in this sequel. When rumors surface that his retirement home is being sold, he and his friends in the Old But Not Dead Club swing into action. You will laugh and weep, as I did.
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. You can write to Frances at email@example.com.