Frances H. Kakugawa
Hawai‘i Herald Columnist

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

February is another month for expressing love with gifts. My literary mouse poet, Wordsworth, is standing over my shoulders, begging me to send his message of love to your children. As you may know, Wordsworth is busy touring the Islands, teaching children to honor our elders with love, dignity and compassion. The two of us will be in Hilo on April 18 for the Merrie Monarch Festival Parade, so be sure to wave at us.  Here is Wordsworth’s message to your children:

I have three presents for you today. The first is a present that you can unwrap all year-round, from January through December. This is a gift that keeps giving each time you have a conversation with a friend, or spend time with a friend without saying a single word, just because it’s the right thing to do. This is the act of kindness you show to others — even strangers — day after day.

The second gift is one you carry with you all the time. It’s always new, no matter how many times you open it. This gift makes you feel warm and cozy even though you don’t wear it. It’s not made of wool or fur or any type of fabric, but it will keep you warmer than being in front of a fireplace.

So, what is this gift?

It’s the gift of your imagination and all that comes from it. Things that no one has ever seen . . . like talking cats, flying frogs or surfers riding waves to another planet. You can imagine whatever you want to be, and the bigger your imagination, the more you can become. All things become possible with imagination.

The third gift is bigger than all of the world’s gifts. Into this gift you can put all of the things you receive today and still have room for more. You won’t be able to find this gift in any store — not even the most exclusive boutique. But once you receive it, it will continue to reward you, and each time you share it, you will keep receiving more and more.

I’m talking about the gift of storytelling — stories about your grandparents, your parents and people who are very special to you. Whenever you want to give them a gift, include a little story about the two of you. Someone I know used her imagination and wrote a story about me called “Wordsworth the Poet,” and here I am today, with you.

Enjoy the magical wonder of your world with kindness and imagination and keep telling and writing your stories.

I hope you had a happy Valentine’s Day.

Wordsworth, the Poet.

Wordsworth reminds me of two incidents that happened recently.

The first incident happened at my neighborhood post office, where the line was so long that I had to stand in line for about 20 minutes. As I walked out after finally taking care of my business, I opened the door for an elderly couple. The woman was frail and the man used a walker. They were leaving because of the long line. There were two packages in the basket of his walker. I offered to wait in line for them while they sat in their car, but the man refused my offer. His wife looked at her husband and then smiled at me. I think she wanted to accept my offer. (Men: why are you so hard-headed and unwilling to accept help from women, or ask for directions when you’re lost in traffic?)

All he wanted were address labels so he could mail his packages. I noticed that his packages weren’t addressed. I thought of offering to write the labels for them, but decided instead to respect his wishes after my initial offer of assistance. Instead, I went to the counter and, in a rather loud voice, told the clerk that made the people in line look at me: “There are two handicapped people out there. I offered to wait in line for them, but all they want are address labels, which I can’t find anywhere. Do you have those labels?”

“We don’t have any,” replied one clerk, not even looking up at me. “We have them,” said another clerk, handing me a stack of the labels. By then, the elderly man had struggled back in, after opening the heavy door and pushing his way in with his walker. He said he couldn’t wait in line; he only wants those labels. I handed him the stack of labels. With tears in her eyes, his wife came over to me. “You are a very kind person,” she said. I touched her hand and wished her well.

In my world, the first person in line would turn around to see if there is anyone in line who needs help — someone with a walker or a cane, a young mother with a crying infant — and change places with them or let them go first.

I recently went to the UC-Davis hospital for a medical test. My printed instructions were to have someone at the information desk escort me to the pulmonary department because of its complicated location. Without even making eye contact, the man at the information desk said to me in an abrupt tone, “No one’s here, just go left and right.” I took out my pen and said, “My instructions say that I am to have an escort, but I will write down your directions.” Rudely, he repeated, “Just go left and right.”

A co-worker heard me and offered to escort me to the office. Then she got confused with the bad signage along the maze of hallways and didn’t know which elevator to take. Another worker came along and showed me the way.

After conversing with the pulmonary technician, I ended up agreeing to speak at the hospital’s conference on “Compassion in the Workplace” next September. The technician then escorted me to the entrance. In my world, people who work with patients don’t need such a conference.

The next two poems were written by caregiver Mapuana Kalaniopio-Cook, who attended the Maui Office on Aging conference, which I addressed last year.


I told the beautiful woman, “It’s love,”
in order to resolve my frustration, anxiety,
love for my mother,
the weight resting on my chest, as I had just learned
how to express myself through an art form, poetry
and then, while my thoughts were second-guessing my reality,
she looked at me.
I feel her eyes on me, distinctive, knowing,
intelligent, attentive, as if she understood my mind, my thoughts, what I am going through
and then, instinctively, the beautiful woman
gives me a brief nod, points her finger in a delicate way and says, “You have a gift.”

I smiled back at her, thinking,
Is it a gift? I feel so overwhelmed,
Departing, I thought, she ought to know,
She was a caregiver for her mother, just like me,
Struggling to be free —
To be as beautiful as she
The beautiful woman
who is human like me
Frances Kakugawa is
Where beauty lies
As the beholder of truth
From within exists
humanity at its core
A gift, treasured for
Poets, makers of verses —
My gratitude for giving
Me words with wings and
A song in my heart to write
Again and again.


Many come to mind
Soft, silky, windless thoughts
Feel me mom
I feel you
Love me mom
I love you
Endless timeless thoughts
Whispering in the light
Joyful days
Peaceful nights
Grace comes to mind
Lifting my eyes, my heart to yours
Peaceful, harmony
Making me feel my humanity
Yes, reality in two worlds
Two beautiful words
I love u mom!

Aloha nui,

Mapuana Kalaniopio-Cook

Written at 3 p.m., 11/23/19 Poem #4

For Frances Kakugawa, the beautiful woman I met at the Caregivers Conference yesterday, Friday, 11/22/19. She was a guest speaker. I edited this today 12/30/19 (3:50 p.m.) after receiving a response to my email from Frances today. Thank you!

Dear Mapuana,

You have captured so exquisitely and inspirationally the awakening within ourselves through poetry writing. I see both your mother and you on this journey, bound together by love. There will be countless challenges along the way, and love will be one of many true emotions you will encounter. Some will be on the negative side, as in anger, frustration, hopelessness, grief and others. But, as you work through all these emotions, which are all natural and real, this love will be your staying power. This love will help you not deny other feelings.

Thank you for involving me in this very personal awakening.


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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