Frances H. Kakugawa
Hawai‘i Herald Columnist
Omoiyari . . . Think of others first and good karma will return to you. — Frances H. Kakugawa
I have some good news to share with you.
You may have noticed that questions and interactions from readers have been on the decline in recent months. That indicates to me that this column has run its natural course because we have addressed most of your caregiving concerns. This is actually heartening for me because it tells me that whether you are currently a caregiver — or anticipate becoming a caregiver in the not too distant future — we have shared enough information, stories and suggestions that helped you become an informed, caring and compassionate caregiver.
Secure in that knowledge, I have decided that this will be my last “Dear Frances” column in The Hawai‘i Herald. I may contribute a story to the Herald from time to time, but in terms of a monthly column, I have decided that this is a good time to retire “Dear Frances.”
I will continue to present talks at health-related conferences in Hawai‘i and throughout the continental United States. My little mouse poet, Wordsworth, will continue to work with children and adults in Hawai‘i with Patrick Toal of the Alzheimer’s Association as his mentor, and I will continue to post my reflections, writings and announcements on my blog at http://franceskakugawa.wordpress.com. And, of course, you can always email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Change is constant and, oftentimes, very emotional. I cannot thank you enough for being such faithful readers all these years. I would especially like to recognize editor Karleen Chinen; contributing writer Kevin Kawamoto, who is very interested in aging- and caregiving-related matters; and; of course, The Hawai‘i Herald, for giving me a platform to share my knowledge and experiences with you for all these years. “Dear Frances” didn’t just give me the title of a “columnist.” Thanks to two generous people, it fulfilled a childhood dream.
When I was in high school, my notebook pages were filled with the doodled names of three people — journalists Margaret Higgins and Ernie Pyle, and my own name next to theirs. I fantasized about being out there in war zones with Margaret and Ernie, writing stories about our soldiers and their patriotic sacrifices.
During my freshman year in college, I took a journalism course — it was my first step toward realizing that dream. My first assignment, a story on industrialist Henry J. Kaiser, was red-marked by the professor, who added this note: “There is no room for subjective writing in journalism.”
I dropped the course and divorced myself from Higgins and Pyle. But my dream of being a columnist remained alive.
“Dear Frances,” the column in the Herald, was born during a morning meeting in 2014 at the Kahala Zippy’s, where I was meeting with Karleen and Kevin a few days after I had given a talk at the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawai‘i about one of my books. Unlike the editor of a Big Island newspaper more than 50 years ago, they understood what I could share with Hawai‘i Herald readers.
Admittedly, I was young and arrogant when I walked into the editor’s office at the Hawaii Tribune-Herald back then, offering myself as a “columnist.” My first book of poems had already been published and I thought I had some credibility.
“The Tribune-Herald needs a column to humanize our communities,” I said. “Something to counter the weekly police blotter. How about stories of strangers sharing acts of kindness with others? It could catch on like wildfire.”
The editor interrupted me. “Hawai‘i is too small for such a column,” he said. It was an election year, so he offered me a job as a political reporter. I declined.
Fast-forward 50 years to that morning meeting at Zippy’s. It was my first meeting with Karleen and Kevin to discuss a story idea I had for the Herald. During the course of our conversation, I asked, “How about an advice column like ‘Dear Abby’ for caregivers?” I suggested a column co-authored by Kevin and myself — a “Dear Kevin and Frances” — column. It was not to be, as Kevin very generously suggested that this column ought to be mine alone. The rest is history.
“So, thank you, Karleen, for listening to someone no longer young, yet still presumptuous. On behalf of all the readers, thank you for your wisdom in knowing there is always room for a human-related story in The Hawai‘i Herald and for taking a chance on “Dear Frances.” You not only believed in this column — you raised the bar to full professionalism with your knowledge and your editor’s pen. I will miss calling you, “Hey, Boss Lady.” And, Kevin, you taught me how one steps aside to support a newcomer to the Herald. Thank you.
And to you readers, I wish to share two final poems:
We dance the imperfect dance.
We trip over our toes,
Waltzing to the Samba.
Four-step trot or Cha-cha-cha
It’s still the 1-2-3 step
To whatever plays the music.
Perfect in our imperfections.
We miss doctor’s appointments,
Wash yesterday’s dishes today.
We leave towels in the washer
Stiff and dry, unlike ads from Downy,
In the morning after.
We are so perfect in our imperfections,
There is green fluffy mold atop our yogurt,
Wilted lettuce, dehydrated onions —
That no longer bring tears.
Spam and Campbell soup cans
Expired dates like former ex-es.
We take our screams
To the tangerine trees
Who spread their branches knowingly
Offering us fruits beyond expectations.
We are caregivers,
Perfect in our imperfections.
— by Frances Kakugawa (unpublished)
There will be no Nobel Prize for what we do,
no trip to Sweden, no medals, gold, silver or bronze.
But here we stand, caregivers, past and present, preserving
for all generations, this lesson learned in what it means
to be human . . .
Once we abandon this heritage, all the years spent,
day after day, year after year, in the shadow of the thief . . .
all would have been for naught. Bruised, frayed, tattered,
like a flag after battle, we stand
with human kindness and compassion,
a legacy for ages hence.
— by Frances Kakugawa, from “I Am Somebody: Bringing Dignity and Compassion to Alzheimer’s Caregiving.
May these words — compassion, dignity, truth, respect, kindness, wisdom — remain long after the last word.
And, finally . . . Wordsworth and I will be in the Merrie Monarch Festival parade in Hilo on Saturday, April 18, for the Alzheimer’s Association. Later that day, we will be at Basically Books at 4 p.m., discussing writing and books. Please drop by to say “hello,” or wave to us from the sidelines.
Thank you and take care . . .
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.