Frances H. Kakugawa
Hawai‘i Herald Columnist

Dear Readers,

The month of May took many of my friends to the other side of life. And yet, a stubborn ray of sunshine found its way through the dark clouds to remind us that even in death, there can also be poetry, laughter, renewal and celebration of the human spirit . . . and a bowl of strawberry ice cream and cake. I thank these people for sharing their stories.

Mary Swisher shared this at our support group meeting last week. You met Mary through her husband Bob and her grandson Max, who were part of this column in the past.

From Mary:

When my husband lay dying, I stayed with him until midnight and slipped away for sleep while someone else watched over him. Then he slipped away two hours later without me by his side. Many people have told me that this is very common and we all ask why, seeking answers.

WHEN YOU LEFT ME

I didn’t know when you left me

it would be in early morning

a rosy cresent moon hung

cockeyed in the southeast sky.

I didn’t know when you left me

I would run crazed into the dark

to our apple tree, gathering

the sweet white blossoms

for your still warm hands to embrace.

I didn’t know when you left me

that I would rub lavender

into your stiffening limbs, your beard

that sat on your chin like a white sea urchin

your cold feet so useless now.

I didn’t know when you left me

that I would light every candle ablaze

around your parted breath.

I didn’t know

that I could not stop time

stop you from leaving

and taking your always — constant — fear

that I would leave you.

— By Mary Swisher

Sacramento, Calif.

Dear Mary:

You are not alone. I had this image of my mother’s last breath — that I would be there, holding her hand. When the head nurse told me her blood pressure was dropping, I didn’t know she meant she was dying. So I went home to take a shower and she took her last breath even before I reached home.

When my father died, I flew home from Michigan, and three days later, he took his last breath. I like to believe, they somehow took control of this moment.

And so we respect, even marvel, at their last decision and let go of those images we have created of a perfect death. It may have been perfect for them.

Here’s a poem I wrote of that last breath moment:

HER FINAL BREATH

at the very end

as it was

at the beginning

i was the child

she remained the mother

she took hold

of time and place

for her final exit

protecting me

child of her womb

the final severance

of the umbilical cord

made easy and gentle

a final gift

from mother to child

the thief once again

failed in his efforts

to switch our roles

for three years she played along

but in her soul, she was always

the mother.

— From “I Am Somebody”

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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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