Keeping Perspective… And Remembering To Laugh

Keeping Perspective… And Remembering To Laugh

Dear Frances

By Frances H. Kakugawa, Hawai’i Herald Columnist

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

Dear Frances,

Thank you for your last column. I took your advice and wrote down all of my last wishes for my children. And, I gave them permission to put me in a nursing home if caring for me gets too difficult. I also wrote out my funeral plans and got in touch with my attorney. Thank you, I would never have thought of doing this. I thought writing out my instructions would be better than telling them so there won’t be any confusion.

I’m enjoying your column very much.

Sue
Kailua, Hawai‘i


Dear Frances,

I took care of my dad who’s been gone for over a year now. I still have such regrets that I wasn’t a better caregiver. I really wish I could do it over again, especially after I’ve been reading your column. Wish I had met you earlier.

Linda
Kona, Hawai‘i

Dear Linda,

There is so much wisdom in hindsight. We dwell on what we should have done and feel remorse. We can’t go back, that’s for sure. Think of all the “right” things you did and reflect on that. There is no perfection in any of us, so whatever we did was the best we could do at that time. A former caregiver told me, “There is no such thing as mistakes in caregiving . . . they are all lessons to be learned.”

Remember how exhausted and worried you were as a caregiver? You are now healthier — physically, emotionally and psychologically — and a healthy self can easily distort the reality that was during caregiving. At that time, you did your best. Don’t be so hard on yourself.

To feel regret now tells me you have discovered what it means to be truly human through caring for your dad, and perhaps this is the gift your dad gave you. So accept it and relish it and live with it, knowing you are a good human being. Use this wisdom that you have acquired to help others. Receive your hindsight as a living legacy.

A caregiver in our support group shared this story last week. He said he was walking out of the grocery store with his wife. A woman approached him, asking for $2 to purchase a snack. He gave her $3 and felt so much joy for having done that.

From my own experiences, I learned that caregiving sensitizes us to deep human emotions and even the most ordinary turns into extraordinary moments of joy. This must mean we are discovering our own humanity and about being sensitive to others around us, and this I call the gift of caregiving. So honor that gift your dad gave you. Thank him for his gift.

Take care,
Frances


Dear Frances,

I laughed a lot when I attended your session. I know humor is important, but it’s hiding from me at the moment. Tell me a funny story or two. I’m sorry, I should be asking something serious, but I need laugher right now.

Thomas
Honolulu

Dear Thomas,
You’re right, laughter saves many a dark and gloomy day, and when things go dead wrong, laughter seems the only way out. Laughter can also help turn our body, which can feel like a tightly wound rubber band ready to snap, into a loose one.

This story was shared in a support group. We all had a hearty laugh — even the caregiver!

A caregiver was taking a shower, when, suddenly, the shower curtain was pushed to the side. There stood two police officers with their guns drawn and pointed at him. His wife, who had dementia, had called 911, saying there was a strange man in the shower. Of course, the man had no identification on him, so it took some time to explain the situation to the police. It was not the first time his wife had called them, so he asked the officers to add a notation to their files of his home phone number in case his wife called 911 again to report a strange man in her home.

Here’s another story — my story.

I took my mother to Shirokiya for lunch one day. She needed to use the bathroom, so I accompanied her to the ladies room. I was wiping the toilet seat before letting her sit. She couldn’t wait so she soaked her panty. Her change of clothes was in the trunk of the car, so I helped her take off her wet panty. She looked at it and said, “What you doing with that?”

I said, “Why don’t I throw it away?”

“Yeah, yeah, throw it away,” she said. So I did.

Throughout our ride home, she reminded me several times, “Eh, Hideko! I don’t have panty, you know.”

“I know,” I said. “Your panty is in the trunk.” We both laughed all the way home.

An experienced caregiver later told me, “Next time, rinse it out and wrap it in paper towels; otherwise, you’ll run out of panties — and carry an extra pair in your handbag in a plastic bag.”

Consider this: If I were the perfect caregiver, I wouldn’t have stories to tell you.

Readers, how about sharing some of your funny stories? I will keep them anonymous.

Take care,
Frances

Photo by Colin Gray/The Arches on Flickr (Creative Commons).

Frances Kakugawa was her mother’s primary caregiver during her five-year journey with Alzheimer’s disease. A native of Kapoho on the Big Island of Hawai‘i, she now lives in Sacramento, Calif. Frances has melded her professional training as a writer and teacher and her personal experiences as her mother’s caregiver to write several books on caring for people with memory-related illnesses, including one for children. Frances is a highly sought-after speaker, both in Hawai‘i and on the Mainland, sharing strategies for caregiving, as well as coping with caregiving.

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