Armed With Words

Armed With Words

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Editor’s note: Frances Kakugawa was a good poet and writer before Alzheimer’s disease attacked her mother and forever changed Frances’ life. She took her love for the written word and turned it into a weapon in fighting the dreaded disease. And then she shared her weapon with others and taught them how to fight with words. The poems on this page are reprinted with permission from Frances’ two books of poetry on caring for loved ones with Alzheimer’s disease — “Mosaic Moon: Caregiving Through Poetry,” and “I Am Somebody: Bringing Dignity and Compassion to Alzheimer’s Caregiving” — both published by Honolulu’s Watermark Publishing.

CHANGE

Where did it come from?

It began with one phone call

At 9:45 p.m., June 27, 2001

From Mom who identified herself

As Natsuyo, instead of Mom.

She had fallen, taken two hours

To crawl from the foot of her bed

To the nightstand for the telephone.

A rush to her home,

I find her in her bedroom,

Lights on.

A call to 911

ER until the wee hours of the morn.

Finally to a vacant lot

Where I back my car into a pole.

Where did it come from?

This pole in a vacant lot?

Yes, where did it come from?

My lifestyle of art lessons,

Movies, restaurants,

Docent at the Japanese Cultural Center . . .

Immediately changed

With one phone call

From Mom who called herself

Natsuyo.

— By Elaine Okazaki from “I Am Somebody”

HEY THIEF

Hey Thief.

It’s me again. Guess what, Thief.

She’s way smarter than you are.

I’ll bet you one Social Security check

That you’re sitting there smugly gloating,

Thinking of all the memories

You have stolen from her

These past five years.

Wrong, Thief!

You haven’t stolen anything.

Every memory that has been hers

Since birth,

Her trip to Japan at age three

To say farewell

To a dying father.

Her return to Hawai‘i

And being christened Agnes

By her teacher,

For the Americanization

Of the little girl

Who spoke not a word of English.

Her work in the cane fields

As a young single woman

With still another given name,

“Strike Boss”

For leading her co-workers

To a sit-down strike, to rebel against

An overly demanding boss.

Her arranged marriage

By her older brother.

It was on her wedding day

That she would see her betrothed

For the third time in her life

As she rode the train

From Onomea to Kapoho

In her splendid bridal kimono

In the downpour of a storm.

Oh, and of how she sat

On the futon on her wedding night,

Unsure of the stranger

Who was now her husband.

All these memories and many more

Have been carefully preserved

In each of her children.

You see, Thief.

She not only fed and clothed

And nurtured her children.

Every significant moment

Of her historical past

Was told again and again

With such storytelling art,

That each memory

Became part of each child.

Did she perhaps suspect

You were already lurking

In her shadows?

So Thief,

Whatever you think you have stolen,

They’re still here

Carefully deposited and locked

In each of us who call her Mother,

Only to be released

For the future generations to come.

So I ask you, Thief,

What do you think of that?

— By Frances H. Kakugawa from “Mosaic Moon”

OFFICE VISIT

For Dr. Marianne Tanabe

Who is she, this woman

Who speaks so gently to me?

Is she my daughter? She must be.

Only a daughter would speak with such care

And such kindness.

She doesn’t call me mother,

She must be someone

Whose face I cannot name.

Did someone call her Doctor?

She asked my permission

To put her stethoscope to my heart.

She thanked me for
allowing her to examine me.

Her fingers on my buttons are gentler than mine.

Her hands touch me oh so carefully.

She treats me like I’m crystal and fine china.

So much respect from someone

Whose face I do not know.

Who can she be this most gentle of people

Her voice is so filled with such joy and laughter;

She must be happy to be with me.

But who is she?

I am so confused, is she a daughter

Whose name I’ve lost?

But she doesn’t call me mother.

I can’t recall her name or her face.

But this much I know,

This is such a safe place to be.

With someone so gentle and kind.

Who is she?

By Frances H. Kakugawa from “I Am Somebody”

LANGUAGE

In anticipation of his shower,

Daddy says, “So, we’ll have a cleanliness massage.”

One day, first thing in the morning

When he walks into my room, he states,

“I love you and want to get married.”

I say, “But I’m your daughter — we can’t get married!”

He replies, “OK,

I’ll respect your wisdom in these matters.”

Another day after he wanders away

And I have to call the police who bring him home

Two hours later . . .

I am shampooing his hair in the shower.

Rubbing his head, telling him he should never do that again.

And he quips, “Don’t rub it in,” smiling from ear to ear.

Once I tell him he’s a handsome man, and he says,

“Maybe 30 years ago. Maybe 100 years ago.”

The caregiver tells him he has nice hair, and he
replies,

“What little there is left of it.”

One day I remind him that he had won

The Distinguished Flying Cross in WWII, and that he’s a hero.

He looks me in the eye, driving the point home and says to me:

You’re a hero, and you should be honored for it.”

— By Jody Mishan from “Mosaic Moon”

LONELINESS

Where have all the children gone

They came for candy and ice cream

To pet Bella and run their fingers over

Her silky fur then screamed with

Delight as Bella kissed away morsels

Of ice cream from their lips.

They came to sit with Grandma

Or to watch an artist at work

And learn from the master

The art of drawing.

They came for Grandma’s

Unconditional love and attention.

Then came Alzheimer’s and

Now she is strange and distant

Grandma can only smile at them.

The house is silent.

— By Bob Oyafuso from “I Am Somebody”

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