Frances H. Kakugawa
Hawai‘i Herald Columnist
Omoiyari . . . Think of others first and good karma will return to you.
— Frances H. Kakugawa
Do you remember my friend Mabs? I told you about her in my March 4 column, “Mabs’ Journey.” Mabs continues to attend my Memoir Writing Group, even though her Alzheimer’s disease is beginning to take its toll.
By our last session, I had become a stranger to her. But that’s OK. This was our conversation:
Mabs: “I can’t remember things anymore.”
Me: “That’s okay, Mabs; we will remember for you.”
Mabs, with a slight smile: “You will? Thanks.”
Mabs shared her work, written in script. Because she can no longer return to her memories, she now offers advice in her writing. Last month, she wrote a paragraph on how to behave in the workplace. “Be on time. Do your work. Don’t take long breaks.”
Mabs: “Is this all right? I don’t know how much longer I can write.”
Me: “Mabs, even if you can’t write, continue to join us. You can listen to other people’s stories. Don’t worry about your writing. Tell me, how do you feel when you’re writing?”
Mabs: “I get all stressed when I can’t remember stuff, but when I write, all that stress goes away. So I’m glad I can still write.”
Me: “Mabs, just write words. That’s OK, too.”
One of the members emailed me later. She said she felt uplifted listening to our conversation; she felt like she was on another planet. So Mabs is teaching us the power of writing, even in her dementia state.
My mother died four days before Christmas. I am sad because she died alone. I knew time was getting shorter for her because she had stopped eating. On that one night, I was so tired I slept in my own bed. At 3 a.m. when I went to check on her, she was gone. I was planning to be with her when she died. I even planned on being in bed with her, holding her, and this didn’t happen. I have so much regret and feel I let her down.
And, Frances, how important is it to follow our cultural traditions? In our culture, we don’t keep cremated ashes in the house. I’m supposed to take her ashes back to Fiji, where she was born. But I am so tired and depressed — I can’t do this right now. At one time, I had her ashes in the garage, thinking it’s not in the house. Then I put her ashes in the closet. I’m losing my mind. I’m trying to put her clothes and belongings away and I keep crying, seeing her things. I’m even thinking of taking her ashes to the sea or to the river. What do you think? Am I being a bad daughter?
To your first concern . . . the best laid plans of mice and men go oft astray . . .
There are many things in life that are out of our control, Raj. I, too, had planned on being with my mother when she died, but it happened when I left
to take a shower, thinking I would be with her all
night at the nursing facility. She chose to leave dur-
ing my absence and I can’t help but feel that she waited until I was gone to spare me because she knew how anxious I felt in hospital situations and
with anything medical-related. Perhaps your mother, too, chose her own time and place. It was her time to leave, whether you were there or not. I hope you can find some peace in knowing that your mother is also at peace. You did so much caring for your mother — do not let this one moment when she chose to leave, become your truth of the years you spent together.
THE 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
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
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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.