Frances H. Kakugawa
Hawai‘i Herald Columnist

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

Dear Readers,

I’m writing this in October, before I leave for my speaking engagements in Denver, because I know I won’t be able to meet my deadline after my trip. If I don’t do this now, it will mean an email all in capital letters from my “Boss Lady” (aka Karleen), asking: “WHERE IS DEAR FRANCES?”

For this column, I will share this drama queen’s account of her recent bout with pneumonia.

More than six weeks ago, I was diagnosed with pneumonia. My immediate thought was, “Oh no, pneumonia can be fatal to the elderly, and I’m now in that age group.” I spent the next three weeks in bed. Truth be told, the thought of writing my next “Dear Frances” column never entered my mind through my coughing spells and sleepless nights.

Fortunately, I had an excellent caregiver/nurse in Red. He brought all of my meals to me on a tray and kept me filled with liquids, although one night, I did tell him: “Can you fire the chef who made tonight’s soup — it was too salty.”

“I already fired him,” he replied.

Another night, the distance between the bedroom and the bathroom turned into miles to travel. In just an hour, I had four different accidents. My caregiver, who had taken care of his mother, knew exactly what to do. Lying in bed, I heard the sound of the washing machine come on. Caregivers know what it means to be doing laundry in the middle of the night. As I listened to the sound of the washer in the quiet night, I was reminded of that train whistle in the silence of the night, lonely and yet so poignantly poetic. I also thought it was too soon for me to be the reason that washer was running at midnight. I tried to capture that night and my defiant thoughts in the following poem.

THE SOUND OF THE WASHER

Last night . . .

The sound of soiled sheets,

Nightgowns, towels, rugs, panties —

Whirling and spinning

Into the morning hours

Spin me back to my mother’s reign.

That long-ago sound

Of train whistles on insomniac nights —

The braying of that lone wolf —

The washer at 3 a.m.

Sounds without words.

Her crown, a diamond-lit drone

Hovers over my head,

Eager for its next reign.

It’s pneumonia! I shout,

Gasping for air. Go away!

D L R O W! *

Trump is your President! **

Apple, table, penny. Penny, table, apple! ***

The song of the washer

Soothes me in my third set of

Nighties. The droning sound, gone.

(Note: The italicized lines with asterisks are the answers to three of the questions asked by neurologists when they test for dementia: * Spell “world” backwards. ** Who is our president? *** Those three words are given at the beginning of the test; the patient is then asked to recall the three words throughout the test.)

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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