Sometimes we need to look a bit harder to find
beauty in the heat of California drought.
Look what awaited patiently this morn.
Ah, Ms. O’Keefe,
If only I had your brush and your palette
of the blues.
“Come with me,” you would have said,
And together we would have breast stroked
Right into Paradise.
This essay and poem were previously published in The Hawaii Herald, and it recently appeared on the Keiro Genki Woman blog. I will be speaking at their upcoming Genki Conference: Caregiver’s Edition on Saturday, July 18, 2015 at East San Gabriel Valley Japanese Community Center.
Look closely, you may be one of these people who’s turning the caregivers’ world into a community of humanitarians. These are the people who help to make the caregivers’ world less and less isolated. These are the people who enter the caregivers’ world with acts of kindness. These are the people who live the humanities, not for the purpose of thickening resumés or for making points with one’s conscience. These are the young who do the right thing, not because it’s part of a school project or for college entrance essays. These are the people who have become the altruistic neighbor or stranger.
A friend from Maui spent six months in Seattle with her husband who needed to receive treatment at a cancer center. When she returned, her lawn and pasture land behind her house were mowed and clean. Her house looked as though she had returned to an open house. Her neighbors had silently risen to the occasion.
Years ago, my niece and her husband from Hilo were in Seattle for his bone marrow transplant. Fellow workers from Okahara & Associates, on Oahu and in Hilo and Kona donated their vacation time so my niece could have paid leave to be with her husband. When she returned home alone, her co-workers cooked meals to help out since her girls were 4 and 8 years old. It was, she said, these acts of kindness that helped her after her husband’s death.
These stories are boundless.
Linda, a caregiver, had this to share:
“On my way home after taking Mom to the doctor, we stopped at Peet’s Coffee for Mom’s favorite cookies and coffee. It was becoming increasingly difficult to get her in and out of the car so when we got back to the car I had to put down my wallet and shopping bag to maneuver her back into the passenger seat. I then picked up my shopping bag, put it in the back seat, and drove Mom to her residence.
When I arrived home, I didn’t have my wallet. I called the doctor’s office, Peet’s, and the staff at Mom’s residence, thinking I might have left it in one of those places, but no, my wallet was gone.
So I resigned myself to cancelling my credit cards and applying for a new driver’s license. Then someone knocked at the front door. Before me stood a young man, probably high school age, with his bicycle and backpack. He asked, “Are you Linda Donahue?”
When I said yes, he handed me my wallet, saying he had found it on the freeway overpass as he was bicycling. Everything was in it, including almost $80. He had ridden two miles out of his way to return it to me.
I suspect I left it on the roof of the car and forgot about it after helping Mom into her seat.”
These acts of kindness are possible because they were received with grace. Once we attach obligation to these gifts, we turn each act of humanity into one of indebtedness, destroying the gift in the spirit in which it was given.
Red was a caregiver for his mother for more than ten years.
“During these ten years, my lawn was always mowed,” he said. “Until today I don’t know who did this and it’s not important for me to know, nor is it important for that person to be thanked. We both know why my lawn was mowed.”
Thus the practice of “Pay it forward,” when we repay these gifts of kindness to others instead of to the initial benefactor.
And when we do this, the feeling of sheer joy about oneself is immeasurable. Sometimes, all it takes is to leave the door to your kitchen unlocked.
Fanny’s kitchen was always open
to grubby little me who, in want of a pepsi
always knew where to go.
too shy for social etiquette,
I sat on her porch
waiting to be seen.
soon her voice, “Oh, Hideko,
I neva see you. So hot today,
you want some pepsi?”
my nod took me
into the kitchen where she poured
warm pepsi into a white porcelain coffee cup.
she could have used crystal,
it would have been carefully held
between my hands, as I sipped and felt
warm pepsi flow down my parched throat.
there was no ice in our village, no electricity
or supermarkets. deprivation was bliss.
looking back, I hear the dialogue
between Fanny and her children:
“ma, what happened to the can of pepsi?”
“oh, that Kakugawa girl was here again
so I gave it to her.”
“oh man, she always here, drinking our pepsi.”
when I became a caregiver
for my mother with Alzheimer’s,
I sought Fanny’s kitchen once again.
she was gone then, and we were
all scattered, after Pele’s red hot fingers
snaked their way over our village.
oh, how I needed a pepsi drink
living half in fear in the eerie world
using that Kapoho girl savvy
I found solace in Jane’s home.
a Fanny in every aspect.
her door unlocked for my visits,
I went straight into her kitchen, declaring
“I need a mother,”
and sat myself down at her kitchen table.
“I dropped my mother at adult care
and I’m tired and hungry.”
that brought Jane to her feet. brewed decaf coffee,
lunch or breakfast, pending time of my visit,
dessert and more decaf while I kept one eye on the clock.
there is something so comforting to hear,
“eat, eat. you look too thin.”
once again I hear the conversation at the end of Jane’s day,
“don’t we have leftovers for dinner? “
“oh, Fran was here today.”
it was a place where I sat to gather,
a self that was being gnawed away, too,
by that relentless Alzheimer’s thief.
Jane died last week and I grieve
for the kitchen she offered me, no matter what time of day,
a mother when my own was slowly taking leave.
there’s a kitchen here in Sacramento
since my move ten years ago, a kitchen with another
name, but the same kitchen as long ago.
Mary’s kitchen is where I now sit,
when my need for a mother, or a friend
creeps up on me.
I sit and sip freshly brewed coffee,
or hot green tea with healthy snacks,
vegan-made by Mary’s hands.
a sense of peace falls over me,
watching squirrels run up oak trees,
and patches of sky in morning glory vines.
I honor all three women this quiet day,
for their kitchen without lock, and warm Pepsi
to soothe a parched life.
I wrote the following sitting next to the subject of this poem.
Raised by Wolves
A young man buckles himself next to me,
Connected to wires and earbuds.
He grunts to my Hello without meeting my eyes.
Soon we are flying over the Pacific
Nary a word between our proximity.
An hour into flight, breakfast trays appear.
He leans over his mushroom cheese crepes,
Stabs his fork into one, lifts the crepe to his mouth,
Takes a bite and drops the rest of the crepe to his plate.
He was raised by wolves, this much I know.
He picks up a piece of cantaloupe with his fingers
Takes a bite, moves his face over his tray and drops
The size too large for a bite back to his plate.
His utensils, ignored like the napkin on his tray.
My teacher mode kicks in.
Learn by observing, child raised by wolves.
Learn by observing.
Miss Manners and Emily Post at his service
I use each silverware and my napkin, too.
Attempt again for conversation over breakfast.
“Let me guess,” I begin.
No, No, I didn’t ask,” Were you raised by wolves?”
Miss Manners was still around.
“You’re a college student returning home for summer break.”
He flashes his first smile. He finished his junior year in college,
Flying home with hopes of finding a summer job.
I drink my cup of decaf coffee, wish him well.
I was wrong, not raised by wolves, perhaps
By Fast Foods finger foods and his SmartPhone.
Belated thanks and notes from my final two stops on my Hawaii summer visit.
Thank you Christine Reed for hosting my lecture/book signing at Basically Books, Hilo, Hawaii. I appreciate you and Debbie working so hard to fit me in to the store’s busy schedule. (Christine also graciously handles sales for me quite often when I do other Hilo presentations.)
My thanks to all who attended. To Mr. Suzuki, who knew me as a child in Kapoho, thank you for sitting in the front row. I want to be like you when I’m in my late 90s. Loa and mother, your story is so special and moving, it will appear in the Hawaii Herald soon.
I always thought a standing ovation was the ultimate achievement, but those who were on the wait list to my Kahala Nui session in Honolulu—you paid the highest compliment. I will personally send you the flyer to my next Hawaii conference on October 31st. To each person in the audience, thank you for spending a late afternoon with me.
Jody Mishan of Executive Office of Aging, Felicia Marques-Wong of St. Francis Healthcare System, Jeanette Kojane of Kokua Mau and Darleen Canto of Kahala Nui, you made it all happen with months of planning.
After all my presentations, I did an interview with Beth-Ann Kozlovich of Hawaii Public Radio. You can listen to it here.
Hawaii, I will be back! See you in October/November.
Posted in Events, My Books | Tagged Basically Books, Christine Reed, Darleen Canto, Executive Office of Aging, Felicia Marques-Wong, Hawaii Public Radio, Jeanette Kojane, Jody Mishan, Kahala Nui, Kokua Mau, St. Francis Healthcare System | Leave a Comment »
An elderly woman sat next to me on Hawaiian air.
The last time I sat next to an elderly woman, I had to help her to the bathroom and
take care of her while her son and daughter-in-law sat two seats away and totally ignored her. The flight attendant who was aware of what was happening told the other attendants that I was to be served first throughout the flight. They thanked me profusely before I left the plane.
So this time, a woman who looked like she was in her nineties sat next to me and was a talker.
I tried to read, tried to write but she kept on talking in her animated voice. Other passengers were giving me sympathetic looks. She was sharp of mind. Very demanding, too. She sent back her champagne saying she didn’t want watered down stuff, to serve her brewed champagne. I lost count after her 5th glass. She didn’t care for her lunch. She wanted to watch movies but was told they no longer show movies on the screen. They gave her an iPad. I taught her how to use it and found her a movie. So I managed to finish a book and do some writing.
When they took the iPad away before landing, she used the f word because she wanted to see the end of the movie. THEN, she told me she has multiple personalities and named all the personalities. One personality died in an accident. She was told in therapy that they could merge all the personalities into one or to leave them as they are. She said they are family to her so she chose to keep each of them. I believe I was speaking to some of these personalities because of the difference in how she spoke to me. One was a f word user. One voice groped for words while the original was as sharp and feisty as Betty White.
The attendants tried to ignore her. I found her intriguing. She gave me the title of her bio that is being edited. She was traveling alone. Well, not really alone.
Thank you, Lynsey Capone-Smith, of the Alzheimer’s Assoc., for hosting my lecture on Maui. She shared her thoughts over her first cup of coffee: “I’m meeting a rock star today.” Lynsey, that went straight to my head. Imagine putting me in with rock stars.
From every audience, special people offer remarkable stories. Before the lecture, a man explained, “I’m not a caregiver; I’m being proactive by being ready when it comes.”
“You are not only being proactive,” I said. “You are also very wise.”
A young man wept and questioned: “Why aren’t there classes so people like my parents can understand those who come down with dementia? My parents just didn’t get it when my grandma got dementia and she was treated very badly. I tried to make my parents understand but nothing I said worked. No one listened and I feel so badly for my grandma.”
“First,” I said, “I hope you know that you are that link in your family to continue this legacy I spoke of, that legacy of preserving what it means to be a kind and compassionate human being, and I commend you for this. You are what your parents weren’t able to do. Some of us are not meant to be caregivers.”
To the gentleman who said my lecture was like a good song that needs to be heard over and over again, thank you for hearing me again.
A woman who cares for others in her home held both my hands tightly and thanked me: “I didn’t know a caregiver was important until I heard you today. I never told people I was a caregiver, I was sort of ashamed. You made me so proud of what I do. Thank you.”
So thank you, Lynsey, for a heart-warming gathering.