Archive for the ‘Dear Frances’ Category

New Year. Traditionally,  it is a  time for hope and renewal. I’m going to take a different path here and return to the past. Sometimes, there are life-changing events that need to be revisited again and again. These are the parts of history that would do us best if they became part of our present and the future.   I know each of us hold many such events in our lives. Here are mine:

I’m 18 years old, a freshman at the University of Hawaii, now Hilo Campus. I’m living with a Haole family as a live-in maid, working for my room and board. The transition from Kapoho is earth shattering as I  shift from chopsticks to place settings of  numerous forks and spoons.

What I missed most during these years was rice. The standard sandwich in my new household was made with mayonnaise, lettuce and peanut butter. But for some miracle at Hilo campus,   I had rice balls and okazu for lunch every day for the next 1 1/2 years.   Ella, also a freshman,  must have observed and sensed my drool as I watched her enjoy  her rice ball lunch as I bit into my Haole sandwich. So she brought me a home-made lunch of rice balls and okazu for the next 1 1/2 years before we transferred to Manoa Campus.  She made this lunch for me every day.

(Later when I transferred to Manoa Campus, I ate baloney sandwiches for 15 cents, the most I could afford.   So do not feed me baloney or peanut butter and mayo sandwiches because just thinking of them brings a dull ache to  my gut.)

I knew then, that I would take that daily rice ball and someday return this gesture of such kindness and generosity to someone who needed it as much as I did during those years. Opportunities were in abundance.

I once opened a savings account for a very musically gifted Vietnamese student who was living a life that seemed so hopeless. On his graduation from high school, I cashed in that account for his future plans.

I have observed him from afar as he passed on that rice ball. Once, he invited me to play my flute with him in Waikiki during the holiday season.

“We’ll leave a hat to make money,” I told him. “We can have a good Christmas dinner together.” He laughed and said, “Frances, I was thinking of giving that money to the hungry.”

So that rice ball continues to make a difference in other people’s lives. Last year I fulfilled my mother’s wish. I grew up hearing her voice wishfully saying, “If  I get  rich someday, I want to give a scholarship to someone at Pahoa School.” Last year a student received the first Matsue Kakugawa $1,000 Scholarship.

It doesn’t always need to cost a penny.  There are so many volunteers making a difference in nursing facilities, churches, at the Alzheimer’s Association and other non-profit organizations. During the holidays, I had the privilege of observing an act of pure human kindness.

In a supermarket aisle, a woman who reminded me of a grandmother in a kitchen, baking cookies, snarled at me, “Watch it!” when my cart got close to hers. Dumbfounded, I quickly gave her space.

In line at the post office, I heard a voice in a menacing tone growled to an elderly man, “You’re standing too close to me. People like you shouldn’t be allowed in public.”The closer we got to Christmas, the more distance we seem to need from each other.

At a furniture store, the sales people had their radar turned on full. They swooped in succession. Did they smell cash in my pocket? I shouldn’t have worn my leather coat.  “Thank you, I’m just looking,” I repeated, and walked toward their room displays.

The door opened and another customer entered. I smelled his presence before I turned to look at him. The salesman was on the man in an instant. “May I help you?”

I heard the man reply, “I just want a place to sit.”

I looked twice at him. He didn’t look like cash to me. He was unshaven with that sallow and gaunt look.  His dripping wet thin coat hung loosely around him. He looked like a refugee from Loaves and Fishes ( a refuge for the homeless)  who was out of his realm.

I braced myself for the confrontation that I knew was about to come and prepared to run defense for the man. The salesman looked the man over and then gestured to a collection of pricey sofas.

“Be my guest,” he said softly”. Then as an afterthought, “Just be careful not to wet the furniture.” He walked away. I didn’t buy anything that visit. But you can be sure, when there is cash, I’ll be back to the same store and that salesman.

There is such a need for these acts of human kindness more today than ever before. Some of the best come from complete strangers.

When I first moved to Sacramento 14 years ago, I walked around Arden Fair Mall every morning. I had no friends, except for Red, felt very alone on these walks, often thinking, “What am I doing here.”

Then one morning I ran into the Challenge Butter delivery driver, parking his delivery truck near the mall. He greeted me like an old friend. He was a handsome  young man and we used to chat on those mornings and I felt joy and not so alone. I felt I had found my first friend in Sacramento. We never did exchange names. This ended when I joined the gym.

This morning after gym, I walked over to LaBou Coffee Shop for my morning coffee when I saw the Challenge truck parked outside the parking lot. I told the driver: “Now you’re the smart one by parking on the street. Others park in the lot, blocking cars.”

He said, “Thank you, I know how those guys park.”

As he walked into the restaurant with his delivery cart, I realized he was that same young man of 14 years ago, older now. I asked him if he were delivering at the mall 14 years ago and he said he has been doing this for 23 years. I told him of what he had meant to me; that I had just moved here and never forgot his kindness. He was moved and thanked me. I wrote and sent a copy of this story to his bosses. I hope he not only got a raise but his kindness will be part of the entire personnel at Challenge Butter.

As with every experience in life, there is too, the other side of the coin. For anyone whose past memories are not as pleasant and worth preserving, unlike Ella’s rice ball,  would it be possible to take a negative memory and recreate it into a more meaningful memory to benefit our well-being and those of others?

To caregivers, you may not know it or feel it, but you belong to that very select group of people who live the humanities day after day. In your busy life, you may not know the impact you are making . There is no medal or special ceremony at the end of each day, but know that your acts of compassion and human kindness are being appreciated, observed and learned, and are being passed on to our children and to all who come in contact with you.

What better gift to leave to our future generations than a legacy of knowing what it takes to be a kind human being, and you are all of this and more.

So as another year appears before us, thank you, everyone, for your support and for all the emails and feedback. There is so much wisdom out there, please share yours with us. May our new year bring more dignity, compassion and countless acts of human kindness.  Happy New Year.

By tradition, the Emperor writes haiku for each new year.  I’m no Emperor but here is my haiku to  greet the new year.


bamboo pic haiku



This article first appeared in my Dear Frances column in the Hawaii Herald.




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In my May “Dear Frances” column for The Hawaii Herald, I share letters and phone calls from readers, and also some observations from visiting a nursing home in New York.

Here’s a sample. For more, read the column at the Herald‘s website.

Via phone call — it was the third call I received expressing the same sentiments.

“It’s not happening, Frances. I was so happy when you spoke to us at our adult residence. But, Frances, it’s not happening. I thought we would receive more compassion and kindness after you spoke to us, but it’s not happening. I have your picture near my bed and I pray and talk to you every morning. When are you coming to Kona?

Kona, HI

Dear Kalani,

Tell your director that, as you say, “It’s not happening.”

I’ll be speaking at the Hawaii Community Caregiver Network Conference at the Sheraton Keauhou in Kona on Sept. 9. I hope your staff members will be able to attend. Keep talking, Kalani.


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DearFrancesThe Hawai‘i Herald newspaper has a beautiful new website so now you can read my complete column online! Here is a condensed excerpt from this month’s column. For my complete reply, please read the column at the Hawai‘i Herald website. For my newest column every month, be sure to get your copy of the Hawaii Herald by subscribing. To visit my column archive on their site, click on my new “Dear Frances” logo to the right.


Dear Frances,

I’m not a caregiver, but will probably need one in my old age. Is there anything I can do now to not become a burden to my children or husband?



Dear Helen,

How wise of you to have such foresight. Yes, here are a few suggestions.

On Promises: Do not ask your family to make promises for the unknown future. Many caregivers live with remorse and guilt when their loved ones need to be placed outside of their own home because of promises made, such as: “Promise me you won’t put me in a nursing home.”

We cannot foresee the future. Oftentimes, nursing facilities become the only alternative due to the condition of your loved one. To leave your voice, saying you want to always remain at home may create additional grief and guilt for your family members. Why not lessen the trauma of putting you in a nursing facility by giving them permission to do whatever seems right and appropriate?

We need to be openly free and unafraid to discuss these possibilities before care is needed.

My mother and I had this conversation often in a very playful way. Yes, discuss this in casual conversations to ease the way into a subject that is a natural part of life.

Okasan: When I get old, just put me in a nursing home and you don’t need to visit me.

Me: Naah, I’ll take care of you at home. If you’re nice, I’ll give you nice warm baths. But if you get nasty, I’ll hose you down with cold water in the garage for your baths.


Yes, we teased and laughed a lot about her later years, but the message was clear: She gave me permission to put her in a nursing home, and when the time came for that placement, I recalled with gratitude, those conversations. And it was very OK for both of us.

On Funerals and Services: It relieves family and friends to know your wishes in advance. Do you want to be cremated? If you wish to have services, name the church of your choice. I know of people who have made all of their arrangements, right down to catering services. One creative woman had her own funeral services while she was still alive — it was a celebration of her life among family and friends.

On Advance Directives. If you have not made an advance directive, I strongly suggest that you get this done. An advance directive is a written statement about your future medical care. It is a gift to family members and friends so that they will not have to guess what you want if you can no longer speak for yourself.

These two websites can give you more information on health directives.

POLST — Physician’s Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment — is a physician’s order that gives patients more control over their end-of-life care. It specifies the types of treatments that a patient wishes to receive towards the end of his or her life.

The Kōkua Mau website has the updated Hawai‘i POLST form that was amended during the 2014 legislative session.

A video on end-of-life care made by Kōkua Mau is also available on this site. My mother and I appear in it!

Here’s a little background story on the making of this video. The staff at my mother’s nursing facility was told that we were coming to do this video. When we arrived, the aides had painted my mother’s nails bright red and her face was made up like a woman of the streets. We had to scrub much of the makeup off and find alcohol to rub off her nail polish. They even had a tiara in her hair. They saw her as a movie star. I was deeply moved at what the ladies had done.

Take care,


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Here is an excerpt from my “Dear Frances…” column in the Hawaii Herald newspaper from last month. For my newest column every month, be sure to get your copy of the Hawaii Herald by subscribing.

Dear Frances,

I’m taking care of my mother, who has Alzheimer’s. My sister and brother live out of town and criticize many of the things I do when they come to visit. How can I get them to understand and help me out?


Dear Sally,

I find this common among many families, so I’m going to address this to out-of-town siblings: Become a pillar of support. This means, do not give advice to or judge the primary caregiver. Their job is all consuming and they are doing the best they can.

Unless you live with the person being cared for, you will not know what caregiving encompasses. Telephone conversations with loved ones reveal very little because of social graces. My mother had a standard conversation:

Okasan: “Hello . . .”
Caller: “Long time no see. How are you?”
Okasan: “Oh, I’m fine.”

This conversation did not give a clue as to where she was in the stages of the disease, nor the demands being made of the caregiver. Asking questions requiring very little memory tells us hardly anything about the state of their dementia. For example:

Caller: “Did you have breakfast?”
Loved one: “Yes.”
Caller: “How are you doing?”
Loved one: “Good.”
Caller: “What are you going to do today?”
Loved one: “Oh, not much.”

Do not judge so easily that the caregiver is exaggerating because the loved one sounds so normal on the telephone. To find out what’s really going on, spend a few weeks, or even months, with your loved one without the primary caregiver in the house. Find out for yourself by taking on the role of primary caregiver.

Before visiting, please check to see what dates are best for your loved one and his or her caregiver. There are schedules and appointments and unless you are able to take care of these, your visit needs to be coordinated with the caregiver — not made at your convenience. We need to respect the world created by the caregiver and the loved one.

If you are unable to become an active caregiver, there are many other ways you can help. Ask the caregiver about:

  • Finances: Contribute your share of expenses.
  • Household: Pay for someone to do house cleaning or to take care of the yard.
  • Carpentry: Work to make the house safe and Alzheimer’s-friendly.
  • Express and show gratitude: For example, give gift cards for restaurants, massages, manicures, etc.
  • Join a support group to learn about the disease and the demands it places on the caregiver so that you will have a better understanding of the situation. Educate yourself about the disease and its symptoms so that you will be able to converse on the same wavelength.

This is now addressed to you, the caregiver: Be honest when you are offered help. Asking for help does not mean that you are not the perfect caregiver. We often feel that others will not be able to give care like we do because of the structure and schedule we have established.

I often felt that it was too much of a bother to explain to someone else how to give care to my mother because she was so used to me. There are many ways of giving care, as long as no one is hurt or mistreated. When a sibling helps with caregiving, try to get out of the house; ideally, take a vacation when they’re visiting. Write out the schedule for your siblings to follow, as change will confuse the one being cared for. A list with the following information will help:

  • Physician’s name, office phone number (cell, if available) and address
  • Names and phone numbers of people who may have to be called upon in the event of a crisis (plumber, electrician, medical personnel, neighbors, friends, etc.)
  • Shower/bath time
  • Meal times
  • Outings
  • Favorite foods, TV shows, music and activities.

Both primary and out-of-town caregivers: Not everyone is cut out to be a caregiver, so be honest if you feel that you cannot handle the demands of being a caregiver and give help in other ways.


Dear Frances,

My husband was just diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. I’m at a loss, and I’m scared. I know there is so much mis-information. Where do I begin to obtain good information? What kinds of meds? How do I make our house Alzheimer’s friendly?


Dear Roberta,

Whoa! One day at a time. One need at a time. We need to progress with his needs as the disease follow its course; otherwise, we will be overwhelmed and frozen with stress.

To begin with, your husband’s neurologist is the best source for all of your medical questions.

For information: Put together a list of your concerns and visit the Alzheimer’s Association office in your community. They can direct you to the right resources. If you cannot get through the neighbor island numbers listed below, call the Honolulu office for information.

Hawai‘i Alzheimer’s Association Contact Numbers

Maui: (808) 242-8636
Hilo: (808) 981-2111
Kaua‘i: (808) 245-3200
O‘ahu: (808) 591-2771

The National Alzheimer’s Association contact number and website are: 1-800-272-3900, www.alz.org. Call them for help.

Another good source is the Eldercare Locator, which you can reach by calling 1-800-677-1116, or visiting www.eldercare.gov. Eldercare Locator helps families find resources and services in their own community (home care, adult day care and nursing homes). Eldercare Locator is a public service of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration on Aging.

If there are support groups in your area, consider joining one, for it is here that you will not feel alone. You will learn how others are resolving some of the same problems you are facing. When I joined a support group at the Alzheimer’s Association, there were caregivers with loved ones at all stages of the diseases. That gave me insight into what to expect on a general level. I say “general” because there are individual differences in how this disease affects each person. Caregivers are very creative and these support groups are filled with them.

Most of the Alzheimer’s Association offices have a library. Here are some book titles that may be helpful:

The local libraries probably have these books on their shelves, too.

Remember: Take a deep breath . . . one day at a time.


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Here is an excerpt from my “Dear Frances…” column in the Hawaii Herald newspaper from last month (May). For my newest column every month, be sure to get your copy of the Hawaii Herald by subscribing.

Dear Frances,

I’m a caregiver for my wife. She hallucinates that there’s always someone in the bathroom with her when I’m giving her a bath. She said she doesn’t want to be naked in front of other people. This is a constant argument during bath time.

Sacramento, Calif.

Dear Bob,

These hallucinations are real to her, so deal with them as if they exist instead of saying that no one is there. This may only lead to arguments and frustrations, and we are not respecting her world. Enter her world, which is as normal to her as our own world is to us.

Try this: Open the door of the bathroom and speak to her hallucinations and ask them to leave. Tell them your wife wants privacy, so leave! Use body language and lead them out of the room. Ask your wife, “Did I get everyone out?“ Then close the door.

A minister told me this story. When he visited his father in Japan, he found him cowering in bed, saying the room was filled with tanuki (badger dogs). So the son rolled up some newspaper and went around the room, chasing the imaginary tanuki out of the room. The room was filled with them, so he leapt around and hit the walls and talked to the tanuki, telling them to leave the room. Finally, his father said in Japanese, “Good, good, they’re all gone now.” And then son and father had a good visit.

When my mother said something black was coming out of a painting on her wall, I took the painting down and stored it away.

Elaine Okazaki shared a poem in Breaking the Silence about how she handled her mother’s hallucination. This is an excerpt from her poem, “Humph, I Say.”

. . . Then there’s the night she woke up screaming.
She shouted about that girl and that man in bed with her.
“Where’s the man?” I stammer.
“Next to me, Can’t you see?”
“And where’s the girl?”
“Can’t you see? Against the wall.”
“Well, I say, ‘Let the man sleep against the wall.’
And put the girl next to you.”
“Oh, okay,” she utters.
Back to bed I go.
Humph! Humph! . . .

As you can see, Bob, what may seem bizarre to us, is quite normal in the minds of our loved ones. If we learn to see through their eyes and hear through their ears, perhaps we will learn more of their world instead of being stuck in ours. This may lead us to live in peace with less conflict between caregiver and the ones being cared for.


Here is the other question I answered in my May column.

Dear Frances,

Will I revert to speaking Japanese when I’m older? I came from Japan 33 years ago and my son is concerned that I will speak Japanese when I get old, and since he speaks only English, he’s worried that he won’t be able to communicate with me and won’t be able to help me. What shall I tell him?

Sacramento, Calif.

For my answer, purchase a back issue of the Hawaii Herald through their office.

And here a nice letter that the Herald printed in response to the debut of my column:

Dear Frances:

What a wonderful opportunity for you, to reach out to the community and help resolve issues, or at least minimally reduce pain and angst in these times of the elderly living longer and needing love, care and attention.

Cheers for your new role of “Dear Frances” for the often forgotten folks who dutifully provide love and attention and get little reward of kōkua in their challenging journey.

You are the Band-Aid for this generation, helping to fill the gap. Kudos to you and to The Hawai‘i Herald for focusing on a very real need in a very solitary world of coping and caring.

You have my respect and aloha. And I send you good cheer, knowing you will share and send your compassion for those who need it most. The caregiver, of course; it’s hard work with no pay. They are unsung heroes and you are providing savvy advice for a community that needs it.

Wayne Harada
Honolulu, Hawaii

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