Archive for the ‘Dignity in Aging’ Category

   This thing called life,  passion, feelings or  sexuality belongs to us, men and women of all ages.

We still see things we shouldn’t see –

We still feel things we shouldn’t feel-

We still hear things we shouldn’t hear-

We still taste grief, joy, fear,

In a world that vibrates

Through all of my senses.

We are not dead yet.


Do not define me by age.

I am not Roosevelt, Truman,

Eisenhower, or JFK.


Do not define me by blue veins

bulging out on my spidery arms,

my gobbler, once a Hepburn, Audrey.


Do not define me by Rorschach,

On skin brushed with indelible ink.

A Pollock on the wall of MOMA.


Do not define me by a new dance step

Shuffling, shuffling –

My heels replaced by clogs.


I am

a rabbit out of a hat,

a three ring circus without net,

A whodunit without clues.

War and Peace, chapter one,

The second act.


I am

Without epilog.

from my Dangerous Women: Poetry for the Ageless


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My blog site is included on this site for people who are caring for loved ones with various illnesses . Please go to this site for the entire sets of blogs from various caregivers.


My own is listed below.

20 Valuable Blogs for Caregivers in 2018

Caregiving for a Loved One, Young or Old, Is an Incredibly Difficult Job. These Bloggers Share Their Wisdom, Helping Any Caregiver on Their Journey

Frances Kakugawa

Frances Kakugawa is a distinguished author and poet, whose experience in caring for her late mother, Matsue – who lived with Alzheimer’s – influences much of her work. 16 years after her mother passed away, Frances remains an active voice in caregiving, and has published four books on the subject – including one for children. She writes a Dear Frances advice column for caregivers in the Hawaii Herald, and her long-standing blog has a vast amount of posts about caregiving, ranging from practical advice to profound poetry.



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Hi Everyone,

I’ll be speaking at the National Council of Negro Women Alzheimer’s workshop on Nov 18th.

I’ll be addressing how I used poetry, language and story telling to help me turn the care of my mother into a legacy of dignity and compassion, and to know what it means to be human.





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Thank you, participants and Brookdale Foundation and RAPP for all the welcoming mats. It was an honor to  help open the conference with a keynote address  followed by book signings and two workshops on the following day. It was a nice way to introduce my new book: Dangerous Women: Poetry for the Ageless. Participants are to be highly commended for making a difference in the lives of our elders, our children and in the humanities.

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I think humor helped when I kept saying, “Hey, I’m not in the Obit, I’m still alive.” I’m in the third week of pneumonia, lungs are still not completely healed.  I was so sure I was going to die from complications but such drama, thankfully, didn’t happen.

I need to heal because I’m giving the keynote address to open a national conference in Denver next month, followed by two workshops on the following day: a workshop for caregivers and one for relatives who are raising children without their parents.

Had an excellent caregiver, nurse in Red. I did tell him one night,” Can you fire the chef who did tonight’s soup, it’s too salty.” He said, “I already fired him.” One night I told him I wanted Kapoho style healing food: Vienna sausage, hot rice and eggs. He looked stunned and said, “Nobody eats that stuff.” I got up and added shoyu (soy sauce) and sugar to a whole can of Vienna sausage, and was it good with rice and eggs! And healing began.

Spam is next on the menu.

The sound of the washer in the middle of the night brought back some vivid memories. In one hour, I had four bathroom accidents. I was too ill to do anything about it. That sound of the washer reminded me of the times we used the washer in the middle of the night when we cared for our mothers. And here, I was now the cause of it with Red doing the cleaning and washing. I kept thinking of a poem: The sound of the washer at 3 a.m..

STay tuned to the announcement of my next poetry book that is being released next week.



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I spoke at Isabella Geriatric Center in New York City this weekend. I called the presentation “Gratitude. Trust. Dignity.” After my session, the residents surrounded me, asking me to return so every staff member, social workers and families could hear me. They asked, “Can you help us start book clubs and writing groups?”


They welcomed the homework I gave—to begin a daily Journal of Joy.

Coming next: a heart-warming observation in the elevator and more valuable lessons learned from the elders and the young.

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This is lifted from my Dear Frances advice column for caregivers which appears monthly in the Hawai’i Herald.


Dear Readers,

Today I honor the children. Too often we isolate our elders from the children when they are no longer able to speak or recognize people. I’ve compiled the writings of several children who remind us of how sensitive and caring, and aware they are of their elders. We have so much to learn from them.


First meet Maxwell Shukuyu, the grandson of Mary Swisher, who is a member of my poetry writing support group for caregivers in Sacramento. Max spends most of his days and nights at his grandparents’ home.He is a natural with his grandpa. He will easily divert his grandpa’s attention away from behavior caused by the disease by inviting him to sing with him as he plays the piano or violin. He laughs along with his grandpa and just goes with flow with him. Here’s what Max wrote about his grandpa.



The King of the Ice Cream

My grandpa is a smart man. He likes to say, “I went to Washington University in St. Louis—it’s in the top three medical schools in the country.” I’ve heard this phrase, this proud declaration, more than once—in fact, I’ve heard this phrase and others countless times, but my grandpa isn’t an egotist.


Another favorite is, “You know, there are parasites in all fish. Mary (his wife and my grandma), don’t you remember coming to that lecture?” And she’ll say, “No, Bob. I think you’re mixed up. Now, eat your fish.” Or, my personal favorite, “Did you know I’m the King of the ice cream. If you want ice cream from the freezer, you come to me first!” he’ll say while grinding his teeth.


They’re more than routine catchphrases; my grandfather’s axioms are ingrained into the very fibers of his mind. But old age is a testament to mortality—the unshakable can fade and identity is fleeting.


But my grandpa is still my grandpa. He knows his name, knows my name, and knows my grandma’s name. He still peruses the house like a power-Nazi, removing offensive high-wattage bulbs and turning off unnecessary lights. And when asked what the proper name for a heart attack is, myocardial infarction is usually on the tip of his tongue. But, at the same time, there’s a disconnect. It’s like his brain’s “VACANCY” sign is half-lit. He’ll grope for the powdered sugar and sincerely ask, “Is this the syrup?” He’ll tell me—twice in fifteen minutes—about how he evaded his fraternity’s hell-week by hiding in his basement. He’ll come to me asking, “How do I use my phone’s voice-dial?” And I’ll go through the steps, and he’ll thank me. And the next week he’ll say, “How do I use my phone’s voice-dial?” And he’ll thank me again.


It’s true—I don’t know a lot about death, aging, or mortality. I’m 18. Of course, there was my paternal grandfather’s death, which I was too young to understand or fully remember. And, of course, there are acquaintances—old family friends—that passed. But my dog Beethoven’s death is the closest I’ve been to loss. I can remember regretting that I hadn’t taken more photos with him and how hard it was to let go. Otherwise, I’ve been rather fortunate in that death is a fairly foreign concept. And, in terms of aging, my experiences have been limited to observations. But watching my grandpa as he aimlessly walks around the house humming the tune to “The Java Jive,” has given me some insight. Denial, delusion, avoiding the truth—it isn’t necessarily harmful.


Maybe, in the depths of his mind, my grandpa realizes how much he’s changed. But, honestly, I hope he doesn’t. There’s some quote floating around on the internet that says, “Worrying is like a rocking chair. It gives you something to do, but it gets you nowhere.” In his present state of ignorant bliss, my grandpa still smiles, sings, dances, jokes, and laughs. Why take that away from him? I can’t see how emphatically breaking the news in some dramatic family meeting or constantly reminding him would be beneficial. I don’t think anyone should live the last few years of their life identifying as “someone with dementia” or “someone with Alzheimer’s.”


Is this lie by omission immoral? Maybe. But life isn’t short. The last couple of years of anyone’s life—as 21st century medicine progresses and desperately tries to squeeze out and extend everyone’s last few drops of existence—aren’t pretty. Life often ends uglily with a painful slog to the backdoor. Why make it any worse?


Maxwell Shukuya

Age 18



The following poem was written by a sixth-grader who attended one of my poetry workshops.


“Oh no,” the sixth grader said as he put his head down on the poem he had written. “Miss Kakugawa, I’m going to be punished for this. Oh no, look what I wrote. I called my grandmother stale bread!”


I read his poem and said, “This is a very beautiful poem, your images are very powerful. ”

“Really?” he asked, taking a deep breath.

Once students are told their poems are wonderful, they see and accept the true nature of their art.


My Grandmother


My grandmother is like

A stale piece of bread.

I feel sorry for her

Now that she’s almost dead.


As she limps down the dark road,

She looks wrinkled and so old.

I wish my grandma was young again,

Like a freshly baked loaf of bread.


Geoffry Waggoner

11 years old



The following poem was written by another 11-year-old. Note his awareness of his human environment.


Old Man


Old man of the town

Wrinkles all over his skin

He sits all alone.


Justin, 11 years old




Every Saturday I took my mother to Kahala Mall to have her hair done. One day, while wheeling her through the mall, we passed a group of teenage boys. One boy stopped and looked at us. I heard him say to his friends, “Wow, you guys, just look at that. That is so beautiful. When I get kids someday, I hope they will take care of me like that.” They stood in silence and watched me push my mother through the mall. I was glad we were out in public just at the right time and place. I was glad isolation had not become my mother’s world. Perhaps, even in her dementia state, she had taught a young man something about compassion.


And here’s my Poet Wordsworth from Wordsworth Dances the Waltz. He continues to make a difference in people’s lives.


After introducing Wordsworth to the audience in my keynote address at a health conference recently, a young caregiver came to me.

“You just made me realize,” she said, “how I need to listen to my young children. They keep telling me that I talk mean to Grandma. I didn’t realize this until I heard your poems from your Wordsworth book.”


“Your children are Wordsworth,” I said. “You are a good mother to be raising such sensitive and loving children. Listen to them, sometimes they see more than we do.


I want to close this month’s column by inviting you to join me at my table at a bakery where the window looks out on the world.


Make Me Cry, World


I sit at my favorite table in my coffee shop cave,

A cup of coffee in one hand, a pen in the other.

My scenic view, the parking lot.

Each space occupied under the trees, the first choice

for drivers in this three digit heat.


Soon there is movement. A woman with a walker,

osteoporosis humped on her back, snails her way

toward a sedan. A young woman, her granddaughter I presume,

opens both doors, the passenger’s front and back and waits.

And waits.


The woman knows her dance. She turns her walker around, two steps from the door,

inches her way, backside toward the seat, pauses and offers both arms to her granddaughter.

Both dance the familiar dance. Granddaughter gently and gingerly removes

the jacket off her back. The dance ends with sleeves carefully

pulled and tugged off both arms.


They share a smile before the walker is stored in the back

and grandmother is on the front seat in a light flowered cotton blouse.

Seatbelt is snapped and the engine turns.

Images of a time long past enters my cave…

a time when my mother and I once danced the same dance.


Tears roll down my face, not for the dance now finished and gone,

but for the kindness and smiles shared between the elderly and the young

and knowing, this dance being danced somewhere,

Again and again…



©frances kakugawa

( Hawai’i Herald: subscription: call 808-845-2255)


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