Archive for the ‘Elder Care’ Category

Hi Everyone,
Here is an hour long interview I had with Micheal Pope,  CEO of ASEB (Alz Services of East Bay) this morning on aging and giving care. I read poetry from Ageless Woman and I Am somebody. Micheal is an amazing woman who devotes her life to helping others.
I don’t know how I did…I just about never listen or watch anything I say or do on radio or TV.
Take care,



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   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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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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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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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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