Posts Tagged ‘Bless the Elderly’

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.

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How many letters have you written that were never sent? This is one of those letters.It’s not dated but it must have been written before 2002, the date of my mother’s death. I found this today, while searching for a poem. It’s time someone else read this.

Dear John,

I went walking this morning in 45 degrees temperature. The trees looked as though someone had taken paint brushes to all the leaves. Red, yellow, orange and golden brown.  I thought of that poem I had written about you once, called Spring in Autumn. I remember writing that poem soon after we had met. And here, it is Autumn again.


We met for the first time at the Alzheimer’s office . Jody brought you in to our support group for caregivers. There were other women in the room but you looked at me with your blue blue eyes and said, “You have a beautiful smile” and continued to look at me.  At that moment, I became a woman, not a tired, isolated caregiver for my mother  who felt my life was scattered on the floor, a thousand piece puzzle,  because you used the word “beautiful” on me.


I leaned toward you and said, “Does that come with a kiss,” and you kissed me on my cheek, somehow knowing a great flirtation had just begun. And so it was with  both of us. Whenever we saw each other, you greeted me as a man would with a beautiful woman. It didn’t matter that you were slowly losing your self to Alzheimer’s disease. It didn’t matter that I was slowly displaying more wrinkles on my face.There was that part of you that stayed intact for the sake of me. “You have a beautiful smile. You are beautiful. ” And when words no longer became your mode of expression, you continued to tell me how beautiful I was with your smile and your eyes.


I thought of you on my walk this morning. No matter what season, you will always be Spring. Spring, when suddenly without warning, leaves begin to show their faces on bare branches. Spring, when long winters make us forget beneath all the  cold black and white, there is life. Spring. You were always Spring. I wish you peace and I thank you, dear John of the blue blue eyes. Thank you for flirting with me.

With love, frances



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Get Her A Pair of Red Heels Even if She Can’t Walk

I was sitting in a waiting room for my appointment,  when an elderly woman two seats away looked at my red shoes and said, “Those are nice shoes. I always wanted a pair of red shoes. Once I saw this  tall and very attractive woman walk in her red shoes and gosh, she looked so beautiful.”

She was sitting in a wheelchair. I looked at her shoes; she had white socks and a pair of Coach shoes with shoe laces neatly tied in bows.

“I know what you mean. I saw a woman once who looked so good in red shoes that I went out and bought myself a pair. I now have a few red shoes in my closet. I think you ought to have a pair of red shoes. Why not? Where do you go shopping?”

“I used to go to Nordstrom’s but I can’t drive anymore so I order things from catalogs. I always wear Coach shoes.”

“Coach shoes are very comfortable but their colors are pretty conservative, don’t you think?”

“Yes, they don’t make those pretty red shoes. Maybe I can order a pair from some catalog.”

“There are some nice shoes at Arden Fair Mall. There’s the Designer Shoe Warehouse close by, too. With shoes, you may want to try them on because they differ in sizes, and you want them to be comfortable.”

“Well, it’s going to be hard for me to try shoes on because I can’t drive. But those red shoes are so pretty.”  She kept admiring my shoes.

Our conversation was interrupted by her husband who came to wheel her out the door. As they went out the door, I said, “Get those red shoes, now.”

Her husband looked at her, frowning and asked in a gruff voice, “What red shoes? ”  She didn’t say anything.

I wanted to tell anyone who’d listen that when a  woman reaches her age, and yearns for a pair of red shoes,  she damn well deserves someone to drive her to a shoe store and have her try all the red shoes so she can find one to her liking. A pair of red heels would make her wheelchair invisible,  and put her on the dance floor, dancing away.

Men, know this about red shoes and women. There is something about red shoes  that spells  “forbidden fruit” and sometime in our lives, we want that  fruit, even at age 90.

This is how I got my first pair of red shoes. I saw, like that elderly woman, an attractive woman walking  in a pair of red shoes. She walked as though she was the most beautiful woman in the world and I said, “I want to feel that way, too.”

I went out and bought a pair of red high heels. I was teaching first graders then, and when I put them on one morning and looked at myself in the mirror, I was shocked at what I saw.

I looked like a prostitute. Now why do I look like a prostitute with these red shoes and that woman at the mall looked dignified and elegant?  It’s all in my head, I said. But it took me over a year  to wear those red heels in public…it took me that long to vacuum out my head.

So I understand why that woman has not had a pair of red shoes all these years and it’s time someone got her a pair.

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What is Normal in Alzheimer’s Disease

What is normal?

Normal is like Beauty, all  in the eyes of the beholder.

When I was a caregiver for my mother who had  Alzheimer’s disease, I saw two normal worlds between us, hers and mine. Once I acknowledged that  her world was as normal to her as mine was to me, I stopped using reason and logic to bring her into my world. I  embraced the new person who was evolving right before my eyes and stopped denying the person that she was. I stopped thinking my world was the only normal one.

When my mother saw a “black thing” coming out of a painting on her bedroom wall, I quickly put it away saying, “I’ll take it away so you won’t see the black thing.”  I dignified her world by not denying what she saw. I had to believe, there is a window to her mind that opens now and then, allowing her to know the world in which she has been reduced to live in, has become strange and scary. To remind her of this can be cruel and dehumanizing.

My mother, like Elaine Okazaki’s mother hallucinated of seeing an infant in bed with her. Look at how Elaine entered her mother’s world from an excerpt described in her poem ” Humph, I Say”

…”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 is 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……”

from Breaking the Silence: A Caregiver’s Voice


Mary, caregiver for her aunt, discovered caregiving to be a whole different world once she accepted her aunt’s world.

“My aunt has an imaginary lover. We got into many confrontations when I told her, ‘What lover? I don’t see anyone here.’ She’d shout back, ‘Can’t you see? He’s right here?’ And we’d go back and forth like a pendulum, creating such frustration in both of us. Once I accepted her world and told her “Wow, Auntie, he’s pretty good looking, huh?” past animosities ended and we got along fine. Now when I visit her, I also  visit her lover for he’s always there.”

People afflicted with dementia often turn to babbling in later stages of the disease. Have we thought that maybe we are the ones with language deficiency?  Perhaps if we learn to see through their eyes and hear through their ears, we will learn more of their world instead of being stuck in our own. This may lead us to find a way to give care with less conflict. Once we believe both worlds are “normal”, once we open the doors to both our worlds, we eliminate the Tug of War that often erupts between two parties. By doing so ,we  dignify the new person who is evolving and by so doing, we dignify ourselves.

A loved one says, “John came to see me today.” In your world, John has been dead for over ten years. Enter her world and a comment similar to, “Did you have a good visit?” will bring peace and dignity to that moment. To argue and tell her, “John is dead, Mom. You must have had a dream,” drops a jagged rock in the middle of that stream that was flowing so smoothly until you arrived.

But what of our world? Are our loved ones incapable of entering our world? At certain stages of the disease, they will not be able to, not with logic and reason, but there is a place in our world that offers them  a front row seat: dining in restaurants or around family gatherings,  feeling the wind on their faces, hearing happy voices of family, feeling love and affection through human touch,  being connected through  conversations, even if they eventually are reduced to monologues. Our world offers the humanity of what it means to be human.

Enjoy both worlds for we are all as normal as we can be.

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A Father’s Day Tribute

I should have…

I should have invited him out for a drink in a bar in Hilo and told him, over a glass of Primo beer, of my dreams of becoming a published writer someday. I should have asked him of his dreams when he was a young man.

I should have sat with him at the kitchen table with a bottle of warm saké after his hard day’s work  and asked him about his day in the cane fields.  I should not have been ashamed of him during my teen years because he was not like fathers  found in  novels . I should have been the person I am today, instead of that person, too absorbed in her fantasy of an idyllic world where he didn’t fit in. I should have but I didn’t, and I know it was all right. All right, because he was my father.

To my Father

This is my first poem about you.

Was it the umbilical cord

That never existed between us

That I have pages of poems written

Of Okasan* but none of you?

I was young, leaving for Michigan

To a new teaching position.

“If anyone is mean to you, come straight home.”

I bit my tongue, the still rebellious,


“I’m not a child.

I can take care of myself.”

Three months later I was on a plane,

Clutching a letter, heading home.

You have cancer and are dying.

That was the meanest thing

I had ever heard.


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Our Conversations on Last Train from Hiroshima

This is an update on the status of Charles Pellegrino’s book,  Last Train from Hiroshima. We both decided to share our latest emails to keep you abreast of what’s going on over the controversy that arose after the book was released. Mr. Pellegrino is revising the original for publication.

From: Charles Pellegrino: ( He wrote this email to Mr. Henry Alter after reading my book Mosaic Moon.)

Dear Henry:

Naturally, I’ve been very busy with radiation-deniers from the 509th, the Air Force, my publisher and the N.Y. Times being fooled by someone pretending to be a Los Alamos physicist, New Zealanders reaching out to help me (like Dr. Ken Goldie, who was there when all the trouble began) and revelations that the ad hoc tribunals of the 1980s were more extensive and secretive than anyone imagined.

But I haven’t forgotten you and Orion.

In fact, I’ve been reminded of all of you in elder care advocacy by having finally taken an afternoon to have a few cups of tea and read some poetry.

Which brings me to a book of poems that is hard to describe but which is helpful to anyone who has dealt with or is dealing with a friend or family member living with Alzheimers, late stage Parkinsons, etc.  It’s called “Mosaic Moon: Caregiving Through Poetry, by Frances Kakugawa, Watermark Publishing, Hawaii (now in its second printing). I’ve CCd the author. You may want to get in contact.

Charlie P.

Frances: Thanks for pointing me to page 91. I haven’t had a chance to finish – but on every page I turned to, I found beauty. (That is not my usual experience with books of poetry).

My response:

Wow, this means a lot.

I’m on my third poetry writing support group for caregivers in Sacramento now and we’re still walking out with beautiful poems. The caregivers are getting younger and younger.

Back to your work, I’m feeling good that you’re not going to succumb to all that pressure from the 509th. I’ve been thinking about their threat of having a book burning event when your revised book is out and I thought one couldn’t ask for a better promotional event, don’t you think?  Book burning in the 21st century will have its consequences.  Truth will prevail.

Thank you so much, Dr. Charlie.


from Charles Pellegrino:

Dear Frances:

I think exactly the same thing about the threat of book burning. Steve Rubin (at Holt) shuddered at the thought of “his” book being burned and shown on U-Tube and he insisted that we had to get the 509th “on our side”… and “make this all go away – quickly.” My response was that he should be thinking of getting more cameras to cover the burning, if anyone in the 509th was extremist enough and foolish enough to go through with a book-burning.

Rubin thought I was nuts.

My agent told him he was nuts, if he thought he could get the 509th on our side because “Last Train” was an anti-war book and the people who dropped the atomic bombs would never be on our side.

Then a blogger punked the publisher with a new spin on a very old story about the New Zealand Ad Hoc Tribunals (an event during which Christian Fundamentalists [in the U.S.] actually did burn the book that was causing all my trouble in New Zealand – “Darwin’s Universe”). The publisher has since looked at the documentation I sent RE my Ph.D. and my ad hoc tribunal experience (including my Ph.D. Dissertation, published in a peer-reviewed science journal; including letters proving that my two labs had indeed been ransacked and that one of the fanatical vandals sat on a self-named “ad-hoc” tribunal against which the protagonist [yours truly] was denied the most basic human right of refuting the charges or even being allowed to know what the charges were in the first place) – to say nothing of the scientists who came to my defense against the ad hoc tribunals (some of whom appear under the “Testimonials” Section on my website).

On Amazon and elsewhere, Holt withdrew its claim about the “phony” Ph.D. They also relented on the story of the two priests (who could be cross-referenced in at least two of my prior books).

About a day later, a revised Holt message appeared on Amazon suggesting that there may be other people (besides the two priests) about whom I was unable to answer questions for Holt management. This is true only to the extent that I then had no relationship with Holt (it took almost all of three months for my agent to get a reversion of rights so that a new American edition can at last be published); and I could answer no further questions because they never asked me anything further. (By the way, my editor at Holt, Jack Macrae, has stood by me this whole time. They’re not all evil over there. Jack is one of the best editors I’ve ever had.)

The 509th probably will not like the new edition. Far from diminishing Charles Sweeney I have written more about him (no matter what the Tibbets camp says, I for one came to admire Sweeney); and I have introduced another that some among the 509th dislike: Robert Lewis (known for the line, “My God, What have we done?”). Robert Lewis and Norman Cousins had befriended one of the survivors who will be appearing in the new edition.

The crazy time is not over. I’ve recently received a letter from the publisher RE a complaint from a reader suggesting that double survivor Tsutomu Yamaguchi was fictionalized, that there was no last train from Hiroshima to Nagasaki (actually, I wrote about two trains); and that the priest who died in Auschwitz in another man’s place (Mr. Yamaguchi’s hero) was also a fiction. I do not understand this emerging pattern of declaring the priests in this story as fictional. I’m counting three, so far. It’s as much a mystery as the dichotomy between Japanese survivors who hid themselves and tried not to let it be known that they had survived the atomic bomb (poor Kenshi Hirata has recently described his surviving both bombs as the great shame in his life), while enough Americans are now known to be falsely trying to claim glory by saying they were aboard the atomic missions that, in the words of one 509th veteran, the planes would never have gotten off the ground if these impostors were all really there.

– – Charlie P.

Stay tuned…as our conversations continue.


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Bless the Elderly

I got up this morning, looked at the mirror and said, “Oh no, I look older than George!” (Not Clooney, but Washington.)  Yes, we both celebrate birthdays today. When I was a child, his birthday was always a school  holiday and I missed not being in school because I wanted all the attention a birthday child received by teacher and classmates. I told younger kids that school was closed because it was my birthday and they believed.

While sipping a sugar-free mocha  at Nordstrom’s Café this morning, I felt the weight of another number being added to my age. Then  faces of some special people came to mind.  I hope when I’m in the 80’s, ( I should start now)  I will do for someone, what they do for me…make me soar sky high, feel young, intelligent, chic and beautiful.

Last week, an elderly woman told me, “You belong in a Hair Style magazine because your hair is so beautiful.”  I have enough hats for two Hydras of Lerna because I have so many bad hair days. I’m on my 6th hair stylist in five years. Sometimes Red will say as I’m walking out the door, “Did you comb your hair?”

One day, Mr. M. who had Alzheimer’s, walked into the Alzheimer’s office. He saw me and said, deliberately and carefully, “You are a very beautiful woman.” I believed him even if this was the only sentence he could say during his visit.

A woman came to my book signing with her grandson who had done the artwork for my first Wordsworth the Poet book. She said in Japanese, “Kirena kawo.” Beautiful face.  At the end of the signing, I told her grandson how I liked his grandma. He whispered, “She has Alzheimer’s so she may not make sense at times.”

One day a woman approached me at the adult day care center. “You look nice. Can you make me look like you?” I had my blouse tied at my waistline. I took the ends of her blouse and tied a knot at her waistline. She looked at herself in the full length mirror, turned around and said, “You are so smart.”  And I felt smart.

Now you know why I hang around with the elderly. Actually they have become my peers.

Hey George, they no longer close the schools on our birthdays.

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