By: Frances Kakugawa
Omoiyare: Thinking of Others First
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.
First appeared in The Hawai’I Herald.
Frances Kakugawa is one of the key note speakers for the upcoming Genki Conference: Caregiver’s Edition on Saturday, July 18, 2015 at East San Gabriel Valley Japanese Community Center.
About the Author:
Frances Kakugawa is an award winning internationally published poet/author. Frances is the author of dozen books, four on caregiving for adults and children. She travels nationwide to lecture on merits of caregiving. She leads a poetry writing support group for caregivers in Sacramento.
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