Sunday, March 4, 2012

Poetry As a Means to Negotiate Alzheimer's and Other Dementia connected Diseases

Book Review:

Kakugawa, Frances H. Breaking the Silence: A Caregiver's Voice. Nevada City, California: Willow Valley Press, 2010.

Mother To Daughter Poems

Despite remarkable achievements of science and technology, the problems of human life and destiny have not ended, nor have the solutions been seriously affected by scientific knowledge. Alzheimer's disease, which currently affects about 10% of habitancy over 65 years of age and 50% of those over 85 years of age, has no cure. As many as 5.3 million Americans are now living with the devastating disease. According to a study, unless new treatments are advanced to decrease the likelihood of Alzheimer's disease, the amount of individuals with Alzheimer's disease in the Usa may rise to 14 million by the end of the year 2050.

Poetry As a Means to Negotiate Alzheimer's and Other Dementia connected Diseases

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Touching and Heartfelt Poem for Daughters - To My Daughter-in-Law Poem on 11 x 14 Double Beveled Matting (Black on White) Overview

For Daughter: Inspiring Poem to tell your daughter how much you love her. Shower her with your love, give her a gift from the heart, and give her the wonderful gift that will be cherished for years to come. *Caption for entire poem: * Long before my little boy Was thinking about finding a wife - Long before he was climbing trees And learning to ride his bike - God planned that you would find each other And you would enter our family and Share our lives with us. He knew exactly where you would fit, Bringing strengths that would balance our weaknesses, And love, understanding, and commitment We would all feel so deeply. He knew that the richness of your character and My son s character would develop through hard times, And that a mutual trust and respect would be born As a result of overcoming trials together. He knew that we would all Laugh together, and cry together. He knew that we needed each other To hug, to teach, to share - - - And Love. He knew you would be my daughter-in-Law. He knew you would be family, And He knew you would be "My Friend".

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Read against this background, Frances Kakugawa's book, a mix of poetry, story and practical guide, is a recognition of the services rendered by professional and voluntary organizations that seek to minimize the pangs of Alzheimer's sufferers as well as the sufferings of their near and dear ones. It pays tribute to caregivers who have been untiringly working for creation of a world without dementia, stroke, or cancer just as it seeks to help them feel the innumerable crises of caregiving.

Breaking the Silence: A Caregiver's Voice merges Frances Kakugawa and her poet-colleagues' various experiences with a broad human perspective, inspiring both mind and heart. The caregivers seek to share their compassionate spirit with a sense of gratitude to all those who help the victims of Alzheimer's disease negotiate their mentally vacant existence. They are not only aware of the sufferers' great loss of brain cells or progressive decline in their potential to think, remember, reason, and imagine, or their language problems and unpredictable behavior, confusion, or loss of sensory processing, but they also know well how the Alzheimer's victims suffer a sort of living death, becoming a mere body stripped of its humanity. They have been seek to caregiving house members of increasingly confused and helpless sufferers themselves often becoming the disease's exasperated and exhausted victims:

" Is she the mom who nurtured me?
Is it the dementia playing havoc with my mind?
Or is this easily my mom? I don't know."

('More Glimpses of a Daughter and Mother')


"I am torn between two needy factions.
Mom unaware, daughter pushing all boundaries
Both out of control."

('The Sandwich')

For Frances Kakugawa, caregiving is a mission even as the memory and image of her Alzheimer's struck mother persists in her life as a "loud presence". She gives voice to many caregivers who are ever worried about their loved ones not even able to carry out the simplest tasks and/or are thoroughly dependent on others for their care. She expresses the very haunting fear of death:

"Is she breathing? Is she alive?
Is she ultimately gone, freeing me once again?
I continue my sentinel watch."

('Unspoken Mornings')

Frances not only articulates their fear but also learns to negotiate it by boldly facing it as part of life. In fact, she turns the metaphor of death as integral to life, be it in the form of "an ache of emptiness", "unfulfilled dreams", or "unlived moments". In her deeper silences, she explores the very meaning of life:

"A second gust of wind
Lifts another fistful of ashes.
Be still and listen."

('Song of the Wind')

It is hearing the inner silence, which is something meditative, Biblical, and spiritual. It is awaking to the self, the Holy Spirit, the Divine himself. When the soul peaks into silence, human becomes divine. She sounds earnest and exceptional, seeking harmony with the top ideals, irrespective of chaotic personal experiences. As Setsuko Yoshida says in 'Can I?':

"Poems by Frances this morning
Reveal the feelings of 'divine'
In caregiving."

In fact, as women poets, Frances Kakugawa and her caregiver colleagues (Elaine Okazaki, Linda McCall Nagata, Eugene Mitchell, and others) present a feminine and yet very humane perspective to the dementia-related illnesses. Jason Y. Kimura, Rod Masumoto, and Red Silver, though male poets, demonstrate the 'Prakriti' or 'Yin' aspects in rhythm with other contributing caregivers' sensibility. They variously turn the Alzheimer's into a metaphor for the loss of language, the loss of memory, and the loss of voice. Their poetry, often brief and personal, and rich and insightful, becomes a means to recapitulate the sufferers' loss of feeling, love, dignity, honor, name, and relationship; in short, their isolation, or threat to living itself:

"All my life I have lived
With crayons in one hand,
Filling in spaces,
Spaces left by departed lovers, family, friends,
Leaving me crayons smashed against walls
Creating more grief than art."

('Empty Spaces')

They also use the metaphor for challenge to survive, to exist, without fears and anxieties:

"I am woman,

('Nissei Woman')


"I am not merely heaven, man and earth
Rooted by cultural hands.
Sift those sands. Yes!
I am free!
I am tossed into the winds.
I shed my kimonos.
I spread my legs.
I am free."

('Lesson #3')


"When I am 88
I will still be woman,

(''When I am 88')


"I am still here
Help me remain a human being
In this shell of a woman I have become.
In my world of silence, I am still here.
Oh, I am still here."

('Emily Dickinson, I am Somebody')

They change the Alzheimer's into a search for reprogramming the mind, the thought, and the attitude to overcome the irreversible suffering and helplessness. As Frances very feelingly asserts: it is the search for

"...the same umbilical cord
That once set me free
Now pulls and tugs me back
To where I had begun.
There must be hidden
Somewhere a gift very divine
In this journey back."

('Mother Into Child, Child Into Mother')

They are true to themselves as they voice their search for the whole. With an empathetic awareness, they disclose their innate goodness, trust, and compassion to make a "symphony of truth." At the core of their musing lies a desire to integrate themselves, to live in time as well as in eternity:

"What other path is there
Except the divine
Where love, kindness, compassion,
Help me seek minuscule pieces of myself
That make me smile
Bring me such quiet joy
At the end of each day."

('Bless the Divine')

They recapitulate the working of the primal impulses of the human soul which rises above the differences of race and of geographical position. In short, they give vent to the plan of all habitancy in all lands.

As poet-caregivers they cope with their tensions, fears and anxieties through introspection, and accommodate their inner and outer conflicts, sufferings and celebrations through imaginative insight. They mirror the broad group or familial conditions as well as their own personal state with perceptions that are often different from those of the male poets (or male caregivers). Their quest is for real reality vis-à-vis degeneration, privation, insecurity, helplessness, anonymity, and death. They search for life and live with awareness of what lies under the skin of things around, the psycho-spiritual strains, the moral dilemmas, the betrayals, and the paradoxes:

"Why do you say I am sacrificing
Good years of my life
For caring for my mother,
When it shouldn't be a secret
That I am easily living
In a way I have never lived before?
No, this is not sacrifice.
It is just reality.
I am easily living
In a way I have never lived before.
I am living love."

('What I Know')

Against the complexities of experiences, they demonstrate a sense of values such as love, faith, truth, tolerance, patience, peace, charity, harmony, humility, and healthy relationships. They tend to think intuitively and/or turn personal, inward, spiritward, or Godward, without indulging in intellectual abstraction. They write with poetic sensibility. Their metaphors and images reflect their inner scenery as much as their responses to what they seek or feel externally. They are often reticent and honest in their verbal expression, and their inner vibrations touch or elevate the readers' senses. As they originate discourse of themselves as caregivers, they also sound committed to their home, family, children, motherhood, and neighborhood, often voicing their own foresight and understanding which cuts across cultures and regions.

They seek to transcend their body or femininity and respect the woman in themselves, even if affected by the Alzheimer's environment. They turn inside out and recapitulate what is personal yet universal in their different roles as mother, wife, daughter, and feel the agony of the spirit while trying to know "Who I am?", or "How I should live, who I should be", or "What am I seeing for? Why did I come?"

As they look back or reflect their present, they also voice the need for strong sense of togetherness vis-à-vis their inner conflicts, spiritual hunger, loneliness, or dependence. They sound inspiring the Alzheimer's itself:

"You could not rob us, though we forgot.
You could not erase us, though we could not write.
You could not silence, though we could not speak.
The stories, the laughter, the moments that passed
Into their keep, you could not steal
Into a night of silence."

('Hey Alzheimer's')

As they fill one with hope for ageing with grace and dignity despite the challenges of loss, they originate an alternative motive and impulse for group action at a very personal level:

"Through this deepest darkened night
I will hold the light
To take away all your fears.
Just know I will all the time be near."

('To My Mother')

There is an urge for changing the situation for themselves, or for being in peace with oneself. The poets and caregivers of Breaking the Silence seek to originate a new culture as they rationalize how we ought to live in future.

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