The phrase "senior moment" has become a cute euphemism for episodes of forgetfulness, but the phrase holds a different, deeper connotation for me.
Looking over the page and a half of obituary and funeral notices in last Sunday's Maui News, I was saddened to see two familiar names. Isabel and Abbie were generous, strong, beautiful Hawaiian women, a couple of classy ladies I'd met through my county job at Kaunoa Senior Services. Though I hadn't seen either of them for several years, I still considered them friends, two of the many wonderful kupuna I've had the privilege of knowing.
Isabel Kaha, 90, was the lead volunteer when I became coordinator for Kaunoa's Wailuku lunch site nearly 20 years ago, and she taught me the ropes, having assisted several site managers before me. She wasn't the warm-and-fuzzy type; in fact, she could be rather stern, but there wasn't a mean bone in her body. Keenly observant and fiercely protective, she was more a lioness than a mother hen, dispensing tough love to the other seniors and to me. After she stopped attending the program, I often saw her at her favorite talk-story hangout, the Maui Mall, wearing her papale with the red flower lei hatband. To this day, I think of Isabel whenever I walk through the center stage area of the mall.
Abigail Akima died a month short of her 86th birthday. Gentle and soft-spoken, Abbie always had a warm hug and a sweet smile for everyone at our Kihei lunch site. Although a bit forgetful, she'd perk up and recount her favorite memories whenever we talked about her late husband, Frank Sr., who was the custodian at the old KMVI/Maui News back in the 1970s. She was delighted that I remembered him from my first radio job and her two youngest children from our days together at Baldwin High. Talking story with Abbie always cheered and relaxed me.
Losing clients and friends to death is the toughest part of working with seniors. It's inevitable, of course, but knowing that doesn't make it any easier. My late husband tried to console me each time by saying, "Well, you've got another guardian angel now." I've learned to not dwell on their departures and focus instead on the special moments shared with each. My personal senior moments.
Kathy Couch is the caregiver/program coordinator for Maui Adult Day Care Centers (MADCC). The seniors she works with are generally more frail and less independent than my lunch program participants. Many are afflicted with Alzheimer's disease or other forms of dementia. Part of Kathy's job is to help their families and caregivers understand and cope with the changes that dementia brings to their loved ones.
One day, the adult son of a client stormed into Kathy's office, visibly angry. He had come to pick up his father and was shocked to see the older man sitting quietly with one of the center's baby dolls in his arms. "Why is my father playing with dolls? You shouldn't be giving dolls to men! Don't EVER give my dad a doll again!"
Kathy calmed the man and accompanied him to his father's side. The elderly Japanese man was cradling the doll gently, speaking to it in hushed tones. The son asked gruffly, "Eh, why you holding that doll?"
Getting no response, he asked again, with an impatient tap to his father's shoulder. The silver-haired man looked up with a smile. Stroking the doll's head, he said proudly, "This is my son. He's such a good boy, no cry, no fuss. I love this boy."
Tears welled in the son's eyes as the old man continued to sing the praises of his precious baby boy. After a while, the younger man gently removed the doll from his father's arms and set it down on the table. He walked his dad out of the center without another word.
A week or so later, he returned to Kathy's office and asked her what kind of doll he should buy for their home. Seeing and hearing his father express his love for his baby - reliving their own early bonding - was an incredible, unforgettable moment, he said. He wanted to experience more moments like that.
This Saturday morning, Kathy and I will join hundreds of volunteers and supporters at Queen Ka'ahumanu Center for the 2014 Family Caregiver Walk. The money raised will go toward programs at all five of MADCC's facilities, including support for caregivers and scholarships for those in financial need. It's an opportunity to help provide memorable moments for many more Mauians.
Senior moments. I cherish each and every one of mine.
* Kathy Collins is a performance artist, broadcaster and freelance writer whose "Sharing Mana'o" column appears every Wednesday. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.