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Sharing Mana‘o

As a storyteller, my usual repertoire consists of Hawaiian legends and classic folk tales from around the world. Sometimes, when the occasion calls for it, I’ll share an anecdote from my life or someone else’s experience. One of my favorites comes from Kathy Couch, program coordinator at Maui Adult Day Care Centers (MADCC). With the holiday season upon us, I felt today’s column was the perfect time and place to share her true story. First, a little background:

Day care for adults is one of those vital services that most people are unaware of, until the need arises in their own family. Since 1974, MADCC has provided supervision and activities for older adults, freeing their caregivers to go to work or enjoy a bit of respite. The service helps reduce the need for institutionalization, keeping multigenerational families together for longer periods of time. Many of the clients at MADCC’s five centers are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia. The following story involves one of those clients.

Kathy was at her desk at MADCC’s Kahului center when a local Asian man stormed into the office. He had come after work to pick up his father, a fairly new client. Angrily, the man demanded that Kathy join him “on the floor,” in the main hall.

Pointing across the room to where his father was seated at a table, holding a baby doll in his arms, the man sputtered, “Do you know how offended I am by that? Give the dolls to the women, not the men . . . I never want to come in here and see my dad holding a doll again!”

Together, they approached the table. Before Kathy could say anything, the man nudged his father’s shoulder and asked what he was doing. The older gentleman, seemingly unaware of their presence, held the doll close while swaying back and forth, humming softly. Again, the son nudged his father, a little more roughly this time. “I asked you, why are you playing with that doll?”

His father looked up. “Eh, howzit? Look, this is my baby, my son. My boy is one good baby, not fussy. He’s one good eater, too. I’m so proud of my boy,” and he called the doll by his son’s name.

Stunned into silence, the son stood and listened while his father continued to speak with pride about his baby boy, sharing his hopes and dreams for his child and repeating his son’s name as he declared, “I love this boy.” The adult son began weeping and Kathy walked away to give them privacy.

The son sat beside his father and listened for 20 minutes or so, before gently taking the doll and laying it down on the table. He put his arm around the elder and, together, the men slowly walked out of the center and went home.

A couple of months later, the son approached Kathy in her office. “I can’t get that day out of my mind,” he said, tears returning to his eyes. “I see my dad holding me, I hear him talking about me, and I want more of that. I want my family to experience this too… Now that it’s December, what kind of a doll would you suggest I buy my dad for Christmas?”

She smiled and answered, “You’ll want to buy a doll that fits comfortably in his arms. And don’t forget a blanket, ’cause he’ll want to keep you warm.”

Kathy has shared this story each year at MADCC’s annual dinner. I cry every time, and I never tire of hearing it. My grandmother was an MADCC client who lived with dementia for many years. She also cherished her “baby,” bought for her by my mother and aunt after a ferocious squabble with another woman over one of the center’s dolls.

Due to the pandemic, MADCC has had to cancel its annual fundraising event, the Family Caregiver Walk, and is instead appealing for donations through a letter being mailed this week. Kathy’s story is included in the mailer, with the hope that folks will find it in their hearts to help the organization continue creating meaningful moments such as this. Donations may be made online at madcc.org or mailed to 11 Mahaolu Street, Suite B, Kahului 96732.

* Kathy Collins is a radio personality (The Buzz 107.5 FM and KEWE 97.9 FM/1240 AM), storyteller, actress, emcee and freelance writer whose “Sharing Mana’o” column appears every other Wednesday. Her email address is kcmaui913@gmail.com.

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