What to do with baby boomers as we age? Sunday’s sermon began with a series of quotes from a Japanese economist and government minister, who suggested that any of his countryman who were elderly and sick should curl up and die and not tap into the country’s health-care resources. Their time is up, he said, and turning to the government to cover their medical expenses is a waste of scarce funds. From the point of view of economics, he may be right, but there are other lenses to look through when we think about late-life issues.
Our minister viewed the issue through a lens of compassion. I teared up when he spoke of the emotional challenges of providing care to the elderly, especially if they suffer from dementia or Alzheimer’s, because it reminded me of my mother’s caregivers. They were saints. I based that opinion on my regular but short visits to their adult family home, which meant I didn’t see but a fraction of the difficulties they faced every day.
The last part of the sermon was an inspiring story about what happened in one community when caregivers and creativity came together. The source of the story, the book “Mosaic Moon,” tells of a program sponsored by the Alzheimer’s Association, Aloha Chapter, (Hawaii) to give caregivers one day a month off for a year from their unpaid, demanding, and stressful jobs to take part in a workshop on journaling and poetry. The book talks about the structure of the program, the caregivers’ journeys to become poets, and the transformation that took place in all of them. As author Frances H. Kakugawa said, they all “rose above the burden of care.”
Most of the book is filled with Kakugawa’s poems, framing and reframing her own caregiving experiences to position herself as the one who gained the most from her work. In one of her lighter poems titled, “How to Spot a Caregiver,” she says,
“The mother in a wheelchair Coordinated picture-perfect In a mu’umu’u, Matching vest and shoes. Don’t look down But her caregiver’s feet in two different sandals Of two different heights. But shhhhh, don’t tell her, She needs her dignity preserved, too.”
If I were a poet, I’d start a group like this, but since I’m not, I’ll just recommend the book to anyone who’s ever been a caregiver or who might need care one day. As the population ages, the size of the latter will grow, which makes the book worth reading now by anyone of a certain age. And instead of criticizing the sick and calculating the costs of their health problems, let’s thank all their family members (usually daughters) and paid caregivers who will make much bigger sacrifices than the Japanese politician, and most other politicians, to care for the aging he so casually dismisses from the discussion.