Breaking the Silence: A Caregiver’s Voice by Frances H Kakugawa is one of those rare resources that serves on a multitude of layers. The book is neatly divided into three parts–the first a mini-anthology of poetry and prose, the second a look at the unique challenges that come with caring for someone who has Alzheimer’s, and the third an outline of how to lead a poetry writing workshop.
Drawing on her own experience as caregiver to her mother who had Alzheimer’s disease, Kakugawa shares herself in both poetry and prose and gives voice to some of the people she encounters in her work as a workshop leader. The first part begins with her gentle but dominant presence. The reader cannot help but feel her compassion and empathy as she then introduces a few of her workshop members who share their own stories in their own words. In only a few pages it becomes quickly apparent that although each person is writing about the same disease, the manifestations and the personal experiences are unique.
The second section returns the reader to Kakugawa’s own exploration of the two faces of Alzheimer’s and she shares one more poem by another workshop participant. This is actually the shortest section and I am not sure why it was not more fully developed. I’m not even sure that the implied theme of this section wasn’t more thoroughly explored, by implication if nothing else, in the previous section.
The third and final section outlines her workshop, how she begins each series of workshops and how the evolve from one week to the next. She offers some suggestions for workshop facilitators while also reminding the reader that not all poetry related to caregiving is about Alzheimer’s or even about the relationship between the caregiver and the caregiving recipient. After a brief glossary of poetry terms, she shares some other poems she’s written about her own experience with being told she had a mass that needed to be biopsied.
The strength of this book lies as much in the idea of using poetry to help process experiences that are often difficult to describe as it is in the various pieces shared for, between the lines one can easily recognize not only how different the details may be but also how all caregivers have a shared experience no matter how isolating that experience itself may be.