A Blessed Life
Remembering Lucy Kaona
By Valerie Monson
Lucy Keonaona Maunu Kaona, whose Hawaiian values of love and `ohana enabled her to overcome the separation from her family to live a “blessed” life at Kalaupapa, died July 21 at the Kalaupapa Care Home. She was 82 years old.
“I don’t think I’m blessed, I know I’m blessed,” said Lucy while on a picnic with friends at Kalaupapa many years ago.
Those blessings were not always easy to find. Because of policies regarding leprosy that weren’t completely abolished until 1969, Lucy endured the painful separation from her family not once, but three times.
Still, Lucy managed to remain strong and go on to become one of the most admired women at Kalaupapa during her time because of her kindness and generosity, her sweet alto singing voice and her unwavering faith in God.
“I think that came first – her religion – and I think she could always count on that,” said Napua Akamu, daughter of Lucy and husband Johnny Kaona. “She just seemed to be very strong.”
Lucy would never again see her mother, Becky Maunu, who died at Kalaupapa in 1933. The family would continue to be torn apart by the laws regarding leprosy. Lucy’s older sister, Elizabeth, followed her mother to Kalaupapa. When Lucy was 9, she was told to bid goodbye to her father and remaining siblings when doctors said she had the disease and must be admitted to Kalihi Hospital on Oahu.
“I was in the room alone,” she said. “I went by the window and called for my father. He said he didn’t want to see me in a place confined where he couldn’t touch me. I remember going by the window and calling ‘Papa!’ I still remember calling for my sister, calling for my brother, calling for my father. I felt so alone.”
Six months after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Lucy, Edwin and the other youngsters were all sent to Kalaupapa where the girls moved into Bishop Home under the care of the Franciscan nuns and Sarah Miala Meyer Benjamin, a young woman who cared for Lucy as her mother.
Lucy’s first job was working in the infirmary of Bishop Home where she cared for the elderly women. She later became an orderly at the Kalaupapa Hospital, working the night shift. When she retired, she was asked to restore order to the Kalaupapa Library, which she transformed into a social hub and place of learning.
In 1948, she fell in love and married Johnny Kaona. Their house soon became a favorite gathering place at Kalaupapa, full of music, friendship and good food. Lucy and Johnny had to give up all three of their offspring because rules prevented them from living together as a family at Kalaupapa. Lucy tried her best to provide a good life for her children, but the emptiness never left her.
Lucy and Johnny were pillars of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but Lucy was also devoted to Saint Damien. She traveled to Europe with other Kalaupapa residents in 1994 and 1995 to attend celebrations for Damien, including his beatification.
(A version of this story first appeared in the Hawaii Catholic Herald.)