People may not like to admit that the homeless can make us uncomfortable. We see them in parks, in public places, sitting on walkways, and we often look the other way, not sure of what to say or what to do. Do we offer the standard, “Hello, how are you today?” Do we ask what’s happening? Usually, we glance around, walk by in silence and go about our business. It’s easier that way. We know nothing about them as a person and little about the homeless in general.
Fortunately, Amorosa DeGracia isn’t like most people.
A few years ago, DeGracia befriended Palena Larish, a woman she met at the Center for Spiritual Living. As the two came to know each other, DeGracia enjoyed her new friend’s company. The women would hang out and chat. DeGracia’s dog adored Larish and she cared for it some days.
“She did things wholeheartedly,” DeGracia said.
Over time, DeGracia learned Larish was homeless. She was grateful for any assistance but had chosen her path and was fine with it. She did odd jobs at a store in exchange for food, she said. Larish considered Kauai her home. She rarely slept outdoors and always seemed to have a couch or a lanai to sleep around the island.
The two women played Gin rummy and usually DeGracia won.
“I heard she let me win,” DeGracia said, laughing, “which sounds like something she would do.”
They celebrated Larish’s 60th birthday together, too. There were six cupcakes, each with a candle, and a small cake with the words “Happy Birthday Palena.” Larish loved the song “Walking in Memphis” by Lonestar. That night, the two played and danced together, giggling and laughing into the night like two school girls.
“It was just real sweet,” DeGracia said.
Palena Larish died Oct. 7 when she was struck by a car while trying to cross the street in a crosswalk by the Lihue post office. DeGracia read the article in The Garden Island about a pedestrian being killed, but didn’t know it was Larish. But the time of the accident, 6:15 a.m., and the victim’s age made her pause and wonder.
“I got this funny feeling,” she said.
Soon, she confirmed with a friend it was Larish who had died.
“I felt saddened,” DeGracia said. “I’m going to miss her.”
Not many knew much about Larish. DeGracia did. She said Larish was born Feb. 22, 1954. She changed her first name to Palena, the Hawaiian spelling of Paulanna, when she settled on Kauai. Larish has family on the Big Island. Larish was kind and generous, spiritual, a lover of animals, a good communicator who could easily converse with people but most often preferred to be alone.
DeGracia said she will miss Larish’s hugs and laughter the most.
“I’m very grateful to have had her as a friend,” she said.
A memorial service is in the works. Larish wasn’t well known and didn’t have a lot of friends, but there is one in Lihue who misses her.
“We had some good times,” DeGracia said.