Keli Gwyn
Tearful Remembrances on Memorial Day

Memorial Day means more to me this year than ever before, due to a visit to the Normandy American Cemetery my family made when Gwynly and I visited our daughter in France over Christmas last year.

Normandy Cemetery 1

As I think of the many who made the ultimate sacrifice, tears come to my eyes, just as they did when I beheld the staggering number of white crosses in the cemetery overlooking Omaha Beach. (This is only a small section.)

Normandy Cemetery 2

As we prepared for the visit, I knew I’d be moved, but I wanted a way to feel a closer connection to the many who gave their lives fighting to bring an end to Hitler’s battle for world domination. This video, which I saw posted on Facebook, gave me that.

This touching tale of a widow who waited over 60 years to find out what happened to her husband moved me deeply. Peggy Harris’s husband, 1ST  LT Billie D. Harris, died July 17, 1944, fifteen years to the day before I was born.

Normandy Cemetery 5

When we headed to the cemetery, I had a grave to locate. I chose to pay tribute to this brave man who not only gave his life but saved many others’ lives by avoiding a small French village when his plane went down.

Normandy Cemetery 4

I’m grateful for every service member who made the ultimate sacrifice in defending the freedoms we in the U.S. enjoy. My heart goes out to those whose loved ones died while serving our country and defending its ideals.

Normandy Cemetery 3

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Keli Gwyn
The Surprising Gift of Alzheimers

When Dad was first diagnosed with Alzheimers, I wept a sea of salty tears.

Mere months have gone by, but Dad’s decline has been rapid. This heart-wrenching disease has robbed him of many of his memories, some of his mobility, and a fair measure of his dignity.

Visiting Dad

The journey has been a tough one for Dad, as well as for my three siblings. I feel for my sister who lives near him. Although he lives in a wonderful facility with a kind and knowledge staff equipped to deal with dementia patients, she’s the one helping him with his day-to-day issues–and doing a tremendous job of it. Our other sister has extensive training in elder care and is a wealth of information. Our brother who works in law enforcement has much to offer from his perspective as well. Between the three of them, Dad is in good hands.

And me? I try to support my sisters and brother the best I can, but at times I wonder if the little I do really makes a difference.

I made the four-hour drive to visit Dad on Halloween. I’d been told that taking him ice cream would make his day, so I arrived bearing a strawberry shake and a Burger King crown, a simple costume, yes, but one fitting for the man who poured his heart into his four kids.


I was also told Dad rarely recognizes anyone now. To my delight, when I greeted him, calling him “Dad” to remind him of our relationship and quickly supplying my name, he smiled with obvious recognition.

The next words out of Dad’s mouth brought me back to reality. He asked what I was doing back from Germany so soon, letting me know he had gone back in time over twenty years to when Gwynly and I lived abroad.

I got Dad settled at a patio table and handed him his shake. He did his best to enjoy his treat, but his eye-hand coordination isn’t what it used to be.

Not being a nurse or caregiver by nature, I wasn’t sure how I’d respond to Dad’s limitations. When dollops of ice cream began falling down his front, I reached for my tissues as instinctively as a mother of a young child would and sopped up the sticky plops.

Not wanting Dad to feel embarrassed by my ministrations, I smiled and reminded him of all the times he’d taken me to Thrifty Drug Store for their five-cent-per-scoop ice cream cones when I was little and how he’d taken care of the drips for me. “It’s my turn to help you,” I said.

An important truth struck me in all its sugary sweetness. I’ve been given a gift. Dad paid a great price to parent me, sacrificing more times than I care to recount. I have an opportunity to give back, if only in small ways.

There will be more visits and more shakes in the future, but two things have changed. First, whether or not Dad remembers me, I will be glad to see him and add a smile to his day. And second, I’ll know to pack wet wipes next time.


Update – January 2014

The visit I mentioned above was wonderful. I’d had to make time in my busy schedule to see Dad, but I’m so glad I did. I’d planned to see him again in early December, but he got sick, so my visit was postponed until he was well again.

Sadly that day never came. Dad went into the hospital shortly after that. His doctors suspected a minor infection, but tests showed that the one he had was much worse than originally thought and was ravaging his body. Surgery wasn’t an option, so he was put on Hospice care.

On December 18, 2013 the hospital staff told us end was imminent.  I rushed to see Dad, forging on in my ailing SportTrac with two gears out of commission when the transmission packed it in en route. Thanks to the prayers of many, I made it. I feared I wouldn’t arrive in time to say goodbye, but it turned out we had more time than we’d originally thought.

My two sisters, brother, new sister-in-law and I gathered at Dad’s bedside, spending two memorable days together as we said our final farewells. Dad was comatose the entire time, but even so, I like to think he knew we were there.

Dad lost his battle on December 28 while Gwynly and I were visiting our daughter, who is living and working in France this school year. Even though I knew the end was coming, it was still hard to hear the news, especially when I was so far away.

I miss my dad and will grieve my loss, but I know that one day the happy memories will overshadow the sadness. I’m comforted by the fact that Dad didn’t have to suffer at the hands of that cruel thief of memories and dignity known as Alzheimers for very long. And I’m strengthened by the many prayers others have lifted on my behalf. Thank you for each and every one of them.


Do you have experience dealing with a loved one diagnosed with dementia?

If so, what lessons have you learned in the process?


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Keli Gwyn
Guilt-free Living: Identify Your Five Non-Negotiables

Do you sometimes feel out of balance?

Do you have trouble keeping things in perspective?

Does the constant struggle to juggle leave you feeling stressed out?

Woman Juggling Clocks


Then you might find the following exercise as freeing as I did.

A month ago our pastor delivered an enlightening message, saying our lives reveal our hearts. He challenged us to choose our priorities wisely.

At the end of his sermon, Pastor David asked each of us to take a minute to list our top five non-negotiables—those items in which we invest ourselves—and rate them one to five.

I’m constantly bombarded with messages about how this or that should be my top priority, but I’d never taken time to decide for myself. Instead, I performed a stressful and ultimately unsuccessful balancing act as I attempted to juggle everything on my plate.

So I did as our pastor suggested. Here’s my list:

1. Faith
2. Family
3. Friends
4. Fitness
5. Writing

What a difference naming and numbering my non-negotiables has made. Almost immediately the burden of guilt I’d been carrying slid from my shoulders. It became far easier to make decisions.

For example, when our daughter moved back here for the two weeks prior to her recent move to France, I chose to focus on helping her prepare for this major transition.

Sorting everything Adri owns.

Sorting everything Adri owns.

Adri to France 2

Getting Adri’s first car ready to sell.

Adri to France 3

We enjoyed several mom-daughter lunch dates.

Adri to France 4

We used our Saturdays for family trips. This was taken at the Gold Rush Days in Old Sacramento.

Adri to France 5

Taking French-themed pictures for Adri’s blog was fun.

Because family is high on the list, I set my writing aside, knowing I would have plenty of time to work on my story once Adri got on the plane. I missed a couple of Curves workouts because we had appointments to attend and time-critical errands to run, but I was OK with that. After all, what good is being in shape if I sacrifice my relationships?

Adri to France 6

Saying good-bye was tough, but I kept my tears at bay until Adri was gone.

Adri to France 7

I knew we’d done a good job helping Adri prepare when she left without looking back.

In the past, I would have battled some resentment at setting my personal goals aside. I don’t like admitting it, but it’s true. As it was, I wholeheartedly embraced the opportunity to spend the two weeks with my gal. I didn’t add a single word to my story, but I made memories that will last a lifetime.

Our gal made it to France without a hitch and is doing very well. And me? I’m OK. I miss her, of course, but we’re staying connected via email, Skype, and Facebook. I’m looking forward to visiting her at Christmas.


• • •

If you made your non-negotiables list, what five items would be on it?

When’s a time that having your priorities straight served you?

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Keli Gwyn
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