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The Surprising Gift of Alzheimers | Keli Gwyn
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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?


Keli Gwyn


  • Ann Street says:

    My dad had Alzheimer’s and my mom has dementia. I have learned you have to laugh. Wherever my mama is we go there – if she asks about her parents I give her a story about what they are doing. Same for her siblings and my dad. I also know whether she thinks I am her sister or her daughter, she loves me. You also have to treasure each moment cause we learned with my dad that God can call them home any time.

    • Keli Gwyn says:

      Ann, I’m with you. I think laughter is key. At times it’s either that or tears. I agree that it’s best just to go along with whatever Dad says. His reality is his reality, and trying to convince him otherwise would do no good. Finding the humor in his mental wanderings can be interesting at times. I could get some intriguing story lines from him, let me tell you. 🙂

  • Susan Mason says:

    So sorry about your dad, Keli. My mom had a stroke 2 years ago and struggles with words sometimes. Recently, she’s suffered two severe compression fractures in her spine and has been in a lot of pain. I’ve been under the gun having to do so much for her – laundry, groceries, driving to all appointments, etc. It has been a strain, but thank goodness there is a small amount of improvement. She lives alone and I’m trying to get her help in the home. It’s a slow process, let me tell you. However, trying to keep a good attitude about it.

    Alzheimers would be such a difficult thing to deal with. Sending prayers for you and your siblings.


    • Keli Gwyn says:

      Sue, I’m so sorry your mother is dealing with the aftereffects of the stroke along with the spinal injuries. That’s a real double whammy. I’m sure she really appreciates your labor of love as you help her remain independent. Hugs.

  • My grandmother and mother in law both passed with it. Very tuff to watch. I remembered to hold on to each day actually each moment they knew me.

    • Keli Gwyn says:

      Diana, I’m so sorry this dreaded disease claimed your mother and grandmother. Those fleeting moments of recognition are treasures, to be sure.

  • Martina Bedregal Calderón says:

    My dad died of cancer 3 years ago after 10 years of struggle against it, and I was with him during his last 4 years until he crossed the bridge. So I can deeply feel with you, Keli, and with all who have a beloved one who suffers from an illness that still has no cure. Let me send out a big hug to you and your family and to your dad, Keli, and all my love. I know that your dad will be loved and acompanied by his dear family, and that is what he most needs and what will help him most.

    Try to keep away from him all that contains aluminium like most toothpastes, and all food that is or was wrapped in aluminium, for this is one of the things that produce Alzheimer or make the progress of it faster.

    And simply be there for him, just the way you did and do.


    • Keli Gwyn says:

      Martina, I’m so sorry you lost your father to cancer. That ugly disease took my beloved mother-in-law from us back in 1997. It hurts so much to watch cancer ravage the body of a loved one.

      The facility where Dad is living prepares fresh, wholesome meals. I got to help him eat his lunch that day, and it looked delicious.

  • Hi Keli, I enjoyed reading your blog. It brought back memories of my mother who had Alzheimer’s eating ice cream on a hot day and a passer by coming to my rescue with a handful of tissues.
    I recorded our conversations, and my commentary on what was happening, for three years and this now is the heart of my book, The Gift of Alzheimer’s – Heart & Soul Journey. It is a journey of discovery into this and the Other World people with Alzheimer’s inhabit. My mother gave me many wonderful unexpected gifts that have changed my life. I imagine this could happen to you too.

    • Keli Gwyn says:

      Maggie, I’m sorry your mother dealt with Alzheimers, but it sounds like you found blessings in the midst of her decline. I’ll have to check out your book. I’m sure I’d learn a great deal about the disease.

  • Anne Payne says:

    Ah Keli, I had to take two breaks while reading your post, just to compose myself. Two grandmothers had Alzheimer’s and even though I wasn’t a caregiver of either one, it was still difficult when visiting. I spent a lot of time with my maternal grandmother growing up and it was super hard to have her not recognize me. In fact, I wrote a blog post about her yesterday 🙂

    With 28 years of care giving experience with my daughter, I can fully understand the demands, challenges and disappointments that it brings to one’s life. My prayers will be with you and your siblings as you walk this road with your precious daddy. Love you, sweet friend and I’m sending you a great big cyber {{hug}}!

    • Keli Gwyn says:

      Anne, I’m so sorry you grandmothers both dealt with Alzheimers. How very sad it must have been to watch the disease take its toll on the–and to deal with the toll it took on you. It’s one disease where the family members suffer right alongside those afflicted.

      I love that you poured your heart and soul into your precious daughter. What a labor of love.

  • Your Dad is fortunate to have loving children who visit and look after him. I know it must be hard on all of you, but you have each other for support and that is so important. My Dad lost his mobility at the end of his life and the ability to speak clearly (due to strokes) but his mind was intact to the end. It was still hard to visit this active, talkative cowboy, who was completely aware of how his body was deteriorating. No matter what, the love is always there. I will be thinking about you.

    • Keli Gwyn says:

      Darlene, how very sad that your father suffered strokes and had to deal with the aftereffects of them. It must have been so hard on him dealing with his limitations and hard on you to watch him do so.

  • Beth K. Vogt says:

    Knowing you, Keli, I would expect you to be tender and loving to your father in this time. Thank you for sharing such a private and precious moment with us.

    • Keli Gwyn says:

      I appreciate your kind words, Beth. I know I’m only one of many who is watching a parent deal with this disease. I’m sure there are many such tales of blessings like the one I experienced. I love that the Lord ministers to us in the most unlikely ways.

  • Jill Kemerer says:

    I’m moved by your post and all the comments. When our parents or loved ones get a devastating diagnosis, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and alone, but so many people can relate!

    I, too, wish I lived closer to our parents. I often feel helpless and ineffective. I just pray God can use me in any little way to help them.

    So glad you were able to make the trip and that you brought your sunshine to your dad!

  • Oh Keli….I am typing this through tears. As soon as I saw that photo of your Dad with the Burger King crown, I had a flood of bittersweet memories of my own precious Daddy, just a few days before he passed to Heaven. He was in a hospice, and my husband and I had taken him a favorite meal from Burger King. I placed the crown on Daddy’s head, and I will never forget the wonderful visit we had that night! Thankfully his mind was amazing–but physically his body was fighting. ~ But my sweet Mama did have early stages of Alzheimers, so I’m familiar with the heartbreak of that cruel disease.
    Thank you so much for sharing this post–I’m sure you’re a wonderful, loving daughter and doing all you can for your Dad. Please know I’m praying for him–and for you–as you go through this challenging time.
    And on a lighter note— ;)I’ve learned to always carry a pack of wet wipes with me–they’ve come in handy so many times in various situations! 🙂

    • Keli Gwyn says:

      Patti Jo, I’m so sorry you’ve lost both of your parents. It’s heart-wrenching to watch the decline. I’m glad you were able to enjoy a special visit with your father prior to his passing and honor him with a crown. I’m sure you have many wonderful memories of your father and your mother. May they bring you a measure of comfort in the midst of the never-ending sense of loss following the passing of one so loved.