Remembrance Day 2019 (Normandy part 2)

As I said in my last post, Normandy was amazing but our Remembrance Day was just overwhelmingly beautiful, I had to give it its own post.

We checked out of our lovely hotel and left Bayeux in mid-morning. We expected to have a bit of time on our hands and to take things slowly. The Remembrance ceremony wasn’t until 1500h at Juno Beach.

We headed to Bény-sur-Mer, where the Canadian war cemetery is. There are many Canadian war cemeteries across Europe, but this is one of the biggest and the one associated with D-Day.


Unlike the American cemetery, we could walk these rows. We spent an hour or so here, reading the names and the epitaphs on the stones.

It meant so much to be here today, and to be able to reflect. I’m sure it would also feel just as heavy on June 6. I know it is somber on any day of the year, but I’m just saying that today felt different.

One thing in particular that was sad to see, for us, was the number of graves that had no adornment- no flowers and nothing left from visitors. I suppose we can’t expect them all to, but it felt sort of empty.

As we were leaving, I saw a family come in. They had a bouquet with them and were wearing Canadian poppies. I saw them head to a specific grave. They had their quiet moment and laid the flowers. Then they were taking photos of them with it. They were clearly a Canadian family who had travelled to be here and to see this grave. So I headed over to offer to take a photo of all 4 of them together with the grave. It turns out they were from BC and it was the man’s uncle’s grave. They were planning to head to Juno Beach later on as well. We were happy to have met another Canadian family doing their remembering.

Next, we headed on to the Juno Beach Centre. We planned to tour the museum for a while and have a picnic lunch before the ceremony.

The centre is beautiful, with so much information and history included. If you have a loved one who was a part of a Canadian regiment in WWII, especially in Normandy, then I highly recommend you check it out sometime.

As I’ve mentioned (many times), my grandfather was in the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion (1CPB) and fought in Normandy. Knowing this, I of course gravitated to learning all I could about this elite unit.

(My paternal grandfather was also in WWII, an RCAF aerial photographer. However, I never had the pleasure of meeting him and forging a bond. Also, he was never stationed in Normandy. Though there was a small section about our military in Italy, where he was, and I found it fascinating).

There was one great interactive computer exhibit that I was playing with. It was a large touch-screen wherein you could select any Canadian regiment that was in Normandy and then be lead through a slideshow of their movements through the area after landing. I selected the 1CPB and it started with them helping liberate Pegasus Bridge and fend off the Nazis for many days to keep it. With my knowledge of my grandfather’s battle history and when he entered Normandy, it was at about slide 8 or 9 of about 25. The unit had a Throughout this slideshow, there are a few photos and snapshots, not many- mostly of the men in repose or relaxing. About halfway through, this large close-up photo pops up:

It looked somewhat familiar. I read the caption. And then I burst into tears. My Papa spent our whole lives telling us about Andy. Andy was his best friend. They went through training together and then entered battle together.

Andy died in Operation Varsity in the Battle of the Bulge on March 24, 1945.

Papa never forgot. He never let us forget, either. Every year when Papa attended a Remembrance Day ceremony, we knew he was thinking of Andy.

And here Andy was staring up at me at our nation’s WWII memorial museum in France.

I couldn’t help but feel Papa with me. I know how pleased he would be to know that of all the 1CPB soldiers’ photos to be had, Juno Beach Centre shows Andy’s. He will not be forgotten.

After I dried my tears from that moment, we continued on. Then I came across another 1CPB exhibit talking about who they were and what they did and there was a uniform jacket in it. I glanced to the side and saw it was the jacket of one Sid Pass, an old buddy of my Papa’s. They were in the war together then lived in the same city and were friends for many years until Sid died just a few years before Papa. His granddaughter contacted me when Papa died and expressed her condolences. I just feel it’s such a small world sometimes. It certainly was a small 1CPB!

After we toured the museum and had our picnic lunch, it was time to get ready for the ceremony. Easy enough for Sophie and me… A lot more work for Eric. He is supposed to be in full dress uniform for these ceremonies, even just as an attendee.

Before the ceremony, everyone was milling about in the lobby. This also became a bit of a meet and greet. The people present were a mix of French locals and Canadians. Of course with Eric in uniform, it opened a lot of conversations. Some other Canadians came and said hi, and a few French wanted to hi too. One little old lady (and I mean little!) came and told Eric that her father fought with the French Resistance and was awarded a Commander of the French Legion of Honour. Eric told her (as this conversation was all in French) that my grandfather was a Knight of the Legion of Honour because he was a Canadian who fought in Normandy. Oh! She got so excited! She started showing me the papers that showed who her father was and his medal (a photo of it). I showed her photos of my Papa with his medal and him in the war. She cried. She insisted on a photo together (as I had my phone out showing her photos, she told me to take a photo now!).

We hugged and kissed and she even gave me her address! Haha. I’ll send her a nice card. She was so sweet.

Then it was time to start the ceremony. There was a large turnout, including the local mayor and Senator, Chief of Police, and other important locals. They all had wreaths to lay before the ceremony could start inside. Inside there was a local band and bagpiper, too.

The ceremony was beautiful, though I only understood half of it. That’s ok, I got the jist.

Eric was asked to read the Act of Remembrance in English. He did, rather well.

During the ceremony, a woman from Ottawa had a small presentation explaining a project she’s been working on called ‘Flags2Bény’. She explained that on her first trip to Juno Beach, she was so touched by everything that she wanted to find a way to spread the word more at home in Canada. One thing she did was get a bridge near the airport in Ottawa renamed Juno Bridge. She also got schoolchildren to sign messages of thanks on over 2000 Canadian flags and brought them here to Juno today. She asked us to each take some flags and go to the Canadian war cemetery after the ceremony and put them on a few graves.

Well, we went to her after and snagged the last few flags she had! She was worried people wouldn’t participate but instead more people wanted to help than she had flags!! This was French locals and the Canadians alike all wanting to help and honour our dead.

We also then met an amazing, sweet woman who said she was a local girl in the area when the Canadians landed on D-Day and liberated the town. She said she was 11 years old and remembers being friends with the soldiers. Amazing! Eric pointed out that our daughter is 11 now, the same age this woman was on D-Day. We got a photo with her.

I love that 75 years later, she still comes to the Canadian Armistice Day ceremonies to say thanks. (And wanted to plant some flags at the cemetery, as well!).

After the ceremony, they did something so very dignified, so very French- they served delicate pastries and sparkling cider (the cider the region is known for).

Then we went outside to pay our own, private respects. We were asked if we wanted to lay a wreath but I explained that no, thank you, we had different plans.

You see, when my Papa died in March, there was a beautiful flower arrangement atop his casket with a few red poppies in it. The poppies were artificial because the florist couldn’t exactly get real poppies in March in Canada. Family kept those poppies. I have two, and plans to take them to the places I promised Papa we’d go when I last spoke to him.

Today I had one of those poppies and we were laying it at the Juno Beach memorial instead of a wreath. We didn’t want to lay it at the big wreath laying ceremony because it was too important, and people wouldn’t understand the significance of this tiny, fake poppy that looked a little worse for wear after travelling about a 13,000km trip (Brantford to Victoria to Bristol to Normandy).

But it got here, and we laid it in Papa’s memory.

Then we took a few other photos. Eric was here for Remembrance Day in 2006 so we took a photo so we could compare, haha.

Thirteen years ago, that uniform was  barely broken in!

Then because there were a few new things since 2006, including a Naval memorial, more photos:

However, do you think we managed to get a photo of the 3 of us while he was in uniform, or during this special day? I thought of it while I was waiting for him to change into his civi clothes. Sigh. And there were so many people around that we ‘knew’ by then that we could ask, too. But we just never thought of it, and forgot. Oh well, my hair was a disaster from the gale outside so I probably wouldn’t have liked any photo we got anyway.

Then we went back to the war cemetery to fulfill our promise to plant the flags on the graves. When we had gone earlier in the day, we were the only car in the parking lot. This time when we pulled up, there were a dozen cars or so! Wonderful!

When we got to the cemetery, we saw that plenty of people had already been and had and were still planting their flags. One older man in a retiree’s Legion uniform made sure to stand up and salute with every single flag he placed, it was touching.

Flags-2-Bény was a success! The cemetery looked much more loved afterwards and more importantly, the graves were each individually respected.

They were still planting a few flags by the time we left but we had to hit the road.

It’s been the most amazing day of reflection, introduction, pride, and enlightenment. We all loved our day and will never forget it.

Thank you for letting me share it with you.

Type 1 diabetes – and travel

So a lot of the point of this blog is to talk about how we manage travelling around the UK and Europe while still managing the ever-present and domineering type 1 diabetes. I will be making many references to diabetes, what we’re doing, what we use, and why. Before we go any further, I thought some of you may appreciate a quick lesson.

Sophie is an insulin-dependent diabetic (T1D or ‘type 1 diabetic’). What does that mean? And how does it differ from type 2 diabetes?

Most people are well-versed with the idea of type 2 diabetes, as 95% of diabetics in Canada are type 2 – which is often (but not always) related to poor diet, increased body weight, and decreased physical activity – leading to the body’s insulin resistance. Type 2 diabetics are still producing their own insulin in large quantities, but their cells just can’t properly use the insulin that is there.

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease wherein the body’s immune system mistakenly attacked the cells in the pancreas that produce insulin. As a result, the body stops making all insulin.

Without insulin, a body cannot use any of the glucose it eats, leaving the glucose in the bloodstream to rise to dangerously high levels. The body is not meant to have so much glucose running freely in the blood so a type 1 diabetic must inject insulin in order to use and store the glucose.
Type 1 diabetes has no known cause. It is not the patient’s fault for having a poor diet or being overweight. Some type 1 diabetics are pro athletes, in peak form and perfect diet, and must still inject insulin.
There is no cure.
(Insulin is not a cure, it is simply a treatment).

Without insulin injections (or without enough insulin), a type-1 diabetic’s body will slowly die of starvation – or go into a condition called diabetic ketoacidosis that can result in coma and eventually death.


Alternatively, if a diabetic takes too much insulin, their blood sugars can go too low. If they are low or going low, it can be remedied with some sugar- a small amount of juice or candy usually.
That sounds simple and it often is, but the danger of going low is more pressing and immediate than the danger of going high. A diabetic can fall low quickly and if they’re too low, they will lose consciousness and not be able to take sugar by mouth. We always carry a special medication- glucagon– with us which is administered by a needle when the patient is unconscious, and helps blood sugars rise to a safer level. Thankfully, we have never had to use this medication.


So, how do we manage this beast? A few ways:
Sophie wears an insulin pump called an Omnipod . It is a small ‘pod’ stuck directly onto her skin with a tiny cannula injected under the skin that delivers insulin. She wears each pod for about 3 days before changing it for a new one. The pod communicates with its controller via Bluetooth. This pod is programmed to deliver a constant stream of insulin.
However, every time Sophie eats, we need to count the carbohydrates in her food. (Carbohydrates are the part of our food that convert into glucose in our blood). Some of you may be aware of counting carbs for your own diets to lose weight or train, but this must be much more precise. Sophie’s Omnipod is programmed for how much insulin she needs for each gram of carbohydrates consumed. Also, as Sophie grows and heads through puberty, her body’s insulin needs change. We are frequently reprogramming her pod to deliver different amounts/more insulin throughout the day and for each gram of carbs she eats. This keeps us on our toes. We never get too comfortable with diabetes around!

An Omnipod pod – with the formula for insulin drawn on

Along with her Omnipod, Sophie wear’s a continuous glucose monitor (CGM) called a Dexcom. This nifty little device is also worn on her skin with a sensor injected under the skin. It tests her glucose levels every 5 minutes and sends the value via Bluetooth to her mobile phone. Then, she ‘shares’ the information via the internet to our phones (her parents as well as whomever is responsible for her).

What we see on our phones, following her blood sugar (post-breakfast spike)

The Dexcom makes life as a diabetic infinitely easier, as we can set alarms to be notified if she’s been high too long or is going low. Also, it sure makes daily life easier for Sophie! Without Dexcom, she would be poking her finger 10-15 times a day to check her blood sugar on a glucometer. With our current version Dexcom, she only has to poke her finger twice a day to calibrate it.
(But also, she must deal with the insertion process of the Dexcom, which can be hard on her).

So these are the high-tech, amazing devices we use to keep our daughter alive every day. You will see me refer to them often. When we travel, we plan to make good use of both of these devices.
However, anyone who has ever had to visit Apple Support knows that even the most wonderful tech can fail. We’re not willing to gamble with our daughter’s life, so every time we leave the city, we need to pack back-ups, and back-ups to our back-ups. That means we need to pack extra pods and Dexcoms, but we also need to pack everything to go analogue- glucometers to do those 15 fingerpokes a day, and needles for insulin in case the pod fails.
If say, we were in Italy, and Sophie’s Omnipod system failed or was lost, she can’t just ‘make-do’ until we get back to Bristol in a few days or even a few hours. We would immediately need to revert to insulin injections up to 5-6 times a day.
Quite simply, she cannot live without insulin.

So we will have many back-ups packed every time we head out on a trip. The Poulins cannot pack lightly!!! Nope, not anymore!
Dexcom sensors, Omnipods, insulin, emergency sugar treatments, glucometer, ketone meter, glucagon, insulin needles, as well as paraphernalia such as alcohol wipes, needle tips, glucometer strips, adhesives, etc. – – I expect our diabetes bag to be cumbersome, but more necessary than the clothing suitcases.

All this, on top of getting to a foreign country and needing to figure out carbohydrate counts in food. Do you know how to count carbs in a plate of Italian pasta? Or in a French pastry? How many carbs in a German sausage or Hungarian goulash?
This is where the internet will be our best friend. We’ve gotten good at estimating, and will have to get better. There are apps that have good approximations and we sort of pick a number based on a wing and a prayer. Sometimes we’re wrong – she might go high and need extra insulin (if it was at dinnertime, this can make for a very late night for us!). Sometimes she might go low and need a quick juice (or 2 or 3) to get to a healthy, steady level.
We’re really hoping to get better at the guesstimating and coasting while we travel.

And did I mention that physical activity also has a serious effect on blood sugar levels? Activity speeds up our metabolic pathways and makes blood glucose drop. For example, swimming makes her levels drop like a stone. Walking makes it drop slow and steadily. When travelling, we will always need to keep in mind what we’re planning to do after eating, in order to ensure she gets a correct insulin dose.

You may think all of this sounds like a lot, but I assure you, it’s only drop in the water. We’ve had days (weeks!) of diabetes education by nurses and doctors and as well we’ve been living with this for almost a year and we still feel like we don’t know enough. I’m only trying to give you a very, very, basic idea of what living with T1D entails. As I write this blog, I hope to teach the uninitiated as well as help other T1D parents out there living with it – maybe pondering a trip abroad with their kiddos and overwhelmed with the idea.

Diabetes can definitely be overwhelming at times. It may be hard to live with. It may be scary to think of going outside our comfort zone by moving to the other side of the world and travelling a lot…. But if living with chronic disease teaches us anything it’s that life is meant to be lived! Stop waiting for tomorrow, start appreciating your todays.

We may go crazy at times, but we’ve been given this amazing opportunity, and we plan to make full use of it! Our daughter may have type 1 diabetes, but she’s also going to have a broad view of this world. She’s going to have friends in every corner of the globe.

She’s going to know that diabetes will never hold her back.