Category Archives: My Grief Observed

45 Years…Still Counting

She was a pretty, brown-eyed girl from a small town. He was a handsome, small-town musician. He told his mama after he met her he knew he would spend the rest of his life with her, and he did.

On a sweltering summer day in a South Carolina church, they made promises to each other…

Promises to love.

Promises to cherish.

Promises meant to last forever.

IMGP3834They didn’t have much money, but they had each other and soon their family grew. My brother and I became part of their love story and we learned from our parents how to love well.  No matter the address, our house was always a  home where love lived.

The years brought good times and not-so-good times, as the years are prone to do. The young lovers attended weddings and funerals. They fought and made up. They laughed and cried. They made memories. They became parents and parents-in-law and grandparents.

papagramannaThey had done life together for so long it became hard for people to tell where one of them stopped and the other began.

One fall, he started having symptoms no one could explain. Something inside her told her this was something big. After several appointments, the doctor said the words no one ever wants to hear. It was cancer. It was bad. He might not have long.

So she fought for him. She researched and googled and called and emailed. She never left his side during the surgeries and the treatments and the therapies. She argued with doctors and refused to take no for an answer. She had leaned on him, but now she was his strength. Sometimes love means fighting like your life depends on it. And so they fought together.

DSC00841During his last hospital stay, he told her he wanted to go home. Something about the way he said it made her ask him which home. With tears in his eyes, he pointed up.

So that day she packed his things and took him to the home they shared. And they waited for Jesus to come get him and take him to the home He’d been preparing for him. Because sometimes love means putting someone else’s needs before your own.

One day, he told her about a dream he’d had. Only it wasn’t a dream, he said, because he wasn’t asleep. He said he saw a field and in the middle of the field was a big tree. God was there and He invited him to sit with Him under the tree. He said it was a beautiful and peaceful place.

As the days passed, he talked less and slept more.  But she stayed by his side. We all did. We knew he would be leaving us soon, and even though he’d said everything he was going to say to us, we just wanted to be in his presence for as long as we could.

One night–or maybe it was day; the hours seemed to run together–she curled up beside him in the bed they’d shared and she played their songs for him. Songs from the days when they were first getting to know one another. Songs that had grown to mean something to them over the years. Some of the songs were as familiar to me as the family stories we told around the dinner table at holidays, but some were songs I’d never heard before. And I was reminded that before they were my parents, they had a love story that belonged only to them. I felt like an intruder there, but I dared not move lest I break the spell of that moment. So I watched as she kept her promises…

To love and to cherish…

In the end he seemed to be caught in some sort of battle. He didn’t seem to be able to let go of the life he’d made with her or to leave the people he loved.  He struggled between his desires to be here and there. He fought for every breath. It was excruciating to watch. But we stayed there with him, knowing our time together was almost done.

I watched as she held him. She leaned in close and whispered to him, “It’s okay to go home now. Go find the tree. I’ll meet you there. Wait for me under the tree.” Sometimes love has to be brave.

She was brave through the visitation and the funeral and the burial. But now she has to figure out how to be her without them. When the two have truly become one, how do they become one again? Almost four years later and there are no easy answers.

This isn’t how she planned it. It isn’t how any of us wanted it.  But this is the way it is.

So she continues to love him well because that’s all she knows to do. To carry on the best she can. To finish what they started together.

In fairy tales, love stories end with happily ever after. But life isn’t a fairy tale and this world is too broken for happily ever afters to take place here. But the best love stories really are forever. I was blessed to have a front row seat to one of the greatest love stories the world has ever known. Their legacy is mine to continue.

To love, really love well. And to build a home where love can live.

Forty-five years and counting, their love story continues….

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Mama, I’ve been thinking about this day for awhile now. I wanted to do something to make today easier for you. But I can’t. Some days are just hard and I’m sure today was one of those days. I wish I were better at making my words match everything in my heart, but after many attempts, this is the best I could do for now. I struggled with sharing some of these memories because they are so private and precious and beautiful to me they almost seem fragile. But I just want you to know I noticed you there. And I didn’t want any of them to be lost because they forever changed me. Thank you for loving him well. No one could have loved him more or better. Thank you both for giving us a home where love lived.

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Remember

Ever since I made a commitment to myself to write a blog post every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, those three days have been crazier than they’ve ever been before. Friday was no exception. I had hoped to join in on Five Minute Friday, but I just didn’t have a chance to work it into my schedule.

The topic Lisa Jo chose for this week was “Remember.” I’m not setting the timer, but this is what I would have written  if I’d had a chance….

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I remember you sitting at the dining room table with your NCAA brackets sheet. Every March you’d fill one out and compete with the guys at work to see who could pick the most winners. I don’t remember when I decided I wanted to do it, too, but every year since, I filled out my own brackets. I don’t think you took my participation seriously. Maybe that’s because I didn’t have a very scientific way of choosing my winners. I’d pick the ones with the best mascots or only the schools whose names I recognized, or even by who picked the best color combinations for their uniforms. And without fail, no matter how they’d played all season, I’d put Duke in my Final Four and I always picked Duke to win it all. You’d shake your head and consult the scores to see how well you’d fared.

No matter where I lived, when March rolled around, I’d fill out my brackets because it made me feel closer to you. Sometimes I’d mention it to you when we talked on the phone, but many years, I never said a word. But I faithfully participated because I knew you were, too.

Since you died, I haven’t filled out the basketball brackets. Everything had changed and since you were why I started doing it in the first place, I didn’t see any reason.

But your youngest grandson has decided  basketball is his favorite sport. So this year, I printed out brackets for the boys and me. Maybe one day they will remember how their mom checked the scores to see how we all fared. I can’t say that my selections were anymore scientific than they used to be, and as always, I put Duke in my Final Four, but I chose Indiana to win it all. Because sometimes things don’t stay exactly the same.

But I’ll always remember.

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Bald and Bare are Brave and Beautiful….*MGO

If we’re Facebook friends then you may have seen my post about Pastor Elwin Ahu and his battle with leukemia. Pastor Elwin was one of the pastors of my church when we lived here nine years ago, but a year ago, he left to plant a new church in the city.  On December 7th of last year, he was diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia. Thankfully, when caught early, as his was, this form is 95% curable. But the journey to the cure is long. And hard. And full of setbacks. Because of chemotherapy treatments, Pastor Elwin had started to lose his hair, so he decided to shave his head during yesterday’s church service and take a collection for St. Baldrick’s Foundation, which funds childhood cancer research grants.

I couldn’t help but think of the post I published Friday as I listened to Pastor Elwin bare his heart before his church ‘ohana about his struggles. His honesty reaffirmed my belief that people truly hear our hearts when we are not afraid to be vulnerable and real.

Pastor Elwin talked about a conversation he had with a family member who wanted to know if he’d figured out why God had allowed this to happen. Did he think he was being punished? Was God causing him to suffer in order to be blessed? Finally, he said he’d come to the conclusion that maybe he was in this difficult time just because life is hard.

I wonder how many people sitting in that room with their own unanswered questions breathed a deep sigh of relief when they heard their pastor say that.  I know so many who have have no energy left to fight because they’re exhausted from trying to figure out the reason they are hurting. Maybe some who heard Pastor Elwin were able to let go of the “whys” and move on to the “hows.”

Sometimes we think being brave means never letting anyone know we’re afraid. We think in order to be brave we must soldier through with our shoulders back and our heads held high. But the bravest people I’ve ever known are the ones who honestly said in their darkest days, when they could barely even lift their heads, “This is hard. I can not do this. Only God can.”

One of the greatest gifts my dad gave me was the opportunity to watch him deal with life when it wasn’t fair. I saw him struggle. I saw him cry. I saw the fear in his eyes. I also saw him dig deep. It’s one thing to tell your kids to trust in God when life gets hard. It’s something very different to live that faith out before them when God is the only hope you have left.  It’s one thing for a pastor to tell his church how to weather the storms of life. It’s something very different to have him live out that lesson in their presence.

I saw Pastor Elwin after the “Shaving Party” and he reminded me of my dad after he shaved off what was left of his hair. They both looked freer somehow.  Maybe deciding to shave their heads gave them back just a little bit of the control that it felt like cancer had taken away from them.  I think also there’s a freedom in sharing openly from the depths of the heart.

Bald and bare are truly brave and beautiful.  I saw it firsthand today. But what I think was most brave was not what happened at the end of the service, but what happened in the heart of the message that Pastor Elwin spoke.  Please pray for Pastor Elwin and for New Hope Metro. If you have a chance, set your DVR to tape The 700 Club today.  They will be airing an interview with Pastor Elwin. He has also been blogging about his journey on New Hope Metro’s website if you want to hear more from him.  Praying we all will continue to dare to be bare!

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*MGO stands for My Grief Observed. These are posts I write about dealing the fact that my dad lives in Heaven and I live here.

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Three (*MGO)

I wasn’t going to write about this today. I had hoped not to give this day much thought. I don’t have anything written on my calendar to distinguish this day from any other.

But my heart knows what day it is.

It isn’t that I don’t want to remember you, Daddy. You know me better than that. It’s just my memories of you seem to have divided themselves into two categories:  BC, Before Cancer, and The Year—The Year Cancer Came and Changed Everything. Although they still cause me to miss you, I don’t so much mind visiting the BC memories. It’s the other memories I try to avoid. Whenever I go back there I feel the fear again and it takes my breath away. We all tried to be brave and we hung on to hope like the lifeline it was, but that was also the year I met fear face to face. Sure, I’d been afraid before, but I’d always been the trusting kind who just dipped her toe in the pool of anxiety but for never long enough to really get wet. That  year I dove in head first and swam awhile. And I learned sometimes all the hoping and trusting in the world won’t give you what you really want. I know it’s better for you to be where you are but three years later, I’m still not convinced it’s better for me.

Three years. How has it been three years since you left us? My grief still feels just as sharp and the missing you is not even the slightest bit easier. And yet…it feels like you’ve been gone so much longer and you’ve missed so much. It feels like you’ve continued to moved “onward and upward” further away from us.  I don’t know how deep Heaven is, but it feels like you’ve traveled much farther in your three years there than you ever did in your not quite sixty-three years here.

I watch TV and wonder if you would have liked “Revolution.” I know you would have loved the new Tommy Walker Hymns CD. Would you already have an iPhone 5? Would you be taking Mom to see the new James Bond movie on Thursday night date night? I try a new recipe and mentally place it in the file of Treats My Dad Would Have Loved and I would give anything to be able to make it for you. I think I’m constantly quizzing myself on what you would or wouldn’t like because it’s my way of hanging on to the man I knew well.

But I can’t also help but wonder how Heaven has changed you and how you would tell us to live knowing what you do now.

Your leaving has certainly changed us. Dad, you’d be so proud of Chris and Mom. Chris is truly becoming the man you always knew he was. He loves with all his heart and he goes above and beyond to try to be there for Mom. He looks so much like you it breaks my heart and he is becoming more and more like you, which is the highest compliment I could pay any man. And Mom? Dad, you’d be so very proud. She has tried so hard, this year especially, to move on to the next chapter of her life. She hasn’t wanted to do it and it’s been the hardest thing she has ever done, but she is doing the hard work that it takes to figure out who she is on her own. Besides losing the love of her life and her very best friend, life has not been kind to her. She has had plenty of reasons in the past three years to choose to be bitter, angry, and hurt. But she is fighting back and I think she’s finally winning.

And me? I’m still working through it all. I quit writing for a long time. Also, I made so much of my grieving public and although I don’t regret doing that, I needed to wrestle through some things in my own quiet place without an audience. But what I’ve discovered is that when I quit writing, I also quit wrestling. I was telling a friend I was reminded of when Jacob wrestled God and said, “I won’t let go until you bless me,” but when I wrestled God, I said, “You can stay and keep fighting if you want, but I’m out of here.” A break from being sad was not a bad thing, but I found myself moving drifting away from God and any kind of connection with Him.

Somewhere along the way I got you and God mixed up to the point that when you left, it felt a lot like God did, too. I am going to have to figure out a way to separate the two of you.

Another reason I was hesitant to do anything publicly to mark this day is because I didn’t want to play on others’ emotions. So many people have supported my family and loved us through the last three years. To write on this day felt like a maudlin attempt to play on people’s sympathy. But I’m also writing because I’m so afraid people are going to forget you. I’ve seen how life goes on and people go on about their days. And they should. But you were such a great man and I want people to remember you. I want them to remember how you made them feel when they were with you. I want them to think about the difference your life made in the short time you were on this planet. My babies had just turned six when you left. I am so afraid they’re losing the memories they had of you. I don’t want them to forget. I don’t want anyone to forget.

I don’t want to forget.

So I write. I write on one of the days I’d like to forget the most. I remember the bad along with the good because you are worth remembering.

Missing you,

Amy

A BC picture. I love this one because he’s reading a Civil War book with his Bible under his arm. Quintessential Dad.

*MGO stands for My Grief Observed. They are posts I write about my grief over my dad moving to Heaven and leaving me here.

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Five Minute Friday: Loss

I didn’t like any of my other ideas for today’s post so I decided to participate in Five Minute Friday again. Every Friday, The Gypsy Mama offers a writing prompt and suggests you write about that subject for five minutes with no stopping, no editing. I almost turned around without looking back when I saw this week’s prompt, but I’m going to gut it out anyway.

Today’s writing prompt? Loss

By the way, she said we could use more than five minutes for this week’s assignment, but I’m not planning to camp out here for too terribly long.

Here goes:

I was dusting the living room. The boys were watching Indiana Jones with their daddy. It was the newest one, the one I haven’t seen. Besides hearing the occasional crash or explosion, I was hardly cognizant of what was happening on the TV until one sentence stopped me in my tracks.

“We seem to have reached the age where life stops giving us things and starts taking them away.”

I’ve been slowly chewing on that sentence ever since and felt the weight of its partial truth.

I see it every morning when I look in the mirror and see that the night has erased a little more of my youth and replaced it with a new line or spot that wasn’t there before.

I feel it when I hold a friend’s new baby and realize my season of raising babies seems to have passed away.

“The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised.” Job 1:21

But mostly I live it everyday  that I’m here and my daddy isn’t.

Before he went to Heaven, I’d lost people I loved before. But losing my father has changed me in ways I never realized it would.

It’s not the same as when I felt homesick for family because I could at least call and talk to them in between visits. Knowing I won’t speak to him again this side of Heaven has left a gaping hole in my life that has threatened to consume me.  Time has not worn the jagged places smooth. They are as sharp as the day he died. I just try not to stay so close to the edges as I did right after it happened.

Today my friend is taking her son to his very first memorial service. He will try in his nine-almost-ten-year-old best way to say goodbye to his soccer coach and two of his teammates. His mom will try her best to comfort him, but she will know as I do, that this won’t be the last time he says goodbye.

Yes, usually it’s just goodbye for now. But knowing that doesn’t always make the pain of the loss hurt that much less, now does it?

Until Heaven, I will rest in the hope of my salvation, ever thankful that God has promised that hope will not disappoint (Romans 5:5), because Heaven certainly knows that we can certainly be disappointed here. And I’ll continue to be grateful for the glimpses of Heaven that I see here.

Well, that was ten (remember, she said we could break the rules) minutes of not-so-cheerful, wasn’t it? I don’t even really mind not reading back over it to edit, if you want to know the truth. I’ve written about loss more than I ever wanted to on this blog. I try to file most of those posts in the My Grief Observed category over on the sidebar to the right. They’re posts I’ve written about my journey through grief.

 I hate to leave you for the weekend with such a morose taste in your mouth, so I’d like to share another link I found with practical ways to help us teach our children gratitude. This is a list of 100 Ways for Your Family to Make a Difference from We Are That Family. This weekend the kids and I are going to write letters and draw pictures for Tekalign, our sponsored Compassion child who lives in Ethiopia. Does anything on the list jump out at you? Anything you might try this weekend?

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Life is good….?

Until about a week ago, my oldest’s favorite t-shirt was a Life is Good shirt that a Boston buddy handed down to him a couple of years ago. Sometimes even clean clothes he doesn’t want to put away end up in his laundry hamper, but amazingly that shirt is never dirty.

Even when I can smell it from across the room.

My guy has hit a couple of growth spurts lately and the shirt’s getting a little snug, so I was thrilled when Zulily  had Life is Good shirts for a really good price. I bought a couple for each of the kids and now his new Life is Good shirt is his favorite. He wore it three days in a row before I finally convinced him to let me wash it while he slept so he could wear it again the next day. Hey, it’s summer and “What You’re Wearing Today” is not a hill upon which I’m willing to die. Which is why when he’s not wearing that shirt he’s usually wearing some combination of black and blue together because he knows it bugs me when he dresses like a bruise.

Ah life is good, right?

It’s summertime and the living is easy.  We’re staying up later and waking most mornings when we feel good and ready. Homemade ice cream with fresh fruit appears regularly on our dinner menu. I live near the beach and nothing makes me happier to have my toes in the sand. The kids are out of school and we have more time to laugh and play together. My husband has a job, we have a roof over our heads, and we’re all pretty healthy.

So, life is good….except when it isn’t.

I remember seeing someone walk by in the hospital wearing a Life is Good hat the day the neurosurgeon told us my dad had another brain tumor and we were out of treatment options. I remember feeling angry and thinking, “No, it isn’t. Life is NOT good today.”

When everything feels broken, it’s hard to see how life is is good.

My friends just got back from Africa. People die everyday there because they don’t have clean water or mosquito nets. That’s the good life?

Life doesn’t feel good for my friend  She is hurting for her daughter who is currently on the other side of the country visiting her father because the law says she has to.

Twice a day at 10:10, I am not thinking, “Ain’t life good?”

Sunday night, a plane crashed in Alabama killing all seven passengers: a dad, a mom, and five young children. He was a soccer coach and played on the worship team at my church. She was a daycare owner and the sweet lady I chatted with sometimes during Upwards practice. The minute they opened their eyes in Heaven, life was better for them than they’d ever known it, but for the sixteen-year-old daughter who wasn’t on the plane with them, life is not good.

Life is hard.

Life isn’t always good.

After He’d finished creating everything, “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.”

But then sin entered the world and brought with it disease and death and pain. God’s world was broken into sharp pieces that cut to the bone of His perfect creation. Daily I am reminded this earth is not my home. I’m only passing through.

But in the meantime, we live here. Where life is hard, but God is good.

Even when we don’t understand His ways or whys.

Even when we don’t like the people He created because they’ve hurt us.

Even when His people spend more time arguing their philosophies about who He is and what He meant than just doing the things we can all agree He told us to do.

Even when we get it all wrong and completely miss the point of what He’s trying to tell us.

Even when life isn’t, even then, God is good.

And especially because sometimes life isn’t good, I find that I’m more and more appreciative of the times when it is.

For the Braves and the Red Sox.

For the chance to eat hot dogs three times this week. I do love a good hot dog.

For the summer showers that bring down the afternoon temperatures.

For a sweet little girl’s toothless grin.

For the hugs of my boys.

For a husband who listens to me ramble on and on about everything and nothing.

For family and friends who love me like I am.

All of these are precious gifts….perhaps a small foretaste of glory divine.

A few days ago, the kids were fighting and my daughter grabbed her brother by his new Life is Good shirt and ripped a hole in the shoulder seam.  Understandably, my son was very upset. I can’t even sew on a button, but I found some thread that matched and did my best to stitch up the tear. It isn’t perfect; if you look closely, you can see where I tried to fix it, but at least it’s wearable.

Kind of like life here right now. It isn’t perfect anymore and we can’t fix it back the way it was. But every now and then we get a little taste of what life was meant to be and what it will be again one day in Heaven for those of us who believe He will make life good again.

Until then, I’m thankful for lightning bugs.

And 72-degree days with sun and just a whisper of breeze.

And fat little baby knees.

And music.

And memories.

And the hope of the best that is still yet to come.

Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world. John 16:33

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Now Then….(More Backpacking Thoughts from Week One/MGO)

Technically, I’ve already fulfilled my homework requirements for the first week of my Backpacking through Joshua Bible study, but I still have some wonderings about the first chapter of Joshua that are taking up valuable real estate in my brain. I’m hoping that if I let them out in black-and-white form they will give me some space for other information, like where I put that Southern Living magazine that I was reading for recipe inspiration.

Living life can bring new meaning to familiar words. Take, for instance, the old hymn that I mentioned yesterday. I must have sung “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” a hundred times, but the lyrics mean something entirely different to me now than they did when I was seven. Familiar Bible passages take on new meaning in light of current events as well. I’d read the book of Joshua many times before I started this study, but the first couple of verses of the first chapter have firmly planted themselves in my head since I read them again last week.

After the death of Moses the servant of the LORD, the LORD said to Joshua son of Nun, Moses’ aide: “Moses my servant is dead. Now then, you and all these people, get ready to cross the Jordan River into the land I am about to give to them—to the Israelites.” (Joshua 1:1-2 NIV)

“Moses my servant is dead. Now then…”

So matter-of-fact, that first sentence. And something about the lack of space between those two sentences compels me. I don’t think for a second that God was unsympathetic to the fact that the Israelites were undoubtedly mourning the loss of their beloved leader Moses. I am speaking from first-hand experience when I tell you God is very near the broken-hearted (Psalm 34:18). By the way, I love how The Message interprets that verse:  “If your heart is broken, you’ll find God right there; if you’re kicked in the gut, He’ll help you catch your breath.”

Certainly God knew losing the only leader they’d ever known would be difficult for His people, but Moses had prepared Joshua and the Israelites for this day for quite some time. Moses knew he wasn’t going to be the one to lead them into the Promised Land and that Joshua was the leader God had chosen to take over for him when he died.

God is deliberate about the words He uses so I think it’s significant that He identifies Moses as His servant.  I think that in the space between those first two sentences, God was passing the torch from one servant to the other.

Like I said yesterday, the Bible isn’t a book of other people’s stories, it’s HIS story. Moses was dead, but this wasn’t the end of the story by any means. Moses had played his part and now it was Joshua’s turn.

God didn’t want them to forget what Moses had taught them. In fact, I think it’s interesting that He repeats Moses’s words to Joshua. Compare Deuteronomy 31:6 with Joshua 1:5-6:

“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Deuteronomy 31:6)

“….I will never leave you nor forsake you.  Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their ancestors to give them.” (Joshua 1:5-6)

In this one conversation, God tells Joshua three times to “be strong and courageous.” He even throws in the admonition to “not be afraid” in case His message wasn’t completely clear the first three times. I’ve heard the “strong and courageous” verses used as encouragement to those who are facing tough situations, but I think it’s interesting that in verse 7 God COMMANDS Joshua to be strong and courageous. God didn’t offer that up as something Joshua might want to try if he was feeling afraid, He said it as a follow-up to His instruction to obey everything written in the Book of Law.

So why did God keep repeating Himself? I’ve already said that I don’t believe God wastes words so He wasn’t just being repetitive. I think it’s safe to assume that Joshua wasn’t a hard-of-hearing dummy, so I’m guessing that God was letting Joshua know that what was right around the corner was going to require more than a small amount of strength and courage.

Why is this resounding so strongly with me?

Just over a year ago, my Moses died. In a lot of ways, it felt like then and there my story stopped. But as I read this chapter, I heard God say to me, “Jerry my servant is dead. Now then….”

Will I forget my dad? Will I reflect the person he was in how he taught me to live? Just as the Israelites would always remember and love Moses, yes, I will. But just as their story wasn’t over, neither is mine.

I have grieved and will continue to grieve. I will remember and will continue to remember. But I will get ready to cross the next Jordan, whatever that may be. I will walk in the truths that my Moses taught me. Just as God was with my dad, He will continue to be with me. He will never leave me or forsake me. He will lead me to the Promised Land.

Now then….

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