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Posts Tagged ‘death’

A question for you tonight… but first, I apologize for not blogging in a while. I just closed a show (tonight!) and life has been a little crazy with baseball, track, and band for Middle and Youngest Child, so there hasn’t been much time to write.

Anyway, Marty and I are watching Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part Two again (shush, just… shush) and I’ve thought about this before, I just haven’t asked it of my readers. SPOILER ALERT: When Harry is voluntarily going to Voldemort to die, in order to fulfill the prophecy, he whispers to the golden snitch, “I am ready to die.” The snitch opens to reveal the Resurrection Stone, which, if you have followed the story, can bring the dead back to life.

My question to you tonight, which I’ve already asked Marty, was: If you had the Resurrection Stone and for a few minutes, could bring back one person who you were connected to, who would it be? Why?

Now, it needs to be someone that you have connected to in life. I don’t know if those are JK Rowling’s rules in the story, but I’m making this up as I go along and I’m making it a rule. Everyone has heard the question of “If you could have dinner with anyone, living or dead, who would it be?”, but that could be a million people, at least in my book. How do you choose just one historical figure or ancestor or family member? I would probably have a nervous breakdown due to indecision.

Choosing a person who has passed on and who you are connected with in some way, either by blood or emotionally, narrows it down a bit. Who would you bring back, only for a few minutes?

I would bring back my father, of course. He died almost seven months to the day before I was born, so I never met him. I have so many questions, more than would fit in a few minutes, obviously, but I would ask as much as I could in the time that I had. Marty would want one of his grandfathers back, so he could ask if he was on the right track with the genealogy. My questions to my father might be a little more, ah, pressing, but to each his own.

I want to hear from you. Who that you are connected to and has passed on, would you like to see or talk to for just a few minutes more? What would you want to know or do? I can see from the blog stats that I have readers all over the world and I would love to read what you have to say, no matter where you are from or if I know you in real life or not. Fire away!

In return, if you are a regular reader, I promise I’ll write something that doesn’t involve audience participation very soon.

A presto.

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My family held our memorial service for my grandma this past weekend. It was held in a little rural church and was attended by not only family, but friends from years past, some of them were my parent’s friends from before I was born. It was a small, intimate service followed by a luncheon that gave us all a chance to mingle and talk about our memories of Grandma.

My cousin had put together a beautiful video composed of pictures of Grandma set to music. The photos were delightful; I had never seen many of them. there was even one of her as a baby with her father, who died when she was three years old. There were pictures of our parents as they were growing up and many of us cousins, then our children. I spoke after the video, that had been scheduled beforehand, and then the floor opened up to let others speak.

My great-aunt spoke, telling us all that my grandpa once said he’d married an angel. My brother/cousin spoke (see previous posts for that explanation if you don’t know the story) about our family and the kind of woman that Grandma was. My aunt spoke, highlighting how Grandma would take care of anybody that was brought home, no matter what. My cousin, the same one who put the video together, spoke about how we were all important to Grandma, how she saved everything that we ever made for her, including some 30-year-old Christmas cookies that she found when going through Grandma’s many boxes of treasures. It was all at the same time heartbreaking and wonderful to hear that such a life had been lived, that one woman could have made that big of an impact on so many lives because of her love. Four children, nine grandchildren, twelve great-grandchildren, and countless others are testament to that love.

So, here’s my question to you: How will your loved ones remember you when you’re gone? We’re all going to die one day, whether we like thinking about it or not. Some of us will have grand funerals with all the trimmings, some will have smaller, quieter services, and some, by request or other circumstances, will have no service. It doesn’t matter what your send-off looks like, how will you be remembered?

Were you kind?

Did you love openly and without abandon or was your love rationed out?

Did you give your children your time or brush them off?

Did you forgive those who hurt you or did you hold onto the pain?

Did you hold grudges on minor issues or did you learn to let them go?

Did you discriminate or did you get to know a person’s soul instead of their color or religion?

Did you do your share or let others carry you?

Did you learn from your mistakes or make them over and again?

Did you apologize to those you hurt and mean it, or did you shirk the blame and continue the cycle?

Did you have integrity? Did you do the right thing when no one was looking?

Did you blame others for your mistakes or did you suck it up and take responsibility?

Did you accept what life handed you or did you push to find your own way?

Did you laugh?

Could you find the beauty in life, even during dark times?

Were you happy?

I’ve been thinking about all of things in the last couple of days. We’re all flawed, sometimes in serious ways, and we usually get on the best we can. Sometimes we recognize what we need to work on, sometimes we don’t. I’ve made a lot of mistakes, there are things that I wish I could do over again that I can’t make right. I know that I have some things that I still want to get right that I can work on before my time comes.

The thought of death as something so final frightens us, depresses us, so we push it away to think about another day until it happens, and then we can’t, because it’s over. Don’t put it off until it’s too late; we don’t know how much time we have left. Put your phone away and play with your children. Tell someone that you love them. Patch up the silly argument that you had with your sister a decade ago and move on. Meanwhile, I’ll be learning from some mistakes and work harder at finding the beauty in life, among other things.

A presto.

 

 

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But since it falls unto my lot
That I should rise and you should not
I’ll gently rise and softly call
Good night and joy be with you all.

~The Parting Glass

My grandma is dying. There’s no way to write that sentence differently that will make it any better or easier. My grandma is dying. It’s time to say goodbye, but dear God, I don’t want to.

I wasn’t yet blogging when my other grandma, Grandma Ruth, died, almost seven years ago now, or when my grandfathers passed away, but I wish I had been.  It’s difficult to let someone go mentally and emotionally, especially when that person was so much a part of one’s life since it began. Writing helps me to alleviate a bit of that pain. I think grandparents hold a very special place in one’s life, something different than parents. If they’ve been loving grandparents, as I was fortunate enough to have, the loss is felt keenly. I don’t think it ever really goes away.

I’d written about this grandma, Grandma Ballantyne, the last grandparent I have left, a few years ago when she seemed to be taking a turn for the worse. Her memory, among other things, was rapidly declining, although she would try to fake you out if she couldn’t remember something.

“Of course”, she’d say when you asked her a question or tried to remind her of a person, or, “Well, that sounds about right.” It was clear that she knew she was supposed to understand who or what you were talking about, but she didn’t, and she didn’t want you to know that she was lost. It was heartbreaking. The last few months, though, she hasn’t spoken much, except to say, “I love you”. When I saw her last, on Saturday, she wasn’t speaking at all.

We’ve known for a while that Grandma has been declining, but even when she would forget where she was or she didn’t understand what was happening, there were still glimpses of her feisty self in there. Up until a year or so ago, I could still get her to smile when I would tease her about smuggling in some whiskey to the nursing home. We shared a liking for it and red wine, although I admit that these days, I enjoy sipping a nice Merlot a little more than a Jameson. Up until a couple of years ago, I would relay some irreverent message to her from Mr. Marty Man and she would still smile. They had always gotten along famously and she enjoyed his naughty sense of humor. He made her laugh. I love that she loved him so much.

Saturday afternoon, I was privileged to have some alone time with her, to tell her things that I absolutely had to say before she leaves us. Most of them are private, things that I will hold in my heart forever, but I will share one thing with you. I told her that she was my hero, that she always had been. When I said that, her eyes focused sharply on me and she squeezed my hand tightly. Say what you will, but maybe just for that moment, she knew me and heard what I said. That’s what I’m going to choose to believe, anyway.

Grandma was an amazing person to grow up with. She watched me frequently when I was little and when she didn’t have to watch me any more, she would have me over to spend the night, just because. She allowed me to pillage her closets and drawers, including her make-up drawer, and dress up in the most amazing outfits that a six-year-old could muster up. She had a long blonde wig that I was sure had to be the most perfect thing in the world and I festooned myself with it, tons of floaty scarves, and gobs of costume jewelry, convinced that I looked beautiful because she always told me so. She eventually gave me her tiara and black satin gloves that I adored. What little girl doesn’t love a sparkly crown? I still have them and will keep them forever.

I was a pretty solitary kid, for the most part, and she left me to my long hours of playing dress-up and pretend, letting me run a “bar” out of her kitchen and a beauty shop in her dining room. Lord knows that there was almost no limit to her patience as she taught me to cook French toast, pancakes, and smoky links. I still love smoky links, not so much for their taste, but just to remind me of those carefree days. Sometimes, we’d got to McDonalds for breakfast, a rare treat, and get pancakes and sausage in the old Styrofoam containers. She always made me drink orange juice, even though I hated it (I hate pulp) but I did it because it was Grandma, even though I gagged on it.

When the cousins came over and we all spent the night, Grandma would let us build huge blanket forts in the living room and we’d all sleep on the floor. If it was just my cousin, Erin, and me, as it sometimes was, we would sleep on the pullout couch in the back room, always with a cat or two, telling stories for as long as we could stay awake. She didn’t care how long we talked, knowing that we’d eventually drop off. It was a short walk from her bungalow in Allen Park to the corner store, Frances Market, to buy milk for dinner where the clerk always knew that we were “Jackie’s grand-kids” and would give us a long stick pretzel for the walk back. We were usually allowed to buy a candy bar, too. Hershey bars were a favorite, but so were the bubble gum cigarettes, loaded with powdered sugar that puffed like smoke. This was the eighties, remember. smoking was bad, but not too bad, yet.

She had a VCR before anyone else I knew and a camera to go along with it. Every band event, school play, and holiday was lovingly videotaped and labeled. My cousins and I wish that some of those videos would disappear, and maybe they have, but she was determined to record everything. She and Grandma Ruth were always in the audience of everything I ever did. Back then, it was expected. Now, it’s treasured. Just recently, I had the opportunity to appear on television. It happened to be the same day that I was going to drive down and visit her, so she was on my mind. Fifteen years ago, she would have been grilling me about when and what channel it would be so that she could set the VCR to record.

Grandma never told me that I couldn’t do something, or that I was silly for dreaming my dreams. She never worried about logistics. I wanted to go to college at Oxford? Why not? She thought I was brilliant. Veterinarian school, perhaps? Sure thing. I wanted to be a Rockette, just like in the movie Annie? Well, I needed to learn to dance, starting with the box step, so she taught me. I never felt stupid or ridiculous in her presence. No dream was too big, no movie star was unattainable for Grandma’s girl. (All four of us granddaughters were Grandma’s girls.) As I grew up, she treated me as if I were older than I was and talked to me about world affairs and life in general. When I started smoking real cigarettes, she knew about it before any other adult in my life (because I trusted her) and simply sat in the smoking section with me with no rebuke. With Grandma, I knew that my choices, even the bad ones, were my own and that she would respect them and me. She offered advice, but always in a way that made me think about things, to see both sides. I never once felt disrespected or tolerated by her. My thoughts and feelings mattered to her. I felt that; it’s one of the purest, truest feelings of my life.

When my kids were going to be born, she told everyone from the moment she found out. She was so proud to be a great-grandma, and a youngish one at that. I’m so glad that my boys had the chance to know her when they were small, before she began having strokes. She read them stories and played with them in the lake, just like she did with us when we were small. She has four children, nine grandchildren (including my two brothers who are not her biological grandchildren, but that didn’t matter one bit to her ), and twelve great-grandchildren. She loved us all, more than anything.

My grandma is dying. I hate this. I want her back. I want her putting me in the front basket of her bike, riding just down the street, just far enough to make me laugh with joy. I want to ride the bicycle built for two with her again. I want to ask her to read me Cinderella again and again and again, just like she used to until her voice was hoarse. I want her to rub my back until I fall asleep, safe and loved. I want to talk to her again, about boys and sex and love while I’m pretending to be sophisticated and grown-up. I still don’t feel grown-up sometimes. I didn’t visit as often as I should, life gets in the way, but I will regret not being there to visit as much.

I want her to rest. I want her to be at peace. I don’t want her to hurt or to be confused anymore.

My grandma is dying. She is loved.

I need to let her go.

 

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It’s been a long week. Crazy long. I had Monday off, but that didn’t really make a difference. Nothing in my normal schedule had changed much: work from 8:30-4:15, rehearsal from 7:00-whenever, so I was tired, but that’s not why it was long.

Have you ever noticed that bad things happen in clumps? It seems to go that way. This week, it was death.

For those who don’t know me well, I work for a church. Death is a part of the job. When someone passes away, I’m usually the first person that the family speaks with on the phone. The people who have died since I started the job in February have all been people who I didn’t know personally, so while it was a sad thing to make the arrangements, it didn’t affect me in a way that it would if I had known them. That changed last Friday when a dear lady gracefully succumbed to cancer. She had only been diagnosed a few months ago; she went fast and on her own terms. She was a force, a strong and lively personality who touched everyone around her. She will be missed.

This week, I also attended one of the saddest funerals I have ever been to. There were three of us there to bury the ashes: the pastor, my coworker, and me. That’s it. The deceased were a husband and wife with no children and no family close by. I won’t give more details, I didn’t know them and don’t think that they would appreciate me telling all I know, but it made me sad that we were the only ones there to lay them to rest. They should have had someone there who knew and loved them. We did our best, but I still felt like I was intruding on a moment that wasn’t mine.

Another lady, an elderly church member, also passed away this week. I didn’t know her, but it was heart-wrenching to talk with her daughter on the phone. Hearing someone else’s pain makes you appreciate the ones you love.

Our sweet neighborhood cat, Charlie, had to be put down this week. Charlie was an old man, I’m not sure how old, but it was more than 15 years. He was here when we moved in in 2001 and used to bring us “presents”: decapitated chipmunks, bird carcasses, etc. You know, gifts. He had a loving home two doors down with a wonderful family, but made it his business to wander the neighborhood, even walking through our house occasionally to visit. My kids grew up with him, we kept our own stash of kitty treats for him, and we loved him like our own, even when he ate one of the baby sparrows from the nest in our vent. He was the next best thing to having a cat of our own, he felt right at home in our yard. It’s better that he is at rest, he was hurting and sick, the time was right, but he leaves a hole in our hearts in this neighborhood.

And, finally, I found out yesterday morning that my great-aunt had passed away as well. Aunt Alma was a spunky little thing who probably weighed 80 pounds soaking wet. I saw her often when I was little, but until recently, I hadn’t seen her in several years. We had a great catch-up time about a year and a half ago when another great-aunt of mine died and then  we sat with her at my cousin, Kelly’s wedding last summer. Aunt Alma was the last of the old guard, that generation of my grandparents that is embedded in my memory with that Italian side of the family. She was married to my Great-Uncle John,  my grandpa’s brother, and she was an integral part of la famiglia: the family.

Aunt Alma was Italian, the same as Uncle John. They defied my great-grandmother, who had picked out another wife for him. Arranged marriages were common in Sicily, where they were from, but Aunt Alma and Uncle John were having none of it here in the United States. Their successful marriage was long and happy with children and grandchildren to fill their days. Aunt Alma had a good long life, but her death was quick and took us by surprise.

So, tomorrow, Monday, starts a new week. There will be a memorial service and a funeral, not to mention that I have rehearsals and a show opening on Friday night. It will be busy, but hopefully, there will be no deaths. I’ve had about all I can do this week.

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I just realized that I haven’t posted anything in almost a month. I have some catching up to do! March can be a tough month for me, though. Bittersweet. The sweet part is my Middle Child’s birthday, smack dab in the middle of the month, balancing out the bitterness with joy. I’ve blogged about one of the bitter parts before (https://juliabbb.wordpress.com/2014/03/08/march-8/) so I won’t revisit that right now. Today I want to focus on the other part of March that I think about on a regular basis: My father and his death on March 22, many years ago.

He’s been on my mind a lot lately. I never knew him, at least in life. Those of you who know me personally already knew that. He tragically died in a car accident seven months before I was born, the night before he was going to apply for a factory job so that he and my mother could get married and give their family a good start. That never happened. The circumstances of that night aren’t especially clear to me, but the fact is that he died, leaving us behind.

Do I think he wanted to leave us? No, absolutely not. From what my family tells me and from a poem that one of my cousins wrote for his funeral, I know that he was excited about being a dad, that he was planning everything out. It took a bit for him to get used to the idea of being a father, though. When my mom told him about me, he went to his grandparents house for three days to process it all. When he came back, he was ready to go forward with a family. I hold that little scrap of information dear and tight.

I’m not writing about him to elicit sympathy or to rehash sad old feelings. I guess I just still want to know him better and this blog is a great place to express that. I want to know if he felt the way I do at times, what he would think of the world today, how our family dynamics would be different if he were still around. I want him to know his grandsons. I think he would have been a cool grandpa. My boys are lucky: they had another grandpa, Marty Man’s dad, for a few years. They have my uncle-dad, my brothers, and cousins who have all stepped up to give them extended family closeness. I don’t think they know what they’re missing, but I had two wonderful grandfathers until I was an adult. I wish they could have had the same experience as I did.

I used to be a hot mess about him. When my mother told me about my dad, I was around seven years old and at first I was elated. I already knew that the step-monster wasn’t my real dad and all of the other kids had dads, so I asked my mom about it. I had also just learned the facts of life, so I knew with all of my seven-year-old wisdom that there was a missing piece. When she explained that I indeed had a dad, the big question in the back of my head was finally resolved, but then the realization that he would never be there crushed me, especially as my life got worse. All through my very roughest years, I used to pray for God to say that his death was a mistake, that he wasn’t really dead, sobbing in my bed for him to come back, thinking he would rescue me. My grandma had given me a lens from his glasses and I took it everywhere I went, wanting a piece of him to be with me all the time.

I had a lot of anger toward him for a while, too. I was mad, so mad at him for dying and leaving me. After all, if he hadn’t died, my mother would never have married the step-monster. Of course, none of that was his fault, but as a very angry and confused teenager, it made sense to me to place the blame on him. I wondered about him all the time. Did he crash on purpose because he didn’t want me? Did he not try hard enough to survive? Had he been on drugs? Was he drinking? Like I said, even today, I don’t know all the details. I don’t know if anyone does, but that’s not important anymore. I’ve worked through the whys and made peace with that. I’ve made my peace with him.

I really truly think that he is still here, still around me. Things happen. I’ve had dreams where he’s there for very short periods of time and in them, he’s told me things about himself that I didn’t know, things that later checked out to be true, such as the fact that he played guitar. A song will come on the radio, that I’ve heard thousands of times, but for some reason, I’m overwhelmingly moved to tears for no reason at all. Later, I find out that it was one he liked. I feel him around me. He may be gone physically, but I believe that his spirit is here.

My anger is long gone. My pain is much fainter. Talking about him, learning more about the person he was from my family and his friends helps. I wish I could talk to him, to have one short hour with him. I still have that frustration sometimes that I can’t pick up my phone and call him to tell him what his grandsons did or to invite him to Thanksgiving, but it doesn’t happen nearly as often as it did when I was younger. I am a part of him, I have his hair, his eyes. Half of my very DNA is his and that’s saying something. I have a father. I am his daughter.

I don’t have a rhyme or reason to this post. Again, my dad has been on my mind a lot lately and I just needed to write about him. If you have a dad, hug him tight. Hold him close, tell him you love him. If you are a dad, do the same for your kids. They need you more than you’ll ever know.

 

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A friend of mine is going through a rough time right now. A friend of hers chose to end her own life a few months back, leaving behind a husband and young children. Just recently, the husband decided that he, too, couldn’t take it any more and also took his own life. The children are left with no parents, the family and friends are devastated, and it’s so difficult to see the point. They were young, so young. They were parents, with babies to think of. At first, the thought that ran through my head was how selfish it was to do that to your kids, to leave them confused and grieving for not only one, but both parents. Studies show that children of a parent, or parents, who commit suicide not only have a significantly higher chance of doing it to themselves at some point, but increased chances of emotional and mental problems, including depression. I didn’t know the couple, but it made me sad and angry all at the same time. It stayed with me, though, and after a while, I started to see things a little differently.

Don’t get me wrong; I don’t agree that they had the right to do that. I still think there was so much else that could they could have done to combat the urge to end it all. There’s therapy of all sorts, medication, even just talking to friends or relatives, which would hopefully encourage a visit to said therapy. There seems to be no logical reason why two people would decide the events in their lives were so overwhelming that they couldn’t function. But the little nagging voice in the back of my mind urged me to not be so self-righteous and to remember that dark thoughts have crept into my own mind as well.

I have depression. A lot of people do. I’ve been properly diagnosed, it’s not debilitating, and I’m in treatment for it, going on three years now. The side effects of medication proved to be too much for me, so I’ve been in talk therapy instead. It helps, it really does. Being able to be completely honest with no fear of judgement is a great relief and it’s accompanied by strategies to combat those dark thoughts. My therapist specializes in treating people with my kind of past and doesn’t make feel that I’m crazy. It’s a good thing.

Let me be clear: Having depression does NOT mean that someone is suicidal. But having depression does make one more susceptible to having suicidal thoughts. Let me try to explain what it feels like when depression is in full swing.

I call it a “hole”. That’s the best way I can describe it. When I have an episode, it’s like I’ve fallen into a black hole. Sometimes there’s a trigger, like a flashback memory or a really upsetting day. It could be bad news, it could be that I didn’t get a job interview, that there was a misunderstanding at home, or just overwhelming feelings of failure. Whatever the case, it results in an onslaught of negative feelings. I fell hopeless, like nothing will ever be okay again. Horrid thoughts run through my head, like I’m worthless, that I’m never going to achieve anything, that I’m ruining my kids, my marriage. Awful, debilitating things that have no base. These kinds of thoughts are common for people with depression. They’re not “poor me, feel sorry for me” thoughts, either. When I get like this, I retreat into myself, really trying to hide it from others. I can function at work if I stay busy, but that usually results in stronger feelings when work is over. When I come out of a hole, I can’t believe that I allowed myself to sink in, which is silly, because it’s something that can’t be controlled, only managed. Eventually, it started to really affect my life and I knew it was time to get help. Since then, I’ve learned to pay better attention to when they’re coming on and different exercises to keep them short or away all together.

Before I started talk therapy, these “holes” could last an entire day or more. Like I said, I still functioned and went to work, but I felt like a zombie; dead inside. Since starting therapy, these holes occur very infrequently and when they do happen, they’re usually gone within an hour or two. In these “holes”, though, it feels like nothing will ever be right again. Even minor crises, like an argument with Marty or with one of the boys, can throw my whole world off, at least for a little while. For people with severe depression, those awful holes can last for days, weeks, or months. Some experience such utter hopelessness that they begin to see themselves as better off dead. I’ve never been in that spot where I’ve seriously considered the unthinkable, but it has gotten pretty scary.

Most people won’t think of suicide. Most people have bad days and can brush it off. With depression, which often mixes with anxiety, seemingly small things can balloon to huge proportions.The difficult part of that, though, and I mean really difficult, is recognizing that one needs help, and then to ask for it. It sucks to admit that you’re weak, that you can’t get over it on your own, that you couldn’t “pray it away’. That last one cracks me up. I’ve seen so many Christians who claim that you can pray depression away, and that if you can’t, it means that you don’t have enough faith. What complete and utter crap. It’s like saying that if you break your arm, God will heal it instantly if you have enough faith. I’m not denying that miracles happen, they do. Cancer suddenly disappears, a junkie no longer craves drugs, a person diagnosed as brain-dead wakes up with normal brain function, all of these things have happened, but not regularly, which fits the definition of “miracle”. Millions of devout people pray for loved ones with all sorts of illnesses every day. Some get better, some don’t. A mental illness is the same as a physical one; it needs help and attention. If you belong to a church that shuns mental health services, it can make asking for help that much more difficult and in the meantime, can create further damage.

We see both ordinary people and successful people, like Ernest Hemingway or, more recently, Robin Williams, take their own lives and we wonder how seemingly happy people, people that “have it all”, could seek out such a permanent end. I don’t think there’s an easy answer, or any answer at all. What I do know is that we need to treat mental issues differently. Rather than making it a taboo subject, shaming those with depression or anxiety, or condemning them for wanting to die, we need to be compassionate and caring. We need to stop threatening them with Hell or other horrors because thoughts of harming themselves creep in uninvited. We need to help them through whatever hard times they’re going through, get them to seek professional help, and just be there for them, without judgement.

Two small children will go to bed tonight without their parents. What can we do to prevent it happening to another child?

If someone you know is suffering from severe depression, or is thinking of suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

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