Posts filed under ‘Grief’

Want to participate with me in a grief study?

I just signed up for a scientific study about traumatic loss. Here’s the description from their site:

We are a team of researchers from Arizona State University,  University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and Austin College. We are exploring the experiences of those aged 18 and older who have experienced traumatic loss and bereavement.  The purpose of this study is to determine the individual, familial, and societal effects of trauma and to improve standards of care to the bereaved and a model of compassionate caregiving and intervention that fosters resiliency at every level.

The lead researcher for the study is Dr. Joanne Cacciatore. Here’s how I know about her:

The first book I read after Felicity died was one called Stillborn: The Invisible Death by John DeFrain et. al., researchers from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. They did a study back in the 80s and published it in book form. It’s mostly stories of peoples’ experiences with stillbirth. It was deeply helpful for me just to read that other people had gone through what I had.

Then, I emailed Dr. DeFrain because the book was out of print. He so politely and sensitively emailed me back and suggested I look into the MISS Foundation, the organization founded by his former doctoral student, Dr. Joanne Cacciatore, who had also lost a child.

I really appreciate her continued research into the topic of stillbirth and traumatic loss. I thought, since so many of us here have lost children traumatically, we should contribute. We can be a means of further research into this painful, under-studied area by sharing our time and our stories to help others.

So here’s what you do:

  • Go to http://tearstudy.org .
  • Enter your name and email.
  • They’ll send you an email right away, and then you just click the link in the email to confirm your email address.
  • Wait for them to email you with further details.

I say, let’s do this!

January 13, 2010 at 11:01 am 10 comments

A Poem For the Grievers Out There

A fellow grieving mother sent me this poem the other day. Her son is buried very near to my Felicity. I visit him each time I go.

I know I haven’t written much about how I’m doing, grief-wise, in awhile. But it’s there, always, and some of it too deep, too painful to share here. Maybe I’ll get there someday.

In the meantime, you can read something that just recently made me cry tears of longing and joy and pain, all at the same time.

Resignation
from The Seaside and the Fireside

by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
(1807-1882)


There is no flock, however watched and tended,
But one dead lamb is there!
There is no fireside, howsoe’er defended,
But has one vacant chair!

The air is full of farewells to the dying,
And mournings for the dead;
The heart of Rachel, for her children crying,
Will not be comforted!

Let us be patient!  These severe afflictions
Not from the ground arise,
But oftentimes celestial benedictions
Assume this dark disguise.

We see but dimly through the mists and vapors;
Amid these earthly damps
What seem to us but sad, funereal tapers
May be heaven’s distant lamps.

There is no Death!  What seems so is transition;
This life of mortal breath
Is but a suburb of the life elysian,
Whose portal we call Death.

She is not dead,–the child of our affection,–
But gone unto that school
Where she no longer needs our poor protection,
And Christ himself doth rule.

In that great cloister’s stillness and seclusion,
By guardian angels led,
Safe from temptation, safe from sin’s pollution,
She lives, whom we call dead.

Day after day we think what she is doing
In those bright realms of air;
Year after year, her tender steps pursuing,
Behold her grown more fair.

Thus do we walk with her, and keep unbroken
The bond which nature gives,
Thinking that our remembrance, though unspoken,
May reach her where she lives.

Not as a child shall we again behold her;
For when with raptures wild
In our embraces we again enfold her,
She will not be a child;

But a fair maiden, in her Father’s mansion,
Clothed with celestial grace;
And beautiful with all the soul’s expansion
Shall we behold her face.

And though at times impetuous with emotion
And anguish long suppressed,
The swelling heart heaves moaning like the ocean,
That cannot be at rest,–

We will be patient, and assuage the feeling
We may not wholly stay;
By silence sanctifying, not concealing,
The grief that must have way.

January 10, 2010 at 7:53 pm 18 comments

A Family Tree For Christmas, Part 1

Most of you have already put up your Christmas trees. You’ve strung the lights and hung the ornaments. You might even be sitting and enjoying it right now.

There’s nothing like a Christmas tree at Christmas to make it feel like home. Like family.

We chose, for a number of reasons, to put up a very small tree this year. But in actuality, it’s the third year in a row we’ve used this little thing as our family Christmas tree.

You see, I bought it in the Fall of 2007, just after we lost Felicity and I was going through a major money-spending binge (shock does insane things to you). And then when Christmas came, I was too tired to think about putting up a real tree. Plus, we decided to go on an extensive 4-week road trip at Christmas. (Again, shock does crazy things to you.) We spent Christmas #1 without Felicity in Pennsylvania (in our stupor of shock) among our family and friends there.

Then for Christmas 2008, we had just moved into our current house a couple weeks before and the only thing I had time for (and room for among the boxes) was this little tree. Combine that with having a 4-month old baby, and it wasn’t exactly the right time for me to move forward with any elaborate Christmas decorating.

Now it’s Christmas 2009. Christmas #3. (For those of you living without loved ones, help me out here: do you mark your holidays like this? I don’t feel like I have the same inclination to mark other holidays like Thanksgiving or Easter this way. But at Christmas I miss her a lot, and I feel the passage of time more poignantly.)

Anyway… Christmas #3. Another Pennsylvania Christmas. So I figured, “Why go to the trouble of doing a tree when we’re not even going to be here?”

But Orison had other plans.

In his Christmas excitement, one night after dinner, he’d had enough of this waiting around thing (I’m pretty sure it was December 1) and decided to light a fire under Abraham and I. He came into the kitchen and announced that we were all going to the basement right now and, “Dad, you’ll carry the Christmas tree. Mommy, you’ll carry the Advent calendar. And I’ll carry the boxes.”

“Ready… set… go!” And all of a sudden we were putting up a tree after all.

(And no, we didn’t make him carry the boxes.)

I’m planning a couple more posts about what makes our tree, our family tree, special for me. What makes your Christmas tree special for your family?

December 9, 2009 at 12:04 am 30 comments

Felicity’s 2nd birthday (mostly in pictures).

On September 22, we marked Felicity’s second birthday. We don’t do anything extravagant, just things that recognize the significance of the day in our hearts.

happybdaypoint

At the cemetery Abraham and I try to give each other a few minutes of peace and reflection while we alternate caring for the other kids.

momgrave

Morrow was alert and aware of his surroundings this year, as opposed to last year when he was one month old. At thirteen months he’s a busy one! He enjoyed the birthday balloon the best, more specifically bopping his brother.

balloonbop

And he enjoyed crawling all over the cemetery (note the filthy knees). He eventually found some goose poop on a veteran’s grave and decided to give it a taste. Abraham used most of a bottle of water trying to flush his mouth, hence the soaked shirt.

filthyMJ

My girlfriends had already brought some of these flowers. It was like a welcome banner for us. And it meant a lot to know that they’d been there.

graveflowers

Orison really likes to take pictures, so here’s one he snapped of the rest of us:

momdadmj

Orison kept himself very busy while we were there. He often brings his bike to the cemetery, but this time he had no training wheels! He hadn’t exactly gotten the hang of it until this day, so bad mommy didn’t even bring his helmet (I totally wasn’t expecting him to get it!)

It truly was a special gift from the Lord to have something to celebrate through our tears. I felt like I was having an out-of-body experience or something while I watched him—how did I get here? how did he get to be so old? how is it that he’s taking this huge step of independence right before my eyes?

It felt like a launching forward.

happybdaymj

Happy birthday, Felicity Margaret. We miss you.

October 11, 2009 at 8:05 pm 33 comments

Make a Decision to Love: Educate yourself.

I have people contact me pretty regularly who are intersecting with stillbirth and child loss for the first time. Some are experiencing it themselves, but more often than not, they’re friends with someone who’s just lost a child.

Most of them have no idea what to do. They’re at a loss, completely unprepared to comfort in something so mind-numbingly awful.

It took me at least six months to want to read a book about loss, grief, or death. It took me a couple months to even read anything. It felt so trite and small to read something that wasn’t about death, but then it felt like too much of a bad thing to read about grief and loss when I was just trying to make it through a day with death all around me.

Lots of people want to give a book to the grieving person. It’s not a bad gift, especially if it’s a good book about grief and loss.

But I want to challenge you one further—read the book first.

I want to tell you a story about what that meant for me. A few months ago, I was given a present from one of our dear friends—an unmarried, male friend. It was wrapped in the way you might expect an unmarried male to wrap a gift, in a brown paper bag with my name scrawled on top in permanent marker.

I waited to open it until later in the night, after he’d left. I unwrapped the package and found a book, a book about stillbirth. I opened the cover to find this inscription:

This is a book I recently stumbled across by a woman whose first child was stillborn. It moved me very powerfully, and I wanted to give it to you… “We read to know we’re not alone,” say the characters in Shadowlands. I hope this book makes you feel less alone.”

I could hardly read his words through the thick tears in my eyes. All I could say over and over, through my sobbing was, “He read the book. He read the book!”

What was a single guy with no children doing reading a book about stillbirth? I’ll tell you what he was doing. He was loving me in one of the most profound ways I’ve experienced from a friend since Felicity died.

This was no quick-fix, at-arms-length gift from someone who didn’t know how to handle someone like me. He had decided very consciously to enter into our pain, into our hell, even just for 184 pages. But that decision meant more to me than almost anything. It was a decision to love.

Too often we panic when we don’t understand how to interact with someone who’s going through tremendous pain. I think one motivation for simply buying a book and giving it is to say, “Wow, I don’t know what all this is about, but this person [who wrote the book] must know something. I mean, they have a book about it.”

Another thing it can communicate is a desire to keep things neat and tidy. If we’re really honest with ourselves we might find something a few layers deeper that’s saying, “I don’t understand this. I’m not very good at all this stuff. So here, here’s a book! That’ll help them, right?”

And neither of those is wrong, necessarily. Buying a book for a hurting person is not unkind; I don’t mean to imply that at all.

But what if we said, “Wow, I have no idea what they’re going through. Here’s a book about it. That’ll help me understand them better, hopefully.” You can equip yourselves to love hurting people! This will give you mileage in communicating and relating with the brokenhearted if you can join them in their brokenheartedness. It’ll help you cry a few more tears for the one who hasn’t stopped crying.

I don’t know if any of you will take this advice. Maybe a few of you will. If you do, I want to thank you in advance on behalf of grieving people everywhere. It will be a transforming step of blessing for them… and you.

October 5, 2009 at 10:40 pm 49 comments

We light a candle…

Last night we lit candles. On the eve of our daughter Felicity’s 2-year homegoing anniversary, our dear friend Barbie read us a beautiful piece she had written. She adapted it from something written for her on the 2-year anniversary of her son’s death back in August.

We lit candles for love, joy, memories, tears, hope, peace, and strength.

I wasn’t expecting this at all, but the stanza about joy was the one that touched me the deepest. I don’t feel like I connect with the word joy very much in my grief. So I was surprised by joy, even as the tears ran down my face.

Here’s what she wrote:

We light a candle for JOY:

For the joy of a wedding;
For the joy of Orison’s birth;
For the joy of Morrow’s sweet life;
For the joy of Felicity’s name;
For the joy in hearts that waited for her;
For her joy in the presence of our God;
For the joy, for the Felicity of our risen Lord.

Happy birthday, Felicity Margaret.

September 22, 2009 at 10:32 am 48 comments

Today is a Re-living Day: 9/11, Eight Years Later

Every day is a re-living day for someone.

Today is a re-living day for so many, remembering the day their lives were changed forever, knowing they would never hear the voice or touch the warm flesh of their husband, wife, mother, father, sister, brother again.

I know that many of us relate to the anniversary of 9/11 by remembering where we were or what we were doing when the news hit us. That is, of course, a normal way to relate to that traumatic news. We do our own re-living of this day when do that.

That was my first reaction this morning when I saw many people Tweeting what they were doing eight years ago when they heard that news.

But soon after that, God brought someone else to my mind—someone I don’t know, the collective “someone” who lost their beloved husband or wife, their treasured son or daughter. This is the someone God brought to my mind today.

We all remember the scenes of chaos we watched via the major news broadcasts. But I want to try to remember that there were people actually experiencing that swirling, smoking, screaming chaos. There were desperate people racing to Ground Zero to try to locate any news about their precious loved one. People dialing again and again into the jammed phone lines, searching for the voice they would never hear again on this earth.

This morning I heard a devotion on Psalm 56:8

You have kept count of my tossings;
put my tears in your bottle.
Are they not in your book?

This is the segment that struck me the most:
The [Hebrew] word for bottle (no’d) does not refer to some small capped jar, but rather to a skin-bottle used for large quantities of liquid. It’s as if David, after affirming God’s awareness of his sorrows, cries out in hope: “Collect all of my many tears in your canteen!”

So for all the families and friends who have cried so many tears of longing and devastation these past eight years, God has a big enough canteen for all of them. They’re all there and known…collected.

I want to be with you in my heart today, marking your re-living day. Some of the tears in God’s canteen marked “Molly Piper” are there on your behalf today.

Read the whole Psalm 56:8 devotion.

September 11, 2009 at 12:45 pm 13 comments

A Chance to Trust: Traveling to El Salvador in November with Compassion International

So there was a little buzz around the Twittersphere this morning when it was announced that I’m joining Compassion International‘s next blogger trip to El Salvador in November.

Most of this so-called buzz was from my good friends, who sent me messages saying things to the effect of, “What???”

So to save myself the effort of having to write back to each of you—Yeah, so… Lord willing, I’m going to El Salvador in November.

el salvador

Okay, the story goes…

A few weeks ago I was contacted by Shaun Groves, who is the Blogger Relationship Manager of Compassion’s blogger trips, asking if I’d be interested in joining this trip to El Salvador in November. I’d followed a couple of their trips through other blogger friends, and been fascinated by the stories I’ve read.

I also thought it was really cool and innovative on Compassion’s part to use bloggers and their influence in this way.

Anyway, back to the story (by the way, this is what it’s like to have a real conversation with me—rabbit trails, rabbit trails)… so that night I mentioned the email to Abraham and our good friend Wes, and they were both really encouraging about my going. I was really nervous, mostly feeling like I don’t have a good enough blog to do something like this. But they persisted, and the thoughts of the trip persisted in my head and heart.

I’ve always felt really intimidated to start traveling down the road of greater global poverty awareness, social justice issues, etc.—mostly because I felt insecure. I’ll be honest about my insecurities and failings. Ready?

  • There’s too much information. I wouldn’t know where to start.
  • There’s always people who know more than me and I’m gonna look like an idiot if I try to join this effort.
  • I don’t have time.
  • I have way too much of my own pain right now.
  • I’m forgetful when I have food and clean water and money for groceries.
  • I might actually have to change if I know more.
  • What if I’m a flash-in-the-pan kind of person? What if I get all gung-ho and then lose steam? (Again, pride telling me I’ll look like an idiot, and me listening to that, instead of to God’s voice.)

But back in the fall, right after Felicity’s first birthday, I was treated by my dear friend Jenna (lovingly known for her quirky online alterego, jennapants) to a concert by Sara Groves, Derek Webb, Sandra McCracken, and others to highlight some ministries doing work with poverty, slavery, and childhood prostitution. I was shaken by it. I remember coming home and asking Abraham random things like, “Do you want to become an abolitionist with me?”

I remember wanting so deeply to get outside of myself for a little while and remember the plight of those around the world who have it so much worse than me.

But it’s been hard. To be honest, year #2 without Felicity has felt so much harder on many levels. A good friend of mine (whose 24-year-old son died a few weeks before Felicity) told me recently, “Year One is the year of shock. Year Two is the year of feeling.” How true that’s been for me.

But in all of that pain, I’ve still felt a tugging and longing to be part of this global effort outside of myself to see change in God’s big world.

I know things like poverty, prostitution, and slavery matter to God. Jesus told us that a cup of cold water matters to him.

So I’m trusting God that none of these experiences and longings have been accidental, that he is indeed doing something in my heart to bring greater measures of healing, bring me to a place of deeper dependence on him, show himself to me in new ways… I’m eager.

I’m trusting him that these non-accidents are going to set a tone for Year #3, the theme of which is yet to be experienced.

I really hope you’ll stay tuned through November and pray me through the trip to El Salvador. I’m really excited to share with you all what God is doing in that little country in His great big world.

August 25, 2009 at 11:24 pm 51 comments

We used to be happy people… I even have proof.

In early September 2007, Abraham and I traveled to Wheaton, IL for “one last hurrah” before our second child would be born.

We left our 2-year-old with my mother-in-law and hit the road in a sporty-looking rental—a highly impractical red Pontiac. I remember we stopped for a leisurely lunch on our way there, and I kept my feet up on the dash for a good portion of the six hour trip to prevent swelling.

While in Wheaton, we distributed books to the college students, compliments of Desiring God (the company my husband works for). We also went out to eat, talked with students, visited with Abraham’s brother and his family and other good friends. We were footloose and fancy-free.

And I was 36 weeks pregnant.

We took this picture of us to email to Orison so that he’d know we were thinking about him and missing him.

We Love Orison

What strikes me most about this picture is how happy we look.

One of the things I’ve been grieving this last year is simply that I used to be a happy person. It used to be that my days were primarily happy, with the occasional interruption of melancholy or difficulty. For the last 22 months, the opposite has been mainly true.

One of my good friends uses the phrase “secondary losses.” I think that’s what this year has been—a whole bunch of secondary losses. The loss of innocence. The loss of happiness. The loss of youth.The loss of simplicity. And when you experience those secondary losses, you grieve.

I look at those two people and truly wonder if that is the same person I see in the mirror each day. I feel like I’ve aged something like 10 years since then.

Today, memories like this one make me cry—hard. We had no idea that we were a few weeks away from one of the worst tragedies we’ll ever face.

So if you’re a mom like me, living without one (or more) of your children, take heart that this is indeed one of the hardest things you will ever live through. But that also means that you lived.

The lines around your eyes will deepen. But that also means you’ve seen. You’ve seen the chaos of pain. Your eyes have and will shed tears for people in their pain that you could’ve never understood before. This is a blessed gift.

Hold on with me. We’re gonna make it. We might not be the happy-go-lucky gals we used to be, but our lives here will tell stories of indescribable loss and the love of a God who made us to be exactly who we are—every line, every gray hair. None of it is wasted.

July 23, 2009 at 12:15 am 111 comments

Grief Resources Over at Family Life

I had the privilege of reading the book, A Symphony in the Dark, a couple months ago. It has now been released, and you can order a copy or explore some of the other grief resources available over at Family Life.

You can also read more about little Molly Ann Mutz, daughter of Jake and Rebecca (nee Rainey) Mutz, and granddaughter to Dennis and Barbara Rainey (of Family Life). Molly Ann lived for a short seven days, leaving the imprint of her life in a profound and beautiful way, forever.

June 16, 2009 at 12:00 am 8 comments

My favorite grief song

I never knew I’d have grief songs, but I do. There’s actually a bunch of them, some of them having nothing to do with grief on the surface.

But since music is one of my love languages, it only makes sense that the most visceral experiences and emotions would mingle with music, something that can be so inexplicable and visceral in how it affects us.

Back in October, I went to see Sandra McCracken in concert. I had always loved her, but after this particular night it was cemented. She played a song called “The Tie That Binds,” written for a friend whose daughter had battled multiple infections of her brain after she was diagnosed with leukemia. The infections caused devastating amounts of tissue death and she’ll never fully recover. This all occurred before her 1st birthday.

The strange thing about it was, I knew the family who the song was written for. As soon as she sang the name “Amelia” I knew it was for a gal I knew in college when I lived in Lincoln, Nebraska for a summer. Her daughter is Amelia.

Enjoy the song, and remember your grieving friend. Pray for him or her. Cry tears for their loss. Bind yourself to them through brokenhearted love.

The Tie That Binds by Sandra McCracken

The sorrow of a friend
From a long way we stand
Grief is second hand
But I’ll send my tears in a locket

Amelia smiles under lights & wires
Thorns for every flower
We number every hour
And live the days we are given

Oh, the pain
It makes you feel alive
Oh, the broken heart is the tie that binds
And I pray to God, these things will be made right

When the morning shines
On tear stained eyes
Oh we shall overcome
The Father gave the Son
To break the curse we are under

Oh the pain that no man can escape
Oh the sting of death, the empty grave,
And I pray to God where comfort has no place

When our tired eyes look through the veil
The colors are so pale but we raise high the sail
And call the winds to carry us home
Call the winds to carry us home.

June 7, 2009 at 7:22 pm 35 comments

I’m 30… finally.

Today is my 30th birthday. Really, I’m cool with it. I’ve felt 30+ for a long time; it’s about time my chronological age matched up with my mental age.

As we reflected last night right after the stroke of midnight, the tears came. It wasn’t about being 30. It was lamenting the change in us that’s happened over the past 20 months. We’re no longer those happy-go-lucky, vibrant people we used to be. We’re haggard and weary and completely transformed. And it happened in an instant.

It’s as though when the doctor looked at us and said, “I’m afraid this baby is no longer living,” that a huge boulder dropped down onto the timeline of our lives, marking the point from which everything changed.

But, like I said in my post-Mother’s Day report, there’s sadness and joy on the same day, sometimes in the same minute.

Like last night. Right after this tearful conversation with Abraham, I popped over to his blog and saw a video that I could watch continually today. Everything inside of me that is joy rises up when I watch it.

And last night, before the tearful conversation, Abraham took me out for a wonderful birthday date. It was creative, surprising, sacrificial… I have an amazing husband.

And tonight is a dinner party with some of my closest friends. I’m really really excited for that.

So here we are again—joy and sorrow, sorrow and joy.

I’m thankful for waking up today to the faces of 3 of my family members. I’m thankful for the loving parents and parents-in-law who love me so well. And sisters and brothers and friends.

It’s a good day to be 30.

May 23, 2009 at 11:18 am 45 comments

Do you want to die this Mother’s Day?

For most of you who read this blog, Mother’s Day is a happy day, full of celebration and laughter as you behold the faces of your children—all your children.

For some of you who read here, Mother’s Day is part-celebration and part-torture. There’s sweetness in the faces of the husband and children who are here. But just about a millimeter away from those joys, a deep and bitter pain resides.

For some of you, there seems to be only torture and (what feels like) everlasting pain. Maybe you’ve miscarried all your children. Or maybe your only child is dead. Or maybe you long for children like nothing else on this earth and you still don’t have any. You probably feel like you’re not a mother. You probably feel like half a woman.

I’m in the second category. For me it’s because one of my children is missing. I have two precious boys, but my only daughter is missing. My little girl is missing.

I suppose “missing” implies that I don’t know where she is. But I do know where she is, I just can’t get to her.

Unless I died this Mother’s Day.

There have been many times when the pain has felt so intense that I was sure that it was going to kill me. And most of those times I thought I would’ve been happier if it had.

But I’m still here. And she’s still there.

So what’s a grieving woman to do on Mother’s Day?

  • Does she just end it now?
  • Does she hole up with her pain and steel herself against love?
  • Does she receive comfort from the Lord as she laments before him?

I want to live in #3. I want you to live in #3. I don’t want to miss one thing that he has for me through this pain.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s a really hard, long road. I have no idea how many twists and turns and bumps there will be. But I see him transforming me along this road of suffering. I know I haven’t been perfect in the transformation—I still fight anger, bitterness, hatred, fear, and jealousy all the time. I still rail against his plan for me.

Paul said this in Philippians 1:

For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two.

Was Paul suicidal? No. He was giving words to the paradox that we live in as Christians. It would be “far better” to be with Jesus today. It would mean the end of the pain, the end of the tears, the end of the loneliness. It would mean beholding my precious baby girl.

But what did Paul conclude? He knew his presence in the flesh was necessary. He knew that God had plans for his life on earth. If God were finished with him, he would depart.

For probably all of us, today is not the day that God will fulfill all of his work in our lives and take us to be with him. As much as we might long for it, it’s probably not happening today.

What convincing do you need that your presence here is necessary?

  • Will a living baby do it?
  • Will a daughter (or son) do it?
  • Will the love of family and friends do it?

I think those things can certainly help, but even those amazing realities will never be what you and I truly need.

In the deepest part of me, I need Christ. I need his presence in my pain with me. I need his strength to carry my burden. I need his forgiveness for my constant distrust of his plan for my life. I need his peace to rest in, all the days I will live on earth, separated from my daughter.

I guess I want to encourage all of the mourners today to press into the pain with Jesus. Just go ahead and let it flow. Not only can he handle it, he’s the only one who can truly handle it and even heal it.

So as I live through another Mother’s Day without my Felicity, I’m going to laugh at the funny parts, cry at the sad parts, and let my love for her flow through all of it. That’s where I have to live this Mother’s Day.

May 9, 2009 at 5:23 pm 137 comments

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