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Should our grief be public or private? — 18 Comments

  1. Joyce,
    to say that expressing your grief publicly is unseemly, is like saying that you should be ashamed of your grief. Grieving is human and we shouldn’t have to be ashamed of being human. Yet that is exactly what abusers would want of us.

    The abuser dehumanizes us and expects us to keep this dehumanization, a secret, to be ashamed and to wear a mask.

    I feel sorry for this person who said that to you. It reveals her own shame in grieving.

  2. Joyce, when I was in high school, one of the required “Christian Learning Sciences” courses was, “On Death And Dying,” by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross (sp?). I am SO grateful that I was exposed to the concepts that she had capture, at that time. I have frequently referred to that work during my lifetime.

    Grief is a normal, natural, and “allowable” reaction to a loss. The loss of a friend, family member, spouse, child, addiction, etc…..ANYTHING that holds importance and is lost generates a grieving process. This is something very important on the road of recovery, I believe. Without proper grieving, there can be no steps towards acceptance. Without acceptance, there can be no healing.

    I have often engaged in “public” grieving. The divorce from the exspath created one of the most painful grieving experiences that I’ve had with the exception of the grief that I experienced when I had to surrender my son, Mike, to his choices and disorder. But, public displays of grieving can often be an open door for cruelty to storm through – toxic people see the grief and sense it as a perfect opportunity to drive a dagger of malice into our souls.

    I was 4 months out from the separation from the second exspath and I was in a terrible state of mind. I clearly remember speaking to someone in the studio where I worked, and I clearly remember her saying, “Look, you just have to get OVER it.” Well……yeah, that’s the ultimate goal, of course, but this person had not been robbed, coerced out of, and defrauded of 300K in the span of 2 1/2 years, left penniless and virtually homeless, and hadn’t had her transportation repossessed because her spouse had just walked away from the whole shebang. She had a comfortable arrangement with her spouse and lived her life in the manner that she wished to by indulging in hobbies and so forth. So, her response to my emotional fragility was to INVALIDATE my experiences and insinuate that I was being bitter and emotionally childish. Dammed STRAIGHT I was emotionally childish – I had discovered only 5 months prior that my marriage had been a 100% fraud and only 3 months prior that the exspath had forged my signature to take MY financial investments for his own purposes – whatever they were.

    When you lost your husband in that horrible accident, Joyce, people saw that event as “tragic” because Morgan hadn’t “done anything wrong” to deserve such an end. When a murder victim’s family wails at a memorial, they are comforted and supported because they didn’t DO anything to deserve such a loss. But, for whatever reason, when a human being is grieving the loss of an illusion – financial, emotional, spiritual, etc. – some people view that they are DESERVING of that pain because they “should have known” that they were being defrauded of their finances, sexually abused, spiritually ravaged, etc. And, it’s as bogus as the signature that the exspath wrote. Grief SHOULD be seen as what it is: normal, natural, and painful.

    So, the question of whether or not public displays of grief are appropriate can’t be answered, either way, IMHO. Certain types of people rub their hands together in anticipation of kicking someone when they’re down – so, grieving over the loss of even a fraudulent marriage is their opportunity to put on their steel toed boots and stomp the carp out of someone who’s already emotionally fragile. I have to put out the catfish feelers and determine who is “safe” and who isn’t before I let my grief spill out.

  3. Joyce,

    Personally, it has helped me to “talk” to others about my situation (in whatever format that can help me). Having a family member, my children’s father, commit stupid crimes (not learning from them) has been tremendously upsetting, embarrassing, etc. I don’t know any other person in my close circle of friends, family, etc. who has faced what I’ve faced. We live in an upper middle class neighborhood and believe me, everyone knows about D. It’s not easy for me to go out into the community, being self-conscious about D.’s absolutely FLAWED character. What I have experienced during the past several years has been devastating (that’s putting it mildly). You can’t just “get over” the PAIN because it’s constantly THERE, in your mind, soul, and body. I wish that I had never known anyone like D., having been deeply hurt by my experiences (courtesy of D. and his family-of-origin). It’s unbelievable to me.

  4. Bluejay, the “shame” of what D did to you and your children and breaking the law, going to jail, etc. should be HIS SHAME, but he HAS NO SHAME. I know what you are experiencing in having the “whole world know” about D, but because HE IS BAD, does not mean that YOU should feel “shame.”

    I know that is a difficult concept, I hated it that my “shining star” brilliant son was a criminal, when he could have been with his smarts, ANY thing he wanted to be, but I guess he IS WHAT HE WANTED TO BE, a criminal, a law breaker…just not a successful one. LOL but he believes it is always someone one else’s fault that he does what he does. He even used as a “defense” at his trial (that he made sure we didn’t know the correct date of) that he had been an abused child!!! Poor him that made him murder Jessica. LOL

    Yes, I looked at my friend’s kids and I ENVIED those men and women the relationships they had with those children and the grandchildren, and all I could do was go visit Patrick in prison. So I didn’t want anyone to know where he was or why…I told myself it was because when he got out and came home to live, everyone in the community didn’t need to how his history so he could “start fresh”—like in my county where there are less than 5,000 people everyone doesn’t know everyone’s business and he would be on parole so the sheriff’s office would know and most of the staff and officers there KNOW ME, so there wasn’t going to really be a “secret” I just told myself there would be.

    Blue, hold your head up high, YOU HAVE NOTHING TO BE EMBARRASSED OR ASHAMED OF. Hold your head up high and if anyone says anything, just say, “I’d rather not talk about D, he is no longer part of my life.”

    Sky and Truthy, yep you are totally right, grief IS NATURAL and each of us follows the same BASIC steps, but at different times and the steps do not go 1-2-3-4-5, but 1-4-2-3-2-5-4-2-3- etc. sometimes they change hourly or daily then sometimes we will be stuck in sadness or anger or bargaining for weeks, some people even get stuck there forever. They can’t let go of the anger against the person who hurt them…eventually it becomes like an emotional cancer if they don’t progress.

    Truthy, it really hurts when someone INVALIDATES your pain and grief. Even if that person is not very important in your life, to be invalidated hurts. That is one reason that the online connections are so helpful is that we validate one another’s experiances.

    I had a very traumatic encounter with an individual who beat me and hurt me, and when I told my mother about it, she invalidated me by saying “He told me you would say that” This was a person she usually said about “he would tell a lie when the truth would fit better. He lies like a rug” yet she chose to believe him instead of me. Why? I’m not sure exactly, but I think the purpose (from the look on her face) was to hurt me.

    I had people tell me after a few months that I should get over my grief and move on with my life, and at that point I had PTSD so bad from the high stress level for so long (also nursing my step father through terminal cancer) that I couldn’t even read and these people were telling me to “get over it already”—LOL We should never judge another’s grief or pain. Dr. Viktor Frankl’s book “Man’s search for meaning” which he wrote after 4years in a Nazi prison camp, described emotional pain as acting like a gas. A small amount of gas placed into a container expands to fill the container totally. A large amount of gas in the same container contracts, but fills the container totally. So whatever causes us pain FILLS US. A baby dropping his binkie is in TOTAL PAIN. A woman who lost her son in a car accident is in TOTAL pain.

    Recognizing that your pain is not less than mine, or mine more than yours, that each of us have TOTAL pain from our large loss and we are entitled to grieve as deeply and for as long as we need to. Educating someone about the grief process can help them, but critiquing how someone is doing it is not what I would suggest.

  5. Joyce, absolutely 100% spot-on: pain is pain, and grief is the expression of that pain. I know that I have been so immersed in my own pain to such a degree that it became a “comfort” to me, at some points. When I type that it was a “comfort,” it’s in the context that I knew that I was in pain and I knew how I would feel when I woke up, every morning. I knew that the pain would be all-consuming. I knew that the pain would be there and it became more of an obsession than grief, after a time.

    This time around, I acknowledge the pain and grief – all of the emotions and feelings that were generated by the betrayals, I gave heed to all of them. But, when I was able to see that it was getting out of control and overshadowing everything that I needed to do – pay bills, teach a class, interact with other people, etc. – I literally compared my experiences (the facts, not the feelings) to what other people had suffered, and were going through, and it helped me to keep my experiences in perspective. I kept telling myself that this was only temporary and that it always could have been worse for me.

    When people devalue my feelings, emotions, or experiences, it is hurtful. Some people don’t realize that they had done that, and others took pleasure (or, glee) in it. I am SO cautious about sharing my feelings with people, anymore, because I don’t DESERVE to have my feelings invalidated or dismissed by ANYONE. None of us do!!!!

    Each individual grieves in their own way. Some cry aloud and really let it go. and my personal belief is that this is proper and acceptable AND healthy. It gets that emotion OUT into the open and releases so much tension and stress. “I grieve privately,” is kind of dangerous-sounding because it suggests to me that someone believes that they don’t deserve to express it and, therefore, feels that they must hide it or choke it down.

    I dunno…..I know I’m a mess when I’m in grief, and I’m not very comfortable in expressing it because I mistakenly believe that I’m “inflicting” my emotions on others. This is something that I’m working on and it boils down to my personal shame-core.

    GREAT discussion, Joyce.

  6. Truthy, yes we “show” grief in different ways but essentially the feelings are universal. The denial, the sadness, the anger, the bargaining, and hopefully eventually acceptance.

    Years ago when my grandfather died and I guess he was the closest person to me emotionally then, I was about 30, and one night I woke up in the middle of the night JUST FRACKING ANGRY AT HIM FOR DYING. LOL At the time I didn’t understand that was part of grief, and a normal part, but once that anger at him, which I know is NOT logical, he didn’t intend to die or want to die, he got killed in a car wreck. But once I experienced the anger, the acceptance came.

    I’ve seen many people who never really made the acceptance stage…I do know though that like all the other four stages, you can get to acceptance and then BACK SLIDE into other feelings, but it seems that each time you reach the top of the acceptance hill, you get to stay a little longer there and eventually you stay there and stop back slilding.

    Once in a while I will be telling some tale about my grandfather or my daddy or my husband and I will tear up, but it is not “sad” tears it is “sentimental” warming tears, actaully a good feeling. If that makes any sense.

    With my grief over Patrick being what he is, I did a lot of bargaining, after the denial, and with the denial, and also deep sadness, frustration, and when I realize he was PROUD of his crime (he told me he was) It was like he hit me in the face suddenly with a bucket of ice water…and I was stunned, then I went through the whole process from sadness on, and quickly reached acceptance. Now that I have been NC with him for several years, the sadness, disappointment etc. are gone, and truly I feel “nothing” for him except I know he is dangerous. Just like if I had a poison snake out to get me, I know it is stalking me to the best of its ability, so I live cautiously and take precautions to make sure he can’t “get me” and I know I will have to do those things as long as I live or he lives…but I have come to accept that fact, I can’t change it, so I’m starting to be “logical” about it, but it is there, just like a wolf waiting to catch me off guard and throw me into the “spin cycle” like it did this last parole preparation period, but I finally got myself under control and am working hard on decreasing my stress, my fears, and to take care of ME emotionally as well as physically. I know that it is a life long process, and before I thought when you “got over” grief or were “healed” that was IT–you had arrived, but now I know that is not the case, so we must watch for “triggers” that might set us off, know ourselves and keep up with how we are feeling, be mindful. Live in the NOW. It is an ongoing process. We can’t “rest on our laurels”

  7. Joyce and Truthy,

    I have had so many god-awful experiences because of D., it bothers me that they’re in my memory bank. Like my sister said, you want to get him out of your head (which is so true). I’ve heard from other people, telling me about some of the things that D. has done, and frankly, I don’t want to know any more. My kids’ dad is an unscrupulous man, plain and simple. He uses his charm (and other people skills) to lure people toward himself, taking from them what he supposedly wants. He has zero conscience, empathy, a walking shell of a human being. D. is living on a superficial plain of existence. I take his shenanigans personally, especially if it affects someone that I personally know (excluding his family-of-origin family members).

  8. Bluejay, I can identify with the spath’s behaviors and taking them personally when it impacts people that we know, but that’s how they remain in our heads. What I mean to convey is that I am not responsible for whether or not people that I care about fall prey to any spath that I might know (or, suspect). Even if people ask me, I try to answer them with questions that might cause them to literally THINK, instead of “feel.” If that door can be cracked open, then the person can either see what’s behind that door, or not. But, I can’t be responsible for the well-being of others. I can hardly tend to my own well-being. LOL!!!!!

    Getting to that point of disallowing a spath or any toxic person to take up space in my head doesn’t require much, anymore. 😉

    And……..I can’t believe I have internet access! Off for chicken-tractor adventures!

  9. Bluejay, The thing about other people telling you this “gossip” is that whatever they are doing it for in their own mind it is to keep the DRAMA RAMA going at YOUR EXPENSE.

    My best suggestion to these people is when they START, and you realize they are going to talk about D, IMMEDIATELY hold up your hand and say STOP! then go on to say “I REALLY DO NOT want to hear about D or anything the man has done, he is my EX husband and I no longer care what he does. I am NOT responsible for him. Please do not ever bring his name up again. Now, how’s your son’s sports team doing this summer?”

    Now I know that may be difficult to do the first time but as you do it to people who INSIST on bringing up these things as gossip, it will get easier.

    Those people are playing a game of “Oh, ain’t it awful?” or the might be playing “Let’s see Blue jay squirm” but whatever it is, most of these people are not even well intentioned. What they are doing is very impolite as well as intrusive into someone else’s business.

  10. Bluejay, Joyce is 100% spot-on. Even people who truly mean well get caught up in the drama/trauma and it is a personal imperative to set those boundaries up, ASAP, and anyone who crosses those boundaries does NOT have your well-being in mind.

    I think that, for me personally, I didn’t know how to set up boundaries, to begin with. But, add the fear-factor of a deep shame-core to that and “boundaries” was something that applied to nations in border disputes. I was so NEEDY that I literally “allowed” people to misuse and abuse me.

    Here’s an example that happened BEFORE I started the counseling therapy:
    * Studio employee is going on vacation. She approaches me, a volunteer, and asks me to cover some of her hours.
    * I agree if she will cover some of MY hours.
    * Studio employee leaves a detailed list of tasks that she should have taken care of, herself, before leaving for her vacation.
    * I do them, with minimal complaining.
    * Finally, it occurs to me that SHE was STILL being paid for hours that she wasn’t even there (part-time position w/ no paid vacation, etc.) and was paid nothing, in return.

    Now, why did I even agree to that? Because……I wanted to be validated, valued, appreciated, accepted, approved of, and NOT left out, abandoned, discarded, dismissed, disliked, etc.

    Today, if someone were to approach me with the same request, I’d respond in a completely different manner: “No effing way unless you pay ME, up front, for the hours that I’m covering for YOU.” Does that make me selfish, OR does that set a boundary that MY time, effort, and presence is worthwhile?

    When someone speaking to me begins a sentence with, “Saw the female ex-con the other day. She said that exspath is…..” I stop the sentence before they can finish it. Why? Because I don’t NEED to know what he’s doing, where he’s going, whom he’s scamming, and so forth. I NEED to attend to ME, first and foremost. And, any news that the exspath might be “happy,” or in a “new relationship,” only FUELS my resentment. I know that he will never, under any circumstances, be truly “happy.” He’s incapable of it. And, any “new relationship” is to be pitied and prayed for – he’s a PREDATOR.

    So, Bluejay, there are a couple of reasons that people do this. Well-meaning people don’t necessarily intend to create drama/trauma – they may actually believe that we’re interested OR that we should be following the spath’s examples and “get over it.” Then, there are those people who literally THRIVE on the misfortune and misery of others. This isn’t a monetary gain for them, but an emotional rape and act of soul-sucking. They do it to HARM.

    Set those boundaries and be firm as all hayell about them. And, don’t let a fear of being “disliked” or dismissed enter in to the picture. This is strictly business – the business of recovery. I don’t have to be nasty about cutting people off. Joyce’s words are pretty close to the ones that I’ve used, myself, and I took the emotion OUT of the equation and delivered the response as a firm statement, NOT a request or demand.

    “I honestly don’t care about what exspath is doing, so I don’t want or need to know, thanks.” No anger. No desperation. No begging for understanding. Just stating a fact.

  11. Truthy, you are right, BOUNDARIES of how we let people behave toward us are necessary…we wouldn’t think of letting a strange man we’d never met come up and kiss and hug all over us in the Wal Mart…LOL and if one tried to do such a thing, we would SET A BOUNDARY on the spot. Yet, we allow others to take unfair advantage to us and we “feel bad” if we tell them in no uncertain terms that WE DO NOT WANT TO HEAR ABOUT THE X or other person who has wounded us.

    I had little trouble before I started my healing process in setting boundaries for people outside my “circle of trust” which was close friends and family. But within my circle there WERE NO BOUNDARIES and hence those who wanted to, there were several, would walk over me at will.

    I’ve probably told you guys this before but a “friend” who mooched off me and I actually let her and her husband come here to the farm to live rent free, though I really didn’t want them here with their two pit bulls. I knew she was a cleptomaniac and would steal anything not nailed down but I “gave her another chance” and one evening I CAUGHT her in the ACT of stealing, red handed, no way to deny it.

    Then for three long days I wept and cried….doo you know why? because I was afraid I HAD EMBARRASSED HER!!! BY CATCHING HER STEALING.

    But the good side is that those three days put some iron in my spine and I decided then that I needed to start setting some boundaries, so I told them that they had two weeks to find another place and get off the farm. Nicely of course, “This just isn’t working out.”

    They didn’t even ask me “why” because they KNEW WHY. Funny thing was, if she had asked for what she stole, I would have gladly given it to her.

    They left a semi-trailer load of “stuff” in “storage” here and when they failed to come get it when given a 6 month window of time to get it, son Michael and I went through the stuff, sorted and kept a few things, threw the rest away, and found all kinds of stuff they/she had stolen including a box of Michael’s high school pictures and such, an apron of mine, some cooking pots, and other different stuff, books, movie DVDs etc. None of which they were using or needed.

    It is important that we set boundaries about how we will ALLOW people to treat us. Now my boundary for people in my circle of trust is “lie to me about anything” and we are DONE. Over, gone, that’s it. Those people in the circle now all know that if I ever catch them in a lie to me or in any dishonest behavior, or illegal behavior, that we are over. No more chances.

    The people outside my circle, I do not GIVE trust, they must EARN it over a period of time by being honest, kind, hard working (not a mooch) and caring. If they are not all these things, I do not need them in my circle.

    We will always meet cons, dishonest people, liars and thieves, but the point is that we can SET BOUNDARIES for these folks and not allow them into our circle of trust. By keeping them at “arm’s length” or no contact even, we keep them from harming us at least emotionally.

    I expect that people keep their word or have a darned good reason (not excuse) of why.

    So setting a boundary with people who want to “tattle” or “gossip” about anyone or any thing is well within your rights, just as you would set a boundary for the strange man who tried to hug and kiss you like a lover. You have EVERY RIGHT to set boundaries.

  12. Joyce and Truthy,

    Thanks for the advice. We all have known some real doozies in our time, eh? In the end, it is about being true to yourself, taking care of yourself which requires setting limits (boundaries) around ourselves, what we will or will not allow. I appreciate your input, advice.

  13. Blue, Truthy and I and Skylar have all three had weak boundaries for most of our lives, at least with our family members, so you are NOT ALONE in feeling shame for what he has done, or thinking about others laughing behind your back, etc. But we CAN learn boundary setting and one step at a time, set those boundaries. I can’t tell you it will be EASY, because I know it isn’t when we are raised to “keep the peace” and play “nicey” so we won’t hurt anyone’s feelings…but you are right, healing is about taking care of ourselves and our children if we have any, it isn’t about what others think of us or what our abuser did.

    The mantra in our family was “what would the neighbors think?” I lived by that mantra for most of my life, but now I do not give two hoots and a holler about what the neighbors think, I know the TRUTH and that’s enough validation for me. Of course with Patrick I have to keep my ear to the ground because he is still dangerous to me and my other two sons, but with the other abusive people I have eliminated from my life, I don’t even want to hear about them,

    I know you have to co-parent with your x and your younger kiddies, but even that can be done without much if any contact with HIM.

    Hang in there girlfriend, you have made a lot of progress in your healing. God bless.

  14. Grief is individual and different for each of us but there are aspects of grief that ARE the “same”

    Over the weekend, I went to my 50th high school reunion and reconnected with a high school friend whose huband had been killed by a drunken driver 27 months before, and we shared our feelings about suddenly losing our mates….she is still deeply grieving….and she talked about how people tell her “it’s time you get over it” which only made her feel worse.

    I understand fully her loss of a mate you dearly loved, and I can empathize how deeply she is wounded. The man who killed her husband by driving drunk only got a “slap on the wrist” and that poked a stick into her gut.

    Here’s a nice article about how we comfort ourselves http://www.huffingtonpost.com/katherine-fritz/here-is-what-you-do-when-you-are-grieving_b_5335021.html

    • Joyce, what a great link!

      I think that the discussion of “grief” and “grieving” is extremely important – whenever there is a loss, there is grieving, and experiencing the multiple losses associated with an offender MUST be processed in a healthy manner.

      I had no idea how many losses I would experience when the expsath left – I lost so many things, and I ONLY “understood” the grieving processes because I had actually studied “On Death And Dying,” by Eliz. Kubler-Ross in high school. Which, oh-by-the-way, I think should be a required course for all high schoolers! LOL

      At any rate, grieving is most certainly an individual experience, but the processes are unilateral – we all experience the same steps, and we can sometimes get stuck in one of the steps.

  15. Joyce,
    The link and this discussion are both valuable in our healing journey.

    Grief IS the first stage of acceptance. We cry when realize that we are helpless over our loss. The expression of pain over this powerlessness is grief. Since the psychopath’s intent was to cause us grief, he thinks that he has won. But then we reach the next stage of acceptance and we grow from it.

  16. The father of the young man known as the “virgin killer” is to be on television on Friday with Barbara Walters talking about his “living night mare” that his son was a mass killer.


    Many times “society” blames the parents of such offenders, thinking that they should have done something to stop it ahead of time.

    My heart goes out to this father, not only losing his son, but to think about the terrible thing this self centered young man did. Though the “whole world” didn’t know my son was a cold blooded killer, I too grieved for what he had done.

    I hope that by taking his grief publicly that this man will find some solace and peace. God bless him and comfort him is my prayer. No one suspects that their son is going to do something so horrific, no matter how self centered they are. This young man had some “mental problems” but he was not I think “insane” I think he knew exactly what he was doing and why. His narcissistic outlook kept young women from being interested in him, but he blamed THEM for his problems and his rage built because he felt ENTITLED to have them throw themselves into his bed.

    I knew Patrick was a thief, but I never once thought he could have killed anyone and even after he had done so, I still couldn’t accept that he felt no remorse, that this time he WOULD change. It took a lot to shake me out of my denial, and when I stopped denying he was a psychopath it was very very painful…and I know this man must be in deep deep agony over the crimes his son committed, including killing himself before police could arrest him.

  17. I just found your site. Thanks for expressing in words what I am feeling but can’t seem to express. I have an incarcerated family member and am fairly traumatized and it’s been a year and a half now. The trial took 1 1/2 years prior to that and was very public and humiliating leaving a trail of newspaper articles that anyone can look up any time. Articles that even contain untruths about me unrelated to the case but salacious enough to sell more newspapers. I didn’t read them, but was told about them all of the time by people wanting to know more. Early on, I found there were many who wanted to “help” me “as a friend” in order to satisfy their curiosity. I found contact with neighbors became unbearable because all they wanted to know was more information about the incarceration, how was life in the prison system, and eventually they stopped seeing me as a person, but somebody related to this interesting scandal that they needed to know about. Since it was so public, they all had various opinions on my life, and seemed to feel some compelling need to tell me how to live, what to feel, without ever listening to me. I became the crime even though I had nothing to do with it. I no longer felt like a person. Nobody understands my feelings or the intense grief I feel over the “death” of my former happy and promising life. I miss the happy days spent with my family without this constant “thing” in the way. There are no other convicts or felons in the family. I do my best to carry on but I am devastated. I can’t talk openly as then people “the vultures” feel that it’s ok to bring up the topic whenever they want from then on. I have even had others who seem interested in me, when actually they are interested in learning of some sordid gossip about the situation.
    The latest “guidance” I received from a religious leader was that my “anxiety, shame, and fear” comes from “satan” trying to prevent me from moving forward. Yes, that will surely make me feel much better to know that my anxiety and diarrhea is caused by the evil one. I have the “devil-diarrhea”. The cloven hoof caused high blood pressure. Nobody but you can understand the constant barrage of cruel things coming my way, even by well intentioned morons. So I thank you for your post and your kind words. You are helping more people than you know and have validated my feelings. I appreciate the kind service you are providing to those of us who never thought in a million years we would be facing this kind of life problem.

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