Till It’s Gone

  • SumoMe

My Dad passed away on the 9th of September 2009: 9/9/09. I’ll never forget that date. My Dad meant the world to me when I was a kid. Not only because he was my Dad, he was my inspiration. He worked at the airline and was constantly flying to other parts of Asia, North America, Australia, Europe… everywhere. When my parents bought me my first geographic encyclopaedia when I was eight years old, he would sit with me and point out all the places he’d been to and tell me many stories about those places. I would sit on his lap, look at the pictures, listen to his stories and dream of being there one day. My Dad was my hero.

My Dad & me in Sydney (1984)

My Dad & me in Sydney (1982)

When I was twelve, my parents separated. It was hard for the whole family. My Dad left and that was a hard pill to swallow. At that age, I didn’t blame either my Dad or Mum but I felt guilty because, somehow, I imagined, I might have been the cause of their separation – it was only years later that I realised I wasn’t. Throughout my adolescense, my relationship with my Dad kind of petered out. I moved to Amsterdam to study Economics when I was 19 and I later became a banker. I guess he was a bit disappointed that I didn’t become a pilot. My elder brother became a pilot and my Dad was thrilled. As for me and my Dad, we didn’t have much to talk about for many years. My interest in aviation and my travels kept our conversations going but he couldn’t quite grasp the banking world I was in. I felt hurt about it, like he wasn’t really making an effort to connect with me and with what I was doing. I harboured those emotions for years. The hurt grew into anger and frustration and I tried to pacify those feelings by trying to understand the reasons behind it all. Reasoning helped to a certain degree but my relationship with my Dad was never the same again.

In June 2009, my Dad suffered a stroke. I rushed to Kuala Lumpur to be with him and I sat with him for many hours in the hospital and we talked about many things. We’d never spent that much time together in years. My Dad had a wicked sense of humour and we spent many moments laughing until tears ran down our cheeks. I returned to Amsterdam after he was discharged from the hospital; he was still in a wheelchair the last time I saw him conscious but he was recovering well and he would soon walk again.

A month later, he fell while trying to stand up and went straight into a coma. I remember so clearly seeing him lying in that bed in Intensive Care. I’d just arrived back from Amsterdam. I always cringe when I see hospital scenes like that on television or in movies, but this was my Dad. Somehow, I felt like it was ok. I didn’t cringe. I stood by his side and fondled his hair. I spoke to him, telling him about my flight and the cocky stewardesses on board. The tears streamed down my face but it felt so natural.

I thought I’d slipped into a weird dream

Three weeks later, my brother, sister and I were having a quiet dinner together when my brother’s phone rang. My Dad’s condition was deteriorating rapidly. I got into the car with my brother and we rushed to the hospital. The radio was on and Michael Jackson was singing one of my favourite songs: “You Are Not Alone”. I gripped the armrest thinking, is this it? Why was this song on the radio? Was it some sort of sign? We drove in silence and my thoughts were constantly about my Dad and his past three weeks in coma. He had suffered severe brain damage during his fall and the doctor told us that the chances of him recovering were very slim, that his body was slowly shutting down and it would only be a matter of time. I thought about this, and suddenly I heard the Black Eyed Peas belting out: “Tonight’s Gonna Be a Good Night”… I thought I’d slipped into a weird dream. Was this my Dad’s wicked sense of humour? Apparently, my brother shared the same thought and he turned off the radio.

We arrived at the hospital and rushed to my Dad’s bedside. The alarms from the monitors were ringing from all directions, severely dramatising the moment. I held his hand gently and looked at him. I realised: so what if he couldn’t relate to my profession? So what if we couldn’t talk about anything else but aviation? He’s my Dad and I love him very much. It dawned on me that all the hurt feelings and frustrations I harboured throughout the years were based on my own pettiness. He was always around for me when I needed him and he always supported me with whatever I did. It was me who thought that he didn’t understand me. In actual fact, he did, as a father would his son. His lack of knowledge about banking didn’t drive us apart. It was my mind, that was clouded by my egotistical feelings, that had erected this barrier between us.

As I stroked his temple, I whispered into his ear : “I love you Daddy,… very much. It’s ok to go. I know now what you’ve always tried to tell me. I know you’ve always loved me. And I know I’ll never be alone because you’ll always be by my side”.

My Dad passed away several minutes later.

My brother, sister and I huddled together. We were sad but we knew he’d had a fulfilling life. We would miss him dearly but we were at peace, just as he was.

As I made my way through those emotional months before my Dad’s passing, a line to a song kept popping into my head. The words “Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone” from Joni Mitchell’s ‘Big Yellow Taxi’ turned out to be rather prophetic.

Not only did they tell me that I might live to regret some of my choices over the years, but that regret can stay with us for a very, very long time. Beyond the obvious lessons to cherish our loved ones that death teaches, I also realised how important it is to invest time and energy into working out my differences with people I care about – life is just too fragile to allow lingering differences to hold me back from enjoying friends and family.  I am grateful to my Dad for that final lesson. And to Joni for being the poetic bridge that helped me realise the importance of my Dad’s last lesson.

I would like to take this opportunity to express my sincere gratitude to Janice WaughStephanie DiehlGwen McCauley and Evelyn Hannon for their constant support and for keeping tabs on me during this difficult period. A special mention goes to Gwen who encouraged me to write this story and publish it.

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39 Responses to “Till It’s Gone”

  1. Keith Jenkins 09/09/2013 5:28 pm
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    Thank you Abi! xxx

  2. Abi 09/09/2013 3:18 pm
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    Oh Keith. What a powerful story. I’m choking up now and don’t have much to add except to say thank you for writing it.

  3. adelyn 27/12/2009 7:02 pm
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    Dear Keith,
    While reading what you wrote about your dad, I can’t help but recall the scenerio during his last moments. You have written such a beautiful article. I felt emotional as it really touched my heart. I think I’m learning something here. You were just being honest and made you realized how you felt about each other. Your dad had been the most wonderful and special person in my life and I thank God I got to know him. He had always liked to be himself but with a positive attitude. He loved flying and watching all programmes about aircrafts and the likes on TV. He even said he wanted to see the next FIFA cup. I also felt so sorry for him when the changed management declined his request for extention of service after his retirement as he knew he could still contribute. I noticed that he was very sad and really disappointed with the outcome but he never gave up by trying other airlines. He had always cared and concerned about the family and surely had been proud of his children. I remembered he mentioned about the thesis you wrote and finally started off as a banker, your brother’s promotion and your sister maybe having her own business one day that you all are doing very well and are successful. I am sure he understood you by telling me how one’s culture and life is like over there unlike back home. Truth is, your father had never loved you less, only missed you when you were thousands of kilometers away. Good thing, communication now seemed so easy. He was happy and excited whenever he was able to meet up with his children just to enjoy a meal together. Life is never the same without him but he used to remind me that, whatever happens, life goes on. I will forever remember his high spirits and great sense of humour. Did you say that he might be small in size but had a big heart? It’s so true as he was the kindest man many people knew. My father was also in a coma before he died. I felt guilty for not telling him earlier how thankful I was, he didn’t give the family any problems as he already reached 87. We always took him for granted never asking about his health. He took care of himself, seldom visiting any doctor. I told him on that critical day anyway. I wasn’t sure if he heard me. My father and him were good buddies. They used to drink guinness stout/beer together whenever we came to the house. I miss them both very much. Thanks again for sharing and feeling good about it. Bye and take care.

    Sincere regards
    Ad

  4. Rob 20/12/2009 6:09 pm
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    Hi Keith, Qúe taL?
    What a beautifull story again..

  5. velvet 13/12/2009 11:57 pm
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    That would make a great new year’s resolution! 🙂 Wish you all the best. Thanks so much for your comment.

    Cheers,
    Keith

  6. waitinginthedark 13/12/2009 12:31 am
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    It’s a long time that I didn’t feel moved as I was while reading about you ar your father. I lost mine in 2000 and it was as if the world was stopping. In a very childish way, I thought that my father was immortal, that he would always be close to me. We also had our contrasts, smoothed out over the years. But I know that even when he was not approving my decisions – and this happened many times – he was anyway on my side.

    Thanks for sharing such a personal story. It teached me a lot. About human relations and how they can develop also through the web.

    A tribute to your dad and to you.
    Simon

  7. A Lil Fat Monkey 11/12/2009 3:46 pm
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    I’m totally moved by your tribute to your dad. I’m sure he’s secretly smiling down knowing how much he meant to you, like a father would to his son.

    I can’t help but relate to your story. My father and I have never had a smooth relationship all these years. We’ve gone through so many fights in the past that we’re all wounded and battered by the past. Now, I often find ourselves sitting in the silence with nothing to say to each other. And the moment he does say something, I’d walk away. I find myself feeling agitated. I know I shouldn’t.

    Your story spoke to me that perhaps, it’s NOT him who needs to pick up the pieces and start anew. Perhaps it is I who should stop being petty and give the old man a chance. Perhaps that should be my new year’s resolution.

    Thanks for sharing.

  8. Linny C 11/12/2009 5:17 am
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    Dear Keith,

    What a beautiful tribute to your father. Your grace and courage melted my heart.

    I admire your gratitude for the fullfilling life he lived. There is no bigger gift.

    Wishing you and your brother and sister continued peace,
    LC

  9. velvet 11/12/2009 2:04 am
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    Hi Camilo,
    You’re right. I certainly didn’t expect to receive so many responses. I’m really grateful for the wonderful comments. Definitely gives me something to think about too. 🙂

    Cheers,
    Keith

  10. Camilo Olea 10/12/2009 8:08 pm
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    Keith,

    I’m sure you got so many responses to this post, precisely because of the nature of it. What you SHARED are REAL, AUTHENTIC, human emotions. Theres nothing that catches our attention more than a true, authentic, human story.

    I’m sure you’ll have lots to think about for the next posts to come. =) Keep them human & authentic and you’ll keep getting lots of comments, I’m sure!

    All the best from Cancun,
    Camilo

  11. velvet 10/12/2009 6:24 pm
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    Wow, I’m simply overwhelmed by your comments. I was initially hesitant about publishing this personal story but I’m so glad I did (thank you Gwen & Zoë for providing that final nudge!). A special mention (& lots of kisses, hugs & love) goes to my Mum who left a heart-warming comment. I love you Mum.

    Thank you so much for your beautiful comments and for sharing your experiences of losing a loved one.

    Lots of love & big hugs,
    Keith

  12. Evelyn Hannon 10/12/2009 4:52 pm
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    Keith,
    What you have learned about living and dying cannot simply be taught. Unfortunately, it only comes with personal experience. And even with that personal experience some never grasp the lessons that you’ve so beautifully expressed in this post. You have my admiration and respect.

  13. Janice 10/12/2009 4:19 pm
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    I am a child who has lost a father and a mother of four sons who lost theirs. Loss is a huge challenge in our lives but living and representing our feelings, whether in words, art, music…, helps us live our losses with some comfort.

    Thank you for representing your feelings and emotions so eloquently. It is an act of kindness and generosity to us all that you have.

    Love to you, your siblings and your mother.

  14. Theresa Jenkins 10/12/2009 3:07 pm
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    Keith, its so beautiful and touching. It was great of you to get it off your chest and share it with others. I am sure lots of us would have learned something from it.

    Daddy was a simple man. His love was aeroplanes and flying. Knowing him, he would have tried to understand your banking world. Your sister was in the same boat. Everytime she comes home after having lunch with Daddy, she would say “Daddy still doesn’t know, I am a pastry chef”. To Daddy a ‘cook is a cook’, no difference. I suppose it was easier with your brother as they both have the same interest.

    Can’t imagine he is gone. Although we have been separated for years, in our own funny way, we still cared for each other. It was also so touching to see many of his ex-colleagues, some of whom we have not seen for over 20 years, friends, family and relations at the Wake and Funeral. Lots of people cared for him.

    As parents, sometimes we don’t show how much we care and love you but you can be sure, every parent cares and loves their children very much.

    Daddy died a very proud and happy man knowing he has such great children.

    Love
    Mum.

  15. Sandy Salle 10/12/2009 2:47 pm
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    Keith – I love how you write straight from the heart, it is such a moving story and I have learned so much from you sharing your story. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.
    Sx

  16. LadyExpat 10/12/2009 8:42 am
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    This is my first visit to your blog.

    Thank you for writing and sharing such a beautiful tribute to your father.

  17. Donna Hull 10/12/2009 2:17 am
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    This is a really beautiful, heartfelt story. I’m so glad you wrote it. I’m even more glad that you shared it.

  18. velvet 10/12/2009 2:00 am
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    Dear Camilo, Katy, Jen, Sonya, JoAnna, Joanne & Dian,
    Thank you so much for your lovely comments. I’m really glad I published this story and I really hope it inspires others to cherish their loved ones (where’s that phone? Give them a call 🙂 ) – life is indeed fragile. That’s the lesson I learned and I’m honoured to have this opportunity to pass it on.

    Lots of hugs,
    Keith

  19. Camilo Olea 10/12/2009 12:30 am
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    Dear Keith:

    Kudos on writing this. It takes strength & courage to do so. Showing one’s emotions always takes strength & courage, and it makes us better persons. I’m sorry for your loss, and I perfectly understand your point. My dad and I are similar, very different backgrounds, very different opinions (sometimes), he just “doesn’t get” my world, either… but like you say, I accept him like he is, and I love him just like he is. He has been a great example to me.

    Please receive a big hug from Cancun from me =) Life goes on.

    Like I once saw written into a wall at Palenque, Chiapas (one of my favorite places on earth)

    “Life is beautiful, don’t stop travelling”

    It sure is… and be sure you don’t. 😉

    All the best to you, amigo.

    Camilo

  20. Katy 09/12/2009 11:25 pm
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    Keith,
    This post absolutely broke my heart. I am devastated to hear about your loss, but so happy that you shared this with the rest of the travel community. Just as your dad was a huge inspiration to you, you are an inspiration to all of us.

    Although I have not lost a parent, this post was definitely an eye-opener and made me realize how important friends and family really are – differences or no differences.

    Again, thank you for sharing, Keith. My thoughts are with you!

    Katy

  21. jen Laceda 09/12/2009 8:54 pm
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    Hi Keith,
    I am bawling my eyes at the moment, reading your story. I kept imagining what if this happened to my dad? How would I handle it? How would I feel? Will I ever survive such a heartache? Losing a loved one is never easy. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I’m sure many out there can relate to what you’ve been through, and I hope to be ready when the time comes for me…It’s pretty ironic that Sept. 9 will always mean different things to us both – your dad’s passing and my birthday. And although it seems like they are polar opposites of each other, in reality, life and death should always be celebrated because we all know how fragile we can be!
    Be strong,
    Jen

  22. Sonya 09/12/2009 8:27 pm
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    Your beautiful post about your father is so touching, Keith! Thank you for honestly sharing your thoughts and feelings during a difficult time. I know your writing will help others dealing with their own grief.
    Take good care of yourself!

  23. JoAnna 09/12/2009 8:25 pm
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    What a touching story Keith. I’m sorry for your loss, though I know there are no words that can really say anything. Thank you, anyway, for sharing your thoughts with us.

  24. Dian Emery 09/12/2009 8:15 pm
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    Keith,
    Thank you for sharing this deeply personal story about your Dad. How wonderful it is that you were able to spend some time with him in the last few months before he passed away. It would have been so sad if you didn’t have these cherished moments to keep and to hold into the future.

    I am so sorry for your loss and I will keep this story in mind as I attempt to deal with my own unresolved issues with my 80 year old Dad.

    Dian

  25. TastetheWorld 09/12/2009 7:18 pm
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    Dear Keith,

    What a heartfelt piece. I am so glad to know you and your dad are at peace. I lost my dad this year in a car accident and did not have the chance to say a proper goodbye. I lost my mom a few months prior to dad’s accident and was able to spend her last 3 weeks together. There is no good way to lose a parent but knowing you are loved by them makes those left behind a little less lost.

    Thanks for sharing.

    Joanne

  26. velvet 09/12/2009 5:55 pm
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    Thank you Adam, Amy, John & Vera Marie for your lovely comments and best wishes. I wrote this story more than a month ago when the emotions were still running high and I found it really helped me deal with the emotions a lot better. I was too nervous to publish it then but my friends (who knew I’d written something) encouraged me to publish it one day. I felt that now’s probably a good time, two months after my Dad’s passing. I’m glad I did and I really hope this article helps and/or inspires others.

    Keith

  27. Adam Axon 09/12/2009 5:49 pm
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    It takes a great deal of personal courage to be able to come to terms with your feelings when such raw emotion is still an ever present. It takes an even greater amount of courage to be able to publicise your feelings to the world and it’s a testament for the strong bond you obviously shared with your father.

    My deepest commiserations for your lost and thank you for sharing. Those with similar experiences will gain strength from reading this. The very fact that whilst you’re dealing with great personal loss you’re still helping others is testament to the strength of your character and humanity.

    I wish you all the best during this difficult time,

    Adam

  28. Amy @ The Q Family 09/12/2009 5:48 pm
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    I’m so sorry for your loss, Keith. I’m glad that you find support in your friends and family during that tough time in your life.

    It’s such a beautiful story and such a great honor to your father. I’m sure he is very proud of who you are and who you have become.

    Thoughts and prayers for you!

  29. John 09/12/2009 5:46 pm
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    Keith – like you I had some differences with my own dad and I was with him when he died too. 3 months before then , I had finally managed to tell him I love him after 40 years. It was such a hard thing to do, so I make sure I tell my own kids I love them every time I see them or talk to them on the phone. and I’m happy to say they seem to be able to say the same to me without embarrassment. Talking and touching and sharing are the things that make life worth while.

    You’re right about not letting petty things get in the way – there’s someone I need to call now – Thanks 🙂

  30. Vera Marie Badertscher 09/12/2009 5:20 pm
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    What a beautiful story, and you have been so deeply honest about your life and feelings.
    I thought that I would never survive losing my dad, and when he died in 1996 it was wrenching. He taught me so many things. He was interested in weather and taught me the names of the clouds–cumulus, cirrus, nimbus–and when I see beautiful clouds over the Tucson mountains, I want to show off my knowledge and say, “Look Daddy, cumulo nimbus.” I have never been able to write about it, but all these years later, I find myself telling one of his lame jokes, “as my father would say.” And now I’m in tears, too.

  31. velvet 09/12/2009 4:42 pm
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    Hi Zoë,
    Thank you too for encouraging me to publish this story. I really hope that this story helps others who might’ve gone through/is going through a similar situation; writing about it certainly helped me.

    Big hugs,
    Keith

  32. Zoe Dawes aka Quirky Traveller 09/12/2009 4:34 pm
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    Well done for sharing your story Keith. It is not always easy to do that and yet now you have I am sure you will get untold consolation from that sharing. Nothing prepares us for the loss of a parent and going through that experience is a very personal and unique journey – but it also is a universal story and one that benefits from the telling from an individual perspective.

    As you know, my Dad died suddenly of a heart attack and my Mum from prolonged cancer – neither was easy but sharing the pain helped me and I am sure this will help others… as well as hopefully easing your pain.

    Lots of love – Zoe xxx

  33. velvet 09/12/2009 4:18 pm
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    Thank you Kathryn. You’re so right – a community of friends can indeed make the darkest of times just a tiny bit brighter.

    Hugs,
    Keith

  34. Travelfusion 09/12/2009 4:11 pm
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    Beautiful post Keith, and thank you so much for sharing.

    I haven’t had to endure losing a parent yet but it’s stories like yours that remind me that a community of friends can make the darkest times even a tiny bit brighter.

    I’m sure your dad was very proud of you!

    HUGS!
    Kathryn

  35. velvet 09/12/2009 4:02 pm
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    Hi S,
    Glad it was worth the wait. I did hang on to this story for quite a while and you knew I’d written it. You’re a precious friend to have. Thank you once again.

    Big hugs & lots of love,
    Keith

  36. TravelDesigned 09/12/2009 3:51 pm
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    Keith,
    I have been waiting two months for you to write this. It was MORE than worth the wait!!

    It was kind of you to mention me but, not necessary–I am your friend and I love you and that is what friends do! We keep an eye on one another and help if we can.

    Thank you for finally writing this—I hope you are happy, I am having a snottin’ good cry now 🙂

  37. velvet 09/12/2009 3:46 pm
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    Thank you Dorothee. It was a difficult period but with all the wonderful support I received from my family and friends, I think I can safely say, I made it through and have become a stronger, wiser and more determined person. Thank you for sharing your story too. Really sorry to hear that. Maybe you should write about it too. I actually wrote this piece about a month ago and I found it very therapeutic. It helped me channel my thoughts and emotions and most of all, it provided me with a much-needed outlet to express my feelings. Writing certainly helps in that sense.

  38. Dorothee 09/12/2009 3:32 pm
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    This is such a moving story Keith! Thank you for sharing these very private moments of your life. I’m struggling to hold my tears back as I think of my own dad. He died in 1997 (I was just 17). He had a heart attack and I never got the chance to say goodbye or tell him how much I loved him. Now, almost 13 years later it still hurts to think about him.
    I wish you all the strength you need to get through this difficult time in your life. We are all here for you!

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