Category Archives: Faith journey

An Address Served by Prayer

Eileen's angel

Yesterday’s email carried this message from my brother, Bruce. I know just how he feels:

I finally started my holiday preps by digging out the Christmas cards and printing out my Christmas database lists. As I begin the task, I am suddenly brought up short by Dad’s name and his address at the Chateau. After Mom died, I always sent him a card to help him keep the holiday spirit, and I continued that after he moved to Sacramento. I always sent the card to him at the Chateau, and sent his gift to him care of Betsy.

Seeing his name reminded me of this annual rite, and forced me to acknowledge once again that he has moved on, to an address served only by prayer. Momentarily, I felt guilty about deleting the entry, as though he would be dying once again, taken aback. I thought about leaving it alone. Then I felt his presence in my heart and knew he would want me to move on, and remember him in the uplands of heaven.

In the end, I deleted the entry, along with the one in my cell phone. Merry Christmas, Dad, and thanks for raising an optimist.

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Seeing, Believing, Remembering, Trusting

St. Ignatius San Francisco

Yesterday my friend and mentor Jim sent me a short email: “Giving thanks for your Dad’s life tomorrow. HUGS.”

It didn’t surprise me that Jim would suspect that this is a time of reflection for me.

January and February were always hard months for Dad. I expected that he would ultimately pass away during one of those barren months. But each year with astounding speed, daffodil buds would proceed inch-by-inch out of the ground, quince bushes would blossom into their full fuchsia glory, and tulip magnolias would burst into flower. And Dad would say, “I think I might make it after all.”

This spring, finally, he didn’t. But as the spring roars along, I am grateful that Dad is at peace. And I am comforted by the memory of his smile (that “big ass” smile as I so indelicately put it during my remarks at his memorial) a few hours before he died.

I awakened this Easter morning fully aware that, finally, Dad has moved on.

By happenstance, my husband, Todd, and I were in San Francisco for the weekend, which gave us the opportunity to attend church where someone very special to us is the new pastor. Fr. Greg Bonfiglio, S.J., former president of Jesuit High School, was slated to lead the 9:30 Easter service at St. Ignatius Parish in San Francisco. The many pillars of the church were festooned with garlands of flowers, decorated with pots of yellow narcissus and encircled with large bouquets of forsythia.

Commenting on the gospel, Fr. Greg described how Simon Peter had arrived breathless at the tomb and peered in. Only when he saw the cloth that had covered Jesus’ face did he believe that Jesus was no longer there, and had risen.

“Seeing really is believing,” Fr. Greg said, “but this is a different kind of seeing. This is the kind of seeing that is open…”

I still struggle with faith and questions of what happens after death. My blog posts are full of questions. But in my father’s last hours, I saw him in communion with someone he loved. By the time he died, the journey of his last few months affected me in a visceral way and led me to greater openness in resurrection after death.

On the day he died, my brother Dean and I told Dad it was okay for him to go, that we would see him again, and that we would be fine. I had to let go and stop trying to prevent Dad from dying. I had to trust God that He would care for him.

“Seeing” leads to believing, and believing, to trust.

Fr. Greg Bonfiglio

Fr. Greg Bonfiglio


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A time to every purpose under heaven

My brother and niece

When my father talked about the death of my sister, Midge, he often went on to describe the birth of my brother, Dean, not so many months later. “It was as if the sun came up,” he said.

After a loss, how it heartens us to see a fresh generation behind us, revitalizing our faith in life and our hope for the future.

Last weekend, I ventured to Minneapolis (brrrr…) to see my niece Eileen become a bat mitzvah.

From the moment my brother, Dean, and his wife, Gwendy, met Eileen — in a Holiday-Inn sized hotel room packed with 10 adoptive parents, six children less than a year old, and eight caregivers, she stood out from the crowd. She was the only one who didn’t cry as she regarded the two people who would take her home, love her and raise her. When Dean and Gwendy brought her back to Seattle in November 2000, it was just a year or so after Mom died. At the time, I wasn’t quite ready for Mom’s name to be attached to anyone else. But Eileen is the perfect inheritor of her name.

My brother Dean made these remarks to her as she took on her role as an adult in the Jewish faith:

When I see these characteristics growing within you, I am reminded of another person I deeply loved: my mother and your namesake, Eileen Driscoll Campbell. I see your determination and focus; your love of God, family, friends and life; your fun-loving spirit and lively sense of humor; and your ability to see and embrace the goodness within others, and I realize these are the same qualities I loved within my mother. I wish that she had been able to know you, because I know she would have loved you as I do.”

Jewish people know a few things about love and longing, and that includes their traditions for remembering those who have died. I loved this bit from the mourner’s kiddush section of Shir Tikvah’s prayer service:

Grief is a great teacher, when it sends back to serve and bless the living… (E)ven when they are gone, the departed are with us, moving us to live as, in their highest moments, they themselves wished to live. We remember them now; they live in our hearts; they are an abiding blessing.” — p. 294, Mishkan T’Filah 2007

Grief is a great teacher, and I am its student.

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Blessed by God

Prayer boat by Lynn Fawcett Whiting

When I spoke to my cousin, Lynn Fawcett Whiting, on the evening that Dad died, she told me she had just sent the following email to me about sending up a prayer on his behalf. Dad died sometime in the hours after she performed this lovely ritual:

When we were children, maybe you did this too.. we sometimes made bark candle boats with our mother to put on the lake at sunset to send our prayers to God.  This afternoon led by that little girl I found a piece of bark and carved a hole in it for a candle, and lined it with wax and muslin. Henry and I wrote our prayers on washi paper with gold leaf and folded them in Japanese love knots and placed them in the bark boat. We then made our way to the National Wildlife Sanctuary on the Snake River where countless thousands of birds are wintering over… Wild swans, snow geese, Canadian geese, Mallards, Teal.. ducks of every variety, cormorants, coots, .. not only heard our prayers but joined our plaintive cry and called the landscape to prayer.. as the sound of a thousand wings lifted in the brilliant light of the setting sun and carried our prayers to God.  The message was a simple one.. Everyone who has known or been touched by Henry Campbell has already been blessed by God.

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My Back and Forth Faith


Last Sunday, I shared how generally pissed off I was with God. If I learned anything from marriage counseling a dozen or so years ago, it’s that arguing isn’t a bad thing. In fact it’s healthy. It’s how you argue that matters. Do you argue to hurt, or to be heard? Do you listen as well as assert?

On Christmas, Maureen Dowd published a column about losing her friend Robin and Father Kevin O’Neil’s meditation on dying.

I underlined two of Father Kevin’s phrases in particular:

“A life of faith is often lived ‘back and forth’ by believers and those who minister to them.” and…

What I do know is that an unconditionally loving presence soothes broken hearts, binds up wounds, and renews us in life. This is a gift we can all give, particularly to the suffering.”

Back and forth, that’s me. At times in my life, I have felt the presence of God directly. I have asked him for what I want and need, although perhaps he heard the longing of my soul even more than my words. And He answered. At other times, we have been estranged. And recently, we’ve been fighting.

Although it appears Dad is not going to rally – as he has time and time again – he is comfortable, and I am settling in to his new reality and mine.

As friend Jim says, “So glad you are ‘turning it over’.  Remember, the descent (which I prefer to call the path to ascent) is like going down steps of a stairs.  Sometimes one by one, and sometimes several.  Nothing you can do about this but be present and loving.  It is nature and his human body with his spirit trying to discard it so it can move forward.”

A prayer, then:

Help me, God, to be fully present

Help me to feel calm so that I can calm my Dad

Help me to radiate so much love that it warms him to his toes

Help me to support the others who love him on this awful journey

Help me to understand

Help me to love

Help me

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Keeping Watch Through the Night, with Faith

Screen Shot 2012-12-24 at 7.38.35 AM

[Updated] I felt very dark in my faith two days ago, shaken, as I watched Dad’s discomfort while he prepares to transition from this world. And I wrote about it on this blog. But as I have said before, “Team Henry” doesn’t just support Dad. It supports me. And three of my most stalwart supporters responded with long and thoughtful emails. They meant a lot to me, so I am posting them here for the world to stumble across. I don’t think I’m at a place of peace and acceptance yet… maybe closer to Jim’s, “Well, dammit, Thy Will Be Done.”

My best and oldest friend, Ellen, the one who “saved me” with her friendship after we met by the lockers in 7th grade, sent this:

When Dad was dying, and he was in the hospital for the first time, and he was terribly paranoid, it was the first time I had ever seen my dad afraid, the first time he was not the strong one in our relationship. I was shocked that he could not access his faith to comfort him on some level. I remember trying to say the 23rd Psalm with him, pulling up the words from some deep memory: “Yea, though I walk through the shadow of death, thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.” I didn’t see it working. Where was God?

After he died, I had a crisis of faith. What good is faith when it’s not there for you at the end? Where is God in those moments? Is there a God? I don’t know…

So, some things have become apparent to me, and maybe they are apparent to you already, but I would feel better trying to share them with you.

One realization I have had in the passing years is that the life cycle of everything includes decay of some kind. As a being nears its end of the cycle, parts of it start to fall apart, or wilt, or stop working. A plant changes how it looks. It goes to seed. It starts to turn brown. It’s leaves begin to fall off. It’s the same with people. We all wear out towards the end. It’s the way we are made.

Unfortunately, there does seem to be pain with this change. Maybe plants and trees and animals feel some pain as they change, too. Who knows? If living is about learning and growing and developing and becoming, then there is all of that in the dying process, I guess. Maybe the pain is a part of the change process helping us become whatever we must be for the transition.

I also have spoken to people and read things that have helped me to begin to have a smidge of understanding about what is going on physiologically, especially in our brains. Maybe the deterioration, or the pain, or whatever, makes it hard for us to access the prefrontal cortex, the seat of logic and reason, and where faith probably lives on some level. If so, it’s sad that we find it difficult to hold onto that which could give us strength and solace. Add in a potpourri of drugs, and it must be even harder to access faith from a logical or reasoning place.

We are all afraid of that unknown that dying is. I am afraid of the steps to dying, the pain I have watched others experience. The agitation. I am afraid of how my death will hurt those I love. Am I afraid of what happens after I die? I have friends who believe nothing happens, and then I know those who believe that if we have been good enough, we go to heaven. I don’t believe in hell.

That weekend that Mom died Lynn told me about Eben Alexander, a neurosurgeon who had a near death experience and wrote a book about it. The title is “Proof of Heaven,” and I have since read the book. I can’t say it was fabulous, or that it changed me or even answered all of my questions, but it does seem to be reassuring in the fact that there is a heaven of some kind, for all of us, that is it another dimension of our existence.

I do not want you to have to go through the process of losing your dad. I think this pain is very hard, and on the heels of losing Mom, I would not want anyone to have to go through this. I do not want you to have to carry around the sadness that I am carrying, even though we both know it will ease some as time passes and we become accustomed to carrying this weight. I know having these experiences with death, and losing those that are so much a part of us, it shapes us, adds dimension to us, affects our path forward.

I have cried out to God, too. I have had my faith rocked. I have been there. I would wish you some peace instead of angst. I would hold you, and cry out with you, and be your mother, and friend, and sister, if I could. I love you, dear one.

And my friend and mentor, Jim, offered insight and practical advice (in bullet form!), as always. (When he refers to “his” 34-year-old father, he is speaking of his role as a hospice chaplain in Kauai.) From Jim:

  • God is with us, actually inside each of us even when we do not sense it, and remove enough of our own clutter and misgivings and pain to be fully conscious of divine love inside us.
  • God doesn’t have a dossier on each of us that reads how long we will live, how we will deteriorate, whether you get cancer or I get Alzheimers. We are spiritual beings having a human experience, and that experience is governed by the natural order which is haphazard, and evolutionary, and our individual biological destiny gene defined more than most anything else. But the soul was, is, and shall be.
  • It’s perfectly natural for us to wonder how a loving God could allow this or that, but fairness as we want it to be does not come with free will and nature.
  • I have asked for most of my life, “Why did you set it up this way God?” In my dotage I have come to accept that I will get an answer…I will see and understand only when my spirit is set free from my human experience.  Meanwhile, I have to trust, have faith in God’s unconditional love, and try to be a loving other in the world. And to be perfectly comfortable in having a fit from time to time about why it is this way — why my 34 year old father of three kids is dying of brain cancer, or my lady in the Alzheimer’s unit is so very lost.  Very hard to accept that we are not in control; that we have to ultimately turn it over to the embrace of the Divine.  Meanwhile we care for each other in the fullest sense we know how, offering love and our own broken heartedness with the words of the Christ  “Thy will be Done.”  You can even go so far as to say, “Well dammit, Thy will Be Done.”
  • I am sure you understand the chaplain was asking the question so he could get a sense of where your Dad is both spiritually and religiously so he can approach your Dad accordingly.  What the chaplain’s job in this team is, is to do anything he can to help your Dad have peace of heart and peace of mind. Sometimes this is expressed in religious language; often not.  Your Dad does not have to have all the answers to all the questions right now. He needs heart connection because that ultimately answers the unanswerable questions and ensures him peace of heart and peace of mind so he can release. Whether he connects in any way to a traditional notion of God, he sure does to your Mom and he wants to go and be with her.  So for him, there is a there there, and he has his heart set on arriving.  Leaving is generally harder than entering, for each of us.
  • Turn all your mixed feelings over to Divine Love.  Literally, write each one on pieces of paper; put them all into a bowl or pot.  Take a lighter and burn the scraps safely and as you do, tell the Divine to take care of this messy stuff so you can take care of your Dad and your self.  Each moment now, even the most gritty ones is precious. HUGS

And this, from my beautiful cousin, Lynn:

You are in my heart during this time of unbearable agony.  The Love you are feeling is God. Everything even the agony is part of that love. This is your path now… with your father. You are meeting it. Valiantly. You are supported. You are not alone.  

Is it possible for you to lie beside your father, maybe holding his hand, without words, and breathe together with him…  when you breathe in,  breathe in Love, when you breathe out surrender all your feelings to God/Universe, just let everything go.  Continue to breathe with your father’s breath and in that stillness you will feel God.   I love you, Lynn

[Updated] And more from beloved Jim:

Sometimes at the ICU or Emergency rooms, I encounter folks who are facing the worse — a loss that they wish were not so.  While friends and loved ones gather, no one can truly cut through the individual despairing that is happening.  Yet the presence of others is a comfort because it reminds those despairing and bracing for the worse that they are not alone completely, although the comfort does not abate the broken heart.

The same with God when we cry out for very understandable reasons, “Why are you…make it better…make it stop!”

Yet the presence of the Comforter is there deep inside whether we recognize it or not.  Not unlike what the Christ felt on the Cross when he said, “My God, My God, why has thou forsaken me” — that profound sense of broken heartedness that comes to us humans.  Yet God was there, and cut through what seemed like an ending and made it a beginning.

Turn it all over to God — see if you can make your cries personal — for me I have to talk to Christ Jesus, or the Holy Mother, or the Holy Spirit whom I equate with the female aspect of God.  I just ask them to be present with my loved one, to help them ease across that bridge over the river of life, to hold there hand in a way I no longer can, and open their inner eyes to what Steve Jobs saw at the moment of his death and exclaimed, “Oh WOW; Oh WOW”

Death will be your Dad’s final victory, Betsy.  HUGS

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Dear God, You and I Need to Talk

Dennis Armstrong, the Sutter Hospice social worker who comes by after you’re 24 hours “in service,” asked me, “Does your father have a faith or belief system?”

It’s complicated. You see, Dad says conflicting things. On the one hand, he says that he wishes he could believe in God but he doesn’t. On the other, he has talked about seeing Mom after he dies. And about how God let Mom down when she was dying. “I’m afraid,” she said at one point in her illness. If there is a God, Dad wondered, how could he abandon her in her moment of need? I’m sure he was also flashing back to losing my sister, Midge, to leukemia at four years old. He used to talk a lot about the pain of losing Midge. It’s even harder to understand God’s hand in that one.

My beef with God is different. I understand that it’s really hard work getting born into this world; I have the mental scars from back labor to prove it (thanks, Maddie). I don’t think it’s fair to work so hard to get out of it. Why do people have to become feeble and go through pain and discomfort before they make their exit? Did God figure that people would just hang around too long if it was pleasant at the end, and end up overpopulating the world?

I realize my own relationship with God is a little iffy right now. I usually talk to God when I go to bed. I thank Him for the amazing people and things in my life, and I ask him for what I want and need. Releasing Dad has long been a prayer of mine.

But I’m a little bit pissed off this morning knowing how tough things are for Dad right now. I’m working on it, God, but I really don’t understand how this is such a great plan.

An old family friend, Bruce Wheeler, shared a favorite Bible quotation of his: Rom 8:31 “If God is with me who can be against me?”

Are you with us God?


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Summoning Angels

Perhaps the worst losses are the ones that we don’t expect: the children who die before their parents, the young mothers or fathers whose lives laid ahead of them, the mothers we expected to be in our lives for so much longer.

With these premature deaths, we wail with no less intensity than the mourners of ancient Rome, albeit through all the ways that we communicate now. Whether poured out in text messages, or emails, on Facebook or by telephone, it is awful to behold, and worse to feel.

With the loss of my “other mother” in October, I find myself compelled to unpack some Christmas decorations that I haven’t displayed in years: my mother’s angels. Back in the 50s and 60s, my mother collected small angel figurines that she displayed on a bed of “angel hair” (spun fiberglass) that glowed from the string of tiny white lights beneath. Each was lovely, but one in particular stood out: a small girl angel, clad in pink, rosy cheeked, curly haired, head bowed, hands clasped in prayer.

Angels weren’t just a symbol of Christ’s birth to my mother; she had her own little angel in heaven. Before I was born, my sister, Midge, died of leukemia at the age of four. I don’t remember seeing obvious signs of grief in my mother or father during my childhood. But much later, after my mother died in 1999, Dad poured out his heart to me. He repeatedly slapped his palm against his forehead as he described her calling out to him from her oxygen tent in the hospital, “Daddy, help me.” “I couldn’t do anything,” he said, “I went out of the room and pounded on the wall. I couldn’t do anything.”

In the past few weeks, I have borne witness to and experienced that stabbing kind of pain that comes with unexpected loss: the continuing fallout from the death of a young mother to alcoholism, the sudden loss of a joyous and loving young father, and my “other mother,” Miss Ann.

My other mother’s family gathered to make her favorite foods and set the table just as she would have, harvest colored candles arrayed on her heavy brass serving tray. My friend who lost her childhood buddy to addiction wrote a eulogy filled with beautiful stories of her wit and strength. My friend who lost her brother, the young father, raises beers to him to re-enact the fun times when they met at the Whole Foods Bier Garten. These moments were nothing like scenes from a TV drama in which survivors look beautiful while they delicately weep in their time of grief; they were – and are – red-eyed, snot-riddled affairs where people try to do something, anything, to make a terrible reality less terrible.

In reliving traditions – even privately – we summon the people we have lost, the people we feel we should not have lost. Are we hoping that their ghosts will be with us as we go through our rituals? Do we imagine that they will be near as angels, hovering over our lives? I think my mother imagined Midge as an angel, captured in the likeness of the little pink-clad figurine.

Caroline Kennedy, who knows a few things about grief, devoted a chapter to death and grief in her lovely collection of poetry, She Walks in Beauty (Hyperion, 2011). Among the poems was this excerpt from “To W.P.,” by George Santayana:

With you a part of me hath passed away;

For in the peopled forest of my mind

A tree made leafless by this wintry wind

Shall never don again its green array.

Chapel and fireside, country road and bay,

Have something of their friendliness resigned;

Another, if I would, I could not find,

And I am grown much older in a day.

But yet I treasure in my memory

Your gift of charity, and young heart’s ease,

And the dear honor of your amity;

For these once mine, my life is rich with these.

And I scarce know which part may greater be —

What I keep of you, or you rob from me.

Those who lose someone too soon know what it means to grow older in a day, and to feel robbed by the loss of someone who died before we were ready. As I pull out my mother’s angels, one by one, I call her: “Mom – whether you are angel or ghost – be with me.”

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Saints behind me, saints before me

I’ve just come off one of the more emotional weeks in recent years, a trifecta of challenges. A big part of it, as I wrote last week, was being in my hometown during the sudden decline and passing of my “other mother,” dear Ann Palmer of Tacoma, WA.

As sad as I am about her death, I feel inspired by how she lived, and so very grateful that she was a part of my life. Today was All Saints’ Sunday, and I attended services at my home church, St. Andrew’s Episcopal, which Ann and her family began attending in 1964 and my family began attending after we moved to Tacoma in 1969.

Fr. Martin Yabroff invited the small (but energetic) congregation to imagine that we are all runners rounding the track in an Olympic sized stadium filled with cheering saints. In the Episcopal tradition, these saints aren’t just the martyrs and miracle workers we hear about; rather, they are the people in our lives who inspire us and cheer us on. “We are not alone,” Fr. Martin said. Our stadiums are filled with people who have inspired us.

I know my Mom is in that stand, and someday, perhaps not so long from now, my Dad will be there, too. Ann and her husband, Terry, who passed away in 1998, is also there. “Others have been through terrible times,” Fr. Martin continued. “God wipes away tears. We shall persevere just as they did before.”

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Singing Mama Home

In the initial weeks after my mother was diagnosed with cancer in 1999, I wanted to comfort her as she drifted in and out of lucidity. I remember sitting quietly by her bedside at the hospital, holding her hand. My first instinct was to try to sing to her since, all through my early childhood years, so many of my memories were accompanied by her singing. But confronting her impending death, I couldn’t sing. Each time I tried, I choked up.

Music was, and is, inextricably linked to my attachment to my mother. When I was a little girl, my mother would tuck me in and sing me our family lullaby, “Jesus Tender Shepherd.” She would turn out the lights, and leave the door ajar. Through the crack in the door, I heard the murmur of our settling household. But instead of sleeping, I often lay awake. After a half hour or so, I’d get up and tell Mom. Again she would sing,”Jesus Tender Shepherd,” turn off the lights, and leave the door ajar. Sometimes, there was a third or even fourth cycle before she became completely exasperated.

In my mother’s twilight moments, I wanted to bring that comfort to her. For several weeks, I continued to try to sing to her. And one day, I found I could do it. As agonized as I felt while watching her slow departure, I finally had the control to sing. I sang that childhood lullaby then, and later when we celebrated her life.

This past weekend, my ‘other mother’ completed her journey on this earth. The family, and those of us who are extended family, didn’t see it coming. But her medical setbacks turned from a trickle into a cascade, and finally into a flood that she could not overcome. And yesterday, I found myself by her hospital bed with my best friend and her sisters and brother, trying to find a way to comfort my ‘other mother’ as she did the hard work of letting go.

That afternoon, we had attended a vocal choir concert by the Adelphians of the University of Puget Sound, which they ended with their traditional finale, Stephen Paulus’ “The Road Home.” I started crying as I listened to the lyrics:

Tell me where is the road I can call my own, that I left, that I lost, so long ago?

All these years I have wandered, oh when will I know, there’s a way, there’s a road that will lead me home?

Rise up, follow me, come away is the call

With love in your heart as the only song

There is no such beauty as where you belong

Rise up, follow me, I will lead you home

After wind, after rain, when the dark is done, as I wake from a dream in the gold of day

Through the air there’s a calling from far away, there’s a voice I can hear that will lead me home.

Rise up, follow me, come away is the call

With love in your heart as the only song

There is no such beauty as where you belong

Rise up, follow me, I will lead you home

Hours later, reflected in the hospital’s dark oval window, we gathered around an unquestionably beautiful woman who had loved us, chastised us, teased us, cheered us, cried for us, and stood up for us. My best friend, her daughter and I sang “The Road Home.”

As I remember it, just as we finished, my friend’s sister noticed that something had changed. Mama’s hand felt different. Then she didn’t take that next breath. She was gone.

Our quiet vigil was interrupted by a rush of awareness, then panic and confusion. Filling the void came the impulse to sing. And what came to mind was the lullaby that my mother sang so often to me. This time, I could sing it, joined by my best friend. We sang Mama home.


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