Birthdays~

Chuck threw me a huge birthday party for my 50th.  To be honest, our daughter, Rachael-Grace, helped out with it quite a bit, but it was lovely.  A dear friend, who died the year before Chuck, baked a red velvet cake.  My friends were there from all walks of life.  Our kids were there; it was a memorable 50th.

Life changes quickly, and the following year, for my 51, we were just beginning our new life on the road and Chuck surprised me with a trip to Graceland.  I’d always been a huge Elvis fan and he knew this would be a huge hit. As it was.  I didn’t have any idea where we were headed until I saw the sign that said Memphis.  We stayed in a hotel that had framed Elvis pictures in each room, a guitar shaped swimming pool and Elvis music playing throughout the grounds. All songs which I knew and Chuck got such a kick out of me singing along with them.

One of my earliest birthday memories, after Chuck and I married, is the year he took the time leading up to my birthday to get my address book and ask everyone in it to call me on my birthday.  He also alerted his family and friends.  I spent the day answering our, yes, land line phone, and hearing Happy Birthday, Alison!  Chuck made my birthdays so special, every year.

My next few birthdays were spent on the road; I don’t even remember where. What I do recall is that I spent them with him, hiking and exploring the USA.  We had all the time in the world together and that was the greatest gift of all.  With lots of wild and crazy birthday sex.

The last great present I received for my birthday, my 55th, was the news that Chuck’s first cancer had been eradicated numerous surgeries.  He was cancer free, with really really really good odds that it wouldn’t return.  God, did we celebrate…I knew a cancer survivor! and that cancer survivor was my beloved husband.

I’m 59 today.  Chuck has been dead for 4 years.  Fucking cancer got my cancer survivor after all, and my birthdays have never been the same.

I know, I know…I can hear it now.  But you must celebrate you! You must grab life and savor it and live it!

Here’s the thing.  I know, because I’m a smart, loving person, that I must allow our kids to celebrate me. I must allow my friends and family and all who love me, to celebrate me. And I do and it means so much, especially since Chuck is no longer here to wrap me in his arms and plant a huge, lonnnngggg kiss on my lips, leaving me dizzy.

In just the past month, I’ve received 2 gifts that touch my heart in the only ways that matter:  I was reunited with my younger sister, after many years of estrangement, and my wee grandson, Owen Charles, was born.  Each of these huge events touch my heart.

But there is a loneliness that goes along with my birthdays in the years since Chuck’s death and that’s just a fact of life.  It’s the new world that I live in.

So, today, here in the Ozarks, at the opera camp, on my 59th birthday, living a life I’d never imagined or planned for (emotionally), my gift to myself is telling each person that I meet that it is my birthday and I want hugs.

I want hugs from every person who comes within my radius today. Hugs, hugs and more hugs.  All the love that comes with those hugs is what keeps me going, and my heart expands with each hug.

And that’s what I ask of you, too.  Anyone who is reading my words today.  For my birthday, your gift to me is to hug people you meet along your way today.  Stop for a minute, share some time with them, connect with them, and don’t leave them without hugging them.

And maybe, whisper a word to Chuck, whether you know him or not, that you’re all looking out for his girl.

Thank you.

Happy birthday, me~

 

From the Depths of my Soul~

 

My dearest love, my beloved husband.  D.

It’s 4 years since you and I drove to the ER at Eisenhower Medical Center in Palm Springs.  It is now 4 years since you and I began our final Happily Homeless travels, travels that began on a sunny May day in NJ in 2009, as you got into the UHaul truck with the few of our belongings that we’d kept after the sale of our home, and I got in our car, having just signed the papers and closed on our house, and we headed west to drop those few things into a storage unit in Indiana and visit with your mom for a few days.

And then we headed south and west and our adventures began.

We had our last 4 years together traveling the USA, hiking trails, climbing to the highest heights, discovering history at our National Parks, visiting family and friends, gazing upon views I only ever thought to see in books.  I pushed boundaries I never thought to push, and we fell more in Love each and every day, rejoicing in the times it was just us, far away from responsibility and distractions.  Just us.

Life and reality hit hard with your first cancer and shocked us and horrified us through all the surgeries you had to endure, but endure you did…we did…and we didn’t let it stop us.  You came through it and we continued on.  You were a cancer survivor.  I’d never met a cancer survivor before.  The big C was a disease that had already taken so many from me, and I cried when I realized you…my beloved husband…you were the one I got to keep.

Until this time 4 years ago, when I took you to the ER, your breath raspy, your body doubled over in pain, your face creased as it had never been before as you struggled to maintain some sense of self.  For the first time, though, you couldn’t hide it.  You couldn’t reassure me any longer.  I knew the truth of what was in front of us even before you did.

These 4 years of widowhood, my emotions wouldn’t allow me to write to you.  I haven’t been able to speak to you.  All I’ve been capable of saying, as I’d look up at a night sky glittering with stars, out on my own travels across the USA, is…I love you.  Find me.  I don’t know where you are.  You find me.

I still can’t speak to you, but I need to write to you.  I need to force my fingers to type words to you.  I need to vomit words of pain and grief that you, my beloved, are gone from me.  Have been gone from me for almost 4 years now.  Speak to you of my anguish and horror as I watched the cancer decimate your strong body, watched the drugs muddle your mind even though we tried as hard as we could to minimize those drugs, wanting you to be as present as possible.  You were insistent on that and I wanted to honor your wishes even as it added difficulties into a confusing time.

There are those who say that power shouldn’t be given to memories such as pour from my heart and mind and soul; memories that deepen grief and pain and loss, but I disagree.  The very few weeks we spent, 4 years ago now, as test upon test occurred, as I watched you lay in a hospital bed, as our kids gathered, as you and I found tumors exploding in every limb of your ailing body, as doctors spoke to us of cutting edge treatments that sounded impossible to me, because I knew…I knew…on that very first night in the hospital, your time on this earth was so limited that there was no time no time, to even attempt such treatments.  I watched as if outside my body as I spoke to the social worker, begging him to tell me how to tell you that we had no time.  How do I tell my husband, this man who is my life, that it is time for us to find a hospice, that we must prepare as best we can for the impossible and unbearable time of his death?  How do I tell him that there is no time for treatment without him thinking that I want him to die?

And then going into your room and telling you that I will do anything you want to do I will make it happen I have your back but I don’t think we have time and I think we need to find hospice. 

Gazing at your face, D, in those moments, as I stifled my sobs through the words I had to speak to you…the look on your face is sealed into my being forever.  A few very quiet ticks of the clock passed and then you took my hands in yours and you said okay.  And I sobbed more, and we spoke of the magnitude of this, and we began to realize that we were saying goodbye to us, and you said how you would miss us more than anything else in your world.

You signing the papers that would admit you into hospice, the ambulance ride, the 3 weeks of multiple hearts breaking as the cancer gnawed at your body and ate huge chunks of who you were, you staring into the mirror, a look of confusion in your eyes, striving to recognize the narrowed face and sharp nose of cancer staring back at you and me taking your face in my hands, gazing directly into your eyes and saying you have been my hero you will always be my hero…god, every fucking moment of horror and drugs and breathing machines and treatments and doing slow jogs through the family gardens to work off my shock and anger and despair and every other goddamn physical emotion roaring through my own body…and returning to your room and your side to offer you all the Love that was in my body and soul, all the Love that you’d given so freely and willingly to me in our 24 years together, your vow of Love that you spoke, the vows of Love that I spoke, on our wedding day that we lived and honored and grew, every day that we had together and apart.

How can I not honor and remember our final days as we stumbled through the halls of hospice and spoke words to one another that I can’t remember?  How can I not honor every painful and loving and sacred moment of those moments that lasted for 3 weeks and for eternity all at the same time?

These almost 4 years later I remember, and I honor those days and I honor you and me and us.

“I remember the night.  I remember the sound.  I remember the light, when the moon came ‘round.  The night flowers bloomed, the air so sweet.  I remember you. I remember me. “ (Sara Watkins)

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Do NOT Do This~

*This is a public service announcement from the world of widowhood*

Don’t do it. Don’t be a widow. There is no lonelier feeling in the world than being alone in the world without your person. It blitzes your world into pieces. Emotionally. Physically. Financially. Logistically. Practically. Holistically.

I realize you don’t actually have a choice about widowhood; if you’re one of a couple, one of you will live this. But I’m telling you; it will suck the very life from your bones, it will shred your heart…unless a ridged metal glove with spikes on it rips it from your chest first, and then slams it to the ground and hacks at it with a rusty axe blade, before putting it back in your chest along with a meat slicer that…oh, yay…works REALLY well, with really sharp blades, and continually slices away inside of you.  And this is after counseling and therapy and yoga and meditation and every other thing you can think of.

And you’ll be alone in the world. Even though you will have people (hopefully). But people have their own lives, which is right and good and proper and as it should be. What that means for you, however, is that your heart and chest will fill with words with nobody to hear them (unless you talk to yourself, but it isn’t the same, is it?). And you’ll go to bed alone every night, possibly in a bed but oftentimes on a couch even if you have a bed because the back of the couch at your back somehow feels more secure. You might wear a shirt of his, even though it no longer bears his scent. You might rest your head upon his pillow, and try to feel a connection to him by doing that. You don’t really, but you pretend that you do.

You’ll sleep restlessly through the night, waking and sleeping on a repeat cycle, and then wake up alone in the morning to face a day that might be very busy, or it might be filled with shit to keep busy..it really doesn’t make a difference; you still breathe his absence no matter what you do.

People might think, but not say so because they’ve gotten smart enough not to, but you kind of feel the unspoken words, that you’re a bit unbalanced because they just don’t get what this shit does to a life. And they might think that you’re just feeling mighty sorry for yourself because you actually ‘fess up to the reality of what widowhood really is and you refuse to lie about it, but hey, people will think whatever they think. But you aren’t crazy. Your life was incinerated, is all, and you just can’t seem to get your shit together, no matter what you fucking do, no matter how much you fucking try. Not because you’re incompetent. Not because of anything, really. And you don’t feel sorry for yourself; you just feel shell-shocked as you look at the world around you and realize that you recognize nothing in it. Sometimes, if you’re lucky, people WILL get it. They might even ask you about your world and what it feels like in it.

And you might wish that people who have only known you as a widow, when you’re not near the person you were… might have known you when you laughed freely and felt passionate about life, and words tripped from you and there was a lightness of being about you and you were clever and had a great sense of humor and oh, boy, did you smile a LOT every day, and remember how you loved to dance? ..but they never will, so the only woman they know seems, in their estimation, just a bit off her rocker and, hey, is it safe for her to be around kids? and you just have to let that go because that woman you were is as dead as he is. And I guess maybe you DO seem crazy and unreliable even though you are more reliable than ever because of, you know, all the shit…but, you know…whatever.

So, all of which is to say….don’t be a widow. I don’t recommend it at all.

*end of public service announcement*

The Pulse Beat of Love Over Everything Else…

I have to remind myself, as many of us do, I expect, that this widowhood is, as I learned in AA, a matter of progress, not perfection. Because I, for one, consistently seem to expect more of myself than is realistic. By which I mean, I continually scan my body and mind and heart to see where I am in this grief and why I’m not further along, even as my mind tells me to stop such nonsense and lays out all the reasons why I need to stop such nonsense.

Still it continues. But I’m getting better at just letting it be and not gauging my grief by anyone else’s grief.

So…progress, not perfection.

In the months after Chuck died, I remember writing on my personal blog about an issue that arose in terrible ugliness while he was in hospice. Without getting into gory detail (because family issues are rife at such a time for many of us, I know), what I’ll tell you is that in the 2nd week of our hospice time, which was the week before he died, I was told by his daughter that he’d asked her to be his medical advocate. Instead of me.

Because my career was in hospice, death/dying/grief were fairly regular topics at our dinner table. Chuck and I had done all the paperwork of wills, advanced directives, etc. I’d written particulars down on a piece of paper so that I’d have an easy reference sheet.

Once he and I went on the road, and most especially after his first cancer, he and I spoke even more frequently about such matters, clarifying our individual wishes. I was as clear on his wishes and desires as he was with mine.

The day previous to being informed of this matter, he and I made a personal pact: whatever he needed, I had his back. I recall him holding up his pinky finger (which he’d never, ever, done), indicating for me to do the same, wrapping mine with his in pinky swear. I promised that I would have his back and kick ass and take names as needed. It was intensely emotional.

And then the next day I was told what I was told. And, no, as implausible as it sounds, I never questioned him about it. I believed that, if I did, it would further agitate him because he’d feel caught between me and his daughter and I would not, would not, would not, add to his agitation.

There were many comments and actions in his hospice time and the weeks and months after his death that pretty much sent me over the edge, and, though I don’t wish to be overly dramatic about it, the added trauma seeped into my bones and marrow.

What I recognized even amidst the devastation of this conversation with her was that my husband had needs to be met in regards to his daughter and it was my responsibility as his wife, as the woman who loved him, to ensure they be met to the best of my ability. It wasn’t necessary for him to articulate those needs to me; after 24 years together, my instincts regarding Chuck were sound….so I stepped aside, I stepped back, and gave space to his daughter.

Now, lest you start crowning me with halos, let me quickly disabuse any notion of saintliness or such nonsense on my part. I struggled every day and night with the decision I made to step back and was talked through it every day and night by my sister, who called me daily.

However, because I’m not a fucking saint, stepping aside as I did, though done with and for love for him, also raised in me a sense of helplessness and rage…and rage while in the insanity of grief is what I felt when I lifted the cover of the box he was in for his cremation and it horrified me that this was my last feeling for him, when I’d never in all of our years together felt such an emotion towards him.

Today’s EMDR therapy took me into the depths of that rage and helped me delve more deeply into the layers of it. I realized that Chuck’s supposed request of her to serve as his medical advocate made me feel betrayed; clearly he must have thought me to be weak and incompetent and incapable of handling his illness.

The reality is that I don’t know what he said to her, if anything, and whatever he said, she heard what she needed to hear and ran with it, due to her own issues and agenda. Chuck and I were square on everything and I suppose, as I think of it, that’s a good part of why I was able to step aside, even as I craved more time with him.

The biggest revelation for me today was this: in our hospice time I loved him even more perfectly than I’d ever loved him. Even as the cancer consumed his body, I made his final few weeks about life and living for him. I encouraged his Air Force buddies from around the country to visit him and made sure he had alone time with them. I encouraged numerous of the men he’d sponsored in AA to come from Jersey to California to bring him meetings and meet one on one with him for final sponsorship and so that he could say his final goodbyes to them, and that very important aspect of his life.

I advocated for him every minute of every one of those days and I made it all about the love he’d brought to so many and most especially to me. And he died knowing how much he was loved.

Death is, in the simplest of circumstances, I believe, traumatic for those who witness it, who bear the grief of it afterwards. Which is not to say we ought not to witness it; I’d do every big and small thing again and again. But memories and words and anger and pain from emotion-wrought times seep into the marrow of our bones and become trauma and it gets carried through our bodies and into our hearts and minds, even as grief swirls around and through us.

If Chuck were here, he and I would have a conversation about what happened and he’d clarify to me what he said to his daughter and we’d work our way through it, as we worked our way through all issues. Ultimately, he would tell me how proud of me he was for what I did and how I did it, and he’d thank me and tell me how much more he loves me, even now. That is the man he was to me for 24 years and that didn’t change in hospice. He spoke highly of me to his friends and co-workers through all of the years of our marriage; his pride in me and his love for me, shone brightly, always.

Grief is indeed a matter of progress, not perfection. We put our own pressures on ourselves even before the world does, to be more, to be better, to be different. Trauma sets into our bones and we may not even be aware how it simmers into that progress and chokes it until it chokes us so that we can’t breathe.

There is a sense of relief in me after today’s therapy. Perhaps as I consider the revelations of this consciousness, the tide of trauma will wash out to sea and the soft lapping of the love he left behind for me will become my pulse beat.

This man I loved more than my own life…he left so much love behind for me. How I miss him with every pulse beat. But maybe now, as I allow the trauma to wash through me and out of me, this grief will have cleaner lines to it.

Maybe this is where the twin sides of simple grief and love can now dwell…with love becoming the stronger and mightier of the two…10685434_807833169271619_169846425441466326_n

YOU~

Today is my birthday.  Its my second birthday without Handsome Husband.  I’m 56 in regular years, but…its my second birthday without Handsome Husband and that number  holds so much more power than my actual years of being on this earth.  The day, the number 56, is means nothing to me, which I realize probably sounds so very depressing but to me is neither one thing or another.  It just is what it is. But don’t stop reading-there is more to it, I promise.

See that massive hole in the ground  in front of you that is so huge its cavernous?  That hole appears to be all black volcanic rock, broken up with sharp and brittle gaps separated with what seems like bottomless crevasses between them, stretching down, down, down into nothingness.collageThe bottom is invisible  from the top. But if you could see the bottom and you looked closely, somewhere maybe around a 1/3rd of the way from the bottom, there is a barely discernible figure, clad in, surprisingly but it’s why you can make this figure out at all…yes, pink. It’s a woman.  On her back is a clearly very heavy backpack and her feet are clod in climbing boots.  Her hair is matted to her head with sweat and her fingers are red and cut from grasping the rocks for leverage and to keep from falling backwards into the blackness.  If you could see her eyes from that distance, you’d see that their cornflower blue is clouded with devastation and loss but sharp with determination.  She doesn’t look up; her eyes are trained directly on the rocks in front of her.  It’s a slow climb, as she must continually pause to gather her strength and take a gasping breath.

She’s in survival mode.  It uses up everything physical, everything emotional and everything spiritual and mental that is in her to raise her foot one more time to lever herself up one more rock.  And you know what?  Its okay.  She’s a sweaty, devastated with grief, FWG and its okay.  She isn’t sad about being sad, she is just doing what needs to be done.b2513ddfbf608eb4ebc36d9f2712dfb2

Would you like to know what keeps her breathing?   Study this~

d178be5975dab55c10a98ddaa6c9c73dThere is a quote that says there is a crack in everything.  That’s how the light gets in.

You, my family, my friends, my fellow Tabbers, my military family, my Second Firsts family, my angel sisters of Tapestries of Hope, my SOTF, my Glampers, my faithful blog followers, my fellow widows, met and not yet met-all of you who are my community.  You are the cracks.  You are the ones who are letting the light into my heart and soul and you keep me climbing those black rocks.  Out of the darkness.

What else is there for me to say on this birthday but thank you?  From me, and I know, from Hands0me Husband, who would hug each of you individually for the love you are giving to the woman he loved more than himself.

I bow my head to you in acknowledgement.

 

A One Year Dance~

Grief is an emotional, mental, physical, gut-wrenching, life-changing, soul-shattering, struggle.  Grief is endless nights  of cat-naps but blessed relief if unconsciousness actually happens so that the missing-ness can temporarily recede into nothingness.  Grief is getting up one more day and appearing normal on the outside (not because you’re trying to appear normal but because you just weirdly appear normal in spite of)  while the insides, right behind the eyes and right underneath your skin, are churning with the debris brought ashore by the tsunami that killed your life.

Is that over-stating it?

Family begins arriving today.  Our niece, Stephanie, who has been busily traveling the world, comes in from California, her first port of call after months in SouthEast Asia.  Tomorrow Fireman Nick and SugaPie fly in from Connecticut.

The reason?  Monday marks the one year point since Handsome Husband died.  Each stroke of the alphabet as I type that three-letter number slices into me.  The cognizance that one year just passed doesn’t make this time more painful to me; it makes it only more surreal to me.

Friends will join us at Bell Rock in Sedona, Arizona on Sunday for a ritual to remember Handsome Husband.  Not everyone will be there-life interferes with no accommodation for sadness.  My step-daughter has 2 children to tend, with the attendant school and care issues so she’ll adjust the time difference (she’s in Vermont) and remember from afar with us.  Our NJ peeps, Bruce and Mary Ann, and so many others there…same thing.  All around the country, they’ll be remembering with us.

Words fail me (in spite of how much I’ve been writing recently).   At some point grief reaches such a saturation point that there is nothing left to say and silence falls.  I think back and remember this happening when my brother and mom died.  After 6 months, after 1 year, what is left to say?  It becomes repetitious.  I’m sad, I’m grieving, I’m desperate, I’m lonely, I can’t stand this life, I’m lost.  Understandably (but no less annoyingly) the general public starts to look at you and think “depressed”.  Cue the threatening music.

Grief is so much not depression and to name it that is condescending and dismissive and it also leads to the easy fix of medication.   (No, I’m not dissing medication as a personal decision.  I keep homeopathic remedies on hand to help me through the worst of it;  I’m just not going to get myself involved in prescriptive medication).   By its’ very definition, grief means a lack of.  Lack of focus, lack of sleep (though sleeping too much also happens), lack of joy, lack of patience, lack of most of what used to be.

Primarily, lack of the one who died.  Lack of their love, lack of their touch, lack of…them.

And it takes time to adjust, time to build a new life, time to find your feet underneath you so that you can build that new life.  Not one year, very often not two years.  Whatever time it takes.  You can’t just lay about and wait for it to happen though.  You have to get out there and do it, in spite of.  Which I’m doing.

Grief is a seesaw of emotions and not because emotions veer back and forth.  At least in my case, I’ve found that my emotions are fairly stable, in that there is nothing but pain as a baseline.  It’s a seesaw because we must search out balance again.  We must plant our feet in the middle of that seesaw, moving our weight from side to side until both ends level.  Not an easy job in any way.

On Sunday, at Bell Rock, I’ll play music  to celebrate Handsome Husband and we’ll all dance and I invite you, dear readers, wherever you are, to join us at 3 pm and dance your own dance.  Dance with us as we remember a man who touched our lives, and touched so many lives because of us.  Dance with me as I shout my love, and defiance of the death that took my most beloved husband from me last year on April 21.  Dance with me and our kids and our family and our friends and shout out your love for those who left you behind but also left so much love behind.

Dance it out.  Shout it out.  Love it out.

It matters.  IMG_8964

The Why of My Currently Lived Life~

One year ago at this time, the nightmare of coughing and pain in the lower back and trying to figure out what was going on took us into the hospital and then hospice, as cancer was diagnosed and Handsome Husband and I realized this was the end and time moved faster than it ever did and yet slowed to a crawl.

We (me and our kids) documented every moment of that time, in the words we wrote and in pictures we took  Yes, the pictures are incredibly intimate and, both then and now, they can send pain coursing through you.  I know that.  I knew that at the time.  How could they not?

But look closely at the pictures and see the pictures in the words.  Do you feel the love that coursed through us as we took those pictures of one another as we took him walkabout through the hospital corridors, or sat with him or tended to him?   Yes, death was approaching but the real happening was love and that fairly glowed.

We had friends and family all around the country, texts and phone calls coming in faster than I could respond and my voice mail would fill up and we knew everyone wanted, needed, to be a part of this ongoing final time and I was okay with that.  We didn’t hide anything.  We weren’t going to hide death.  It would have been so easy to do that.

Our culture tells us to be positive and upbeat and look at the bigger picture and be happy.  Illness and death are uncomfortable and mostly we like to shuttle all of it into the hospital behind closed doors and once death happens, family members are given a few weeks, maybe a couple of months and then just please get on with it.  Most certainly don’t talk about the death, especially while it’s happening.  Don’t show me your grief afterwards.  Come on, be positive!

When my husband went into the hospital, and then into hospice, yes, it was horrifying, it was ugly in so many ways, it was every word you can imagine and it was beautiful because of the love and we weren’t going to hide it away.   It made some people uncomfortable and they didn’t need to look.  But it was life and our grief that is still so raw is life and I wanted to shine a light on, well….life.

My heart and my mind are re-living those moments of last year, as are our kids and all who loved him and so yes, I’m sharing again those words and pictures in a retrospective on our face book page.  No, it isn’t healing for me to do so.   It’s simply the video that is playing in my mind as I go about my day.  Many of you lived through that time with us.  In the past year as I’ve been on the road on my own, I’ve met hundreds of people and you know the overview of our story but not the intricacies of it and the real beauty of it and not the real-ness of the end of it.

Death is as much a part of life as birth and both are sacred times and I refuse to hide from pain as much as I hope that someday again I’ll seek joy.  Every moment of the final travels of me and my husband as Happily Homeless were real-life moments.   Each day, on our face book page, I’ll introduce you to our kids, who brought their gifts of love to their dad and to me, and the friends of AA and the military who came across country to have time with him and pay their respects and say goodbye and our kids’ friends who brought love to support us.  And you’ll gain more understanding of the intensity of my Odyssey of Love.

That time was worth noting.  It is worth noting.  Once upon a time Handsome Husband and I had a love story.   It continued until his final breath and I still carry it in my heart.  His days in hospice were filled not just with cancer and pain but with so much love.  I determined to surround him with it, immerse him in it and so fill him with it that it would be bigger and brighter than the cancer and it wasn’t done perfectly but it was done and he felt it.

He knew nothin’ but love and that’s all that mattered~ 521720_4633848285294_1629378181_n