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Brave Heart?

posted by awelborn

I don’t know about you, but one of effects of childbirth on me was a compulsion to spill the details. All of them.

The whole thing was fascinating to me, so of course I assumed everyone else should be fascinated as well in the recounting of every minute of labor, describing the intensity of discomfort or pain and the aftermath. Or afterbirth, I should say. I wanted to tell the story again and again..whether or not anyone was interested.

This past month, that kind of compulsion has returned.


Some, here and elsewhere, have commended me on my “courage” in writing about this most painful of experiences..my purported strength.

Don’t. There’s really no courage involved. Believe me, I am confronted by a hundred small tasks and moments every day that require far more courage than this. This is nothing.

Partly, I imagine, because writing and communicating are natural activities for me. Oddly enough for an introvert, but true. As I wrote before on the other blog, some people deal by cooking or taking long walks or knitting something – I write. Nothing makes sense to me unless I write it down. Anyone who has written for a long time will tell you the same thing. After a while you just start to experience life as writing fodder. It sounds dreadfully utilitarian, but it is true, and it is really not at all utilitarian.

After a while, too, then something else happens. For years I wrote columns for real, regular newspapers on paper about the juncture between faith and life. When I stopped writing those columns, I found that my spiritual life suffered – I was no longer paying as close attention to the world around me, constantly searching for signs of grace and Presence…because I was no longer under deadline.

So for me to write about my husband’s death is not a brave thing. It is an organic thing.  It requires discernment and tact, though. Presenting the rawness of the present moment as it is scrawled in my Muji notebooks would not be helpful..and indeed might not be reflective enough of the greater picture which I really do see. Pieces fall into place all the time, expanding the picture as I go.  I also must respect his privacy and the integrity of his life and death.

Another motivating factor, about which I will write more at a later date, is what Michael taught me about life and death. Michael was all about freedom in Christ, resisting idol-making, treating nothing else as God in your life except God – that is letting nothing control you, to not be captive by anything – present sin, past sin or a difficult situation. What rules your life – that situation…or God? Are you a captive or are you free in Christ, because he has reconciled all things and conquered sin and death?

 He emphasized really believing that God is present in every moment and experience, no matter how strange or wretched and, as he quoted Father Benedict Groeschel in a column he wrote the evening before he died, to embrace a life in which “We have no plans but to be led by God.”  He was about moving forward in Christ – with Christ.

And what I have found over the past month is that the response that has met my few hesitant attempts at articulating some aspects of my experience has been expressive of many good things. Through the comments and emails, I have discovered that I am not alone and that indeed, none of us are. Readers have benefited from the few thoughts I have decided to share, and I am glad for that. So, within the strictures I have set for myself, I continue.

Back to my original point.

Childbirth rendered me loquacious about my experience. I find that this has had the exact same effect.

In fact, there are times I must hold myself back.

I want everyone to know, and I feel no compunction about sharing exactly what happened with people whom I have just met.

The first weekend we were back home after the funeral in Florida, I decided normal was the best way to go for my 4- and 7-year old boys. Normal for the 17-year old, too, but for her, “normal” meant being out with her friends, so that was okay.

A normal Friday night was “Fun Friday” as Michael would announce it on his return home from work. That first Friday back, we got out of the car after returning from school, and I hesitantly asked, “Is it Fun Friday?” …thinking no way.  Of course it’s not fun. How can it be?

No hesitation on their parts.

“Yeah!”

More normal. “Do you want to go to Buffalo Wild Wings?”

“Yeah!”

So we went. And I was sort of okay until I sat down and opened the menu. That poor waitress.

As well as the poor hairdresser a week or so later. And the poor bank teller when I tried to explain why these checks I needed to deposit in our account were not endorsed on the back.

There could have been more – in fact I cancelled a dentist’s appointment for this morning  – because I had no idea how I would react to the idle, innocent question, “So, how’s it going?” , but I think I have restrained myself on most of those other occasions when I have so wanted to relate this surprising, sad, confusing story to perfect strangers.

I don’t know why I have felt this compulsion. It is not that I am seeking sympathy – I don’t think. I have plenty of sympathy and support.

I think it something akin to what childbirth moves us to do: it is so elemental, so surprising, such an absolute mystery that calls into question all of our previous assumptions…we just can’t believe it happened, we have to keep telling it, we are desperate for a witness. Am I crazy? Listen and tell me. The experience of this essential moment in which humanity and transcendent meaning are clearly knit, we are almost driven to check in with other human beings to see if they, too, have encountered these same questions and if their answers are anything like ours.

road_cal.jpgAs I walk around with this loss and mystery within, alternately holding it close and wanting to present it to others, inviting them to examine it with me, I have been moved to wonder, in turn, what losses and mysteries they carry themselves.

For they do. As someone once observed, “Be kind, for everyone is fighting a great battle.”

What I settle on is this, for the moment:

Everyone is carrying the pain around, along with the hope and grace that does, indeed, glimmer, even faintly.  It is maybe not so sensitive and might actually be an act of self-absorption  to simply dump all of our own pain on anyone who happens to walk by  – we can’t do that, for in indiscriminately pouring out our souls we are revealing an indifference to what others are prepared to hear.

Crosses, we call them.

Everyone is carrying a cross. Heavy crosses. Perhaps part of the Christian life involves recognizing that reality at the core of every person’s life and a delicate balance of being careful not to add to the burden, but to be open, at the same time, to allowing Christ to work through us, if he chooses, to help them bear it…for just a little while.

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Coffeemom

posted March 4, 2009 at 10:48 am


Exactly Amy, exactly. Thank you for this. And thank you for continuing to write, we need you…and your honesty and your willingness to write this all down in YOUR voice.



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Steve T

posted March 4, 2009 at 10:54 am


Amazing post! You are a truly gifted communicator. I am not surprised BeliefNet snapped you up. I was moved by your honesty, and clarity. You have made me a fan.
steve



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Your Name

posted March 4, 2009 at 10:56 am


My mother died of cancer six weeks ago. Her last four months of life were, to put it kindly, gruesome. It got so I didn’t want to talk to people (acquaintances and friends even) because I was concerned about getting that question, “How’s it going?” or “How is your Mom doing?” All I could really say was “Not well, please continue to pray,” but I’d want to open up to them. But I couldn’t.
My siblings felt the same way. Because what we were dealing with, no one should ever have to even know about. It’d be tempting to tell them, but it would be incomprehensible to them. And it wasn’t their cross. It was ours.



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Randy

posted March 4, 2009 at 10:57 am


I wonder if there is a kind of disbelief at how everyone else’s life is just going along normally. We tend to forget about death. Yet there is a lot to gained from contemplating the fact that we could die at any moment. I wonder if you are just bothered in some way by those who are just living like they will never die. That might be too much psycho-analysis. It seems a little like sharing Jesus with everyone you meet. When we have just had a huge experience then we tend to do that. Otherwise we obey the rules of etiquette and talk about the weather.



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Renee

posted March 4, 2009 at 11:08 am


Amy,
I am so glad you are writing and so glad that writing is good for you—because reading your words has been so helpful to me. Thank you.



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bill bannon

posted March 4, 2009 at 11:15 am


Michael was deeply blessed in the manner of his dying seeming painlessly…because I once fainted hit the floor and felt no pain whatsoever though it is not a perfect analogy, it is relevant. And he was a worker for God and Wisdom 4:7 says
“But the just man, though he die early, shall be at rest..”
Some deaths are marked by pain and the horrific as happened here two weeks ago in the death by van and the crushing of two little four year olds in Chinatown on their way back to day care holding hands and I have been praying for the mothers ever since and always will
( I have prayed for decades for a large number of people). The girl looked just like a three year old Chinese girl to whom I am the world because her real grandparents won’t talk to her becaue they are not talking to her father. When I saw the photo on TV of the girl and how she looked just like my Cordelia, I burst out balling and next screamed at God…”why are You permitting these things….how does this glorify You…I don’t get it”…I was shaking and balling and your situation and that of the boys was feeding into it.
God is nice and I soon knew He was understanding my mouth…He’s had to… for many years.
To live, we must habitually understate the amount of evil that exists and according to the Bible, death is an evil… in that God did not make it in line with what Aquinas called His “antecedent will” (the things God would like to happen…like everyone going to Heaven). Thus it is the Catholic Bible and its book, Wisdom, that says succinctly that satan produced death’s entry into life in 2:23-24:
_______________________________________________________________
23
“For God formed man to be imperishable; the image of his own nature he made him.
24
But by the envy of the devil, death entered the world….”
_______________________________________________________________
God permitted, by His simple overarching will, the universe to contain this as a possible but the first perents and the devil activated this “possible”…. and it was not God’s antecedent will. And Aquinas noted:
“The antecedent will of God does not always take place.” (ST Vol.1/quest.19/6th art./reply to obj.1). (There are not two wills in God but Aquinas and Chrysostom both noted this two fold manner of seeing God’s one will in two modes is all we can do down here).
It’s all ineffable but behind the scenes there is this nice God who is Love…but in front of the scenes so to speak, things can be awful for some time.



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Zaccheus Treed

posted March 4, 2009 at 11:20 am


If not for hypergraphia, the blogosphere would be one dull place. Over-share away and we, your readers, will decide what to, and what not to, take in. (In your case, many of us will be deciding to take in pretty much every word :-))



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Chris from St. Mary's

posted March 4, 2009 at 1:47 pm


“Your Name” was me.



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Annette

posted March 4, 2009 at 1:48 pm


Hmmm…as someone with experience in bereavement counseling, we tell people that everyone needs to “ell their story until they don’t need to tell it anymore.” So, be easy on yourself, tell as many people as you need to, and from this you will learn to be gracious (although I suspect you always have been) in letting others tell their stories.



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Sparki

posted March 4, 2009 at 2:03 pm


Welcome to Beliefnet, Mrs. Dubriel. I have not stopped praying for you, for Michael, and especially for the kids. So very glad you had a Fun Friday.



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Mimi

posted March 4, 2009 at 2:10 pm


Beautiful, thank you!



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Insane Kitten

posted March 4, 2009 at 2:11 pm


I admire your ability to talk about these things. I do not have that ability, or at least not to the great extent you have. Bless you for your gift.



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Trish

posted March 4, 2009 at 2:16 pm


Amy,
I’ve not had children, but I had life-saving leg surgery in 2006 (that I documented with way cool pictures LOL) that sparked a bit of that compulsion. More seriously, though, there is something about the need to tell; to feel aligned with the world when it no longer aligns with us; the need to reduce the story’s power over us (empty ourselves) and increase Christ’s power (fill ourselves back up). By sharing it I allow others to be conduits of Grace and the Holy Spirit so that it may be a shared burden, and ultimately, handed back over to God Alone.
When I am the receiver of the story – yours for example, or the many others I’ve been privileged to share – my one desire is that I stay out of the way (! ;-) of the Holy Spirit who might be working through me in those moments.
BTW, peace and all good to you as you venture on this particular blogging journey.



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Shannon

posted March 4, 2009 at 2:24 pm


I find for me, that much of my sharing is just an attempt to be vulnerable and to create a space for others to be vulnerable, which is precisely how love is refined and built. The question for me is always “Oh..how many children do you have?” I launch into a detailed history of the children who I gave up for adoption and the miscarriages I have had. I have the same sort of reaction to the “All they all yours!!?” query…well yes, they’re all mine, but they’re not all of mine…and more often than not, it yields to the random grocery store person sharing some of her own story. And to me, that is a glorious gift- because if our whole life is about loving those on our midst, it seems essential that we don’t remain strangers and walled up away from one another.
We are so much like Jesus when we are battered, broken, or weak…it’s how He saved the world, it’s how we participate in that redemption.



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Teri Pittman

posted March 4, 2009 at 3:54 pm


I can say I understand, because I do. My husband of 37 years died in October, after a two week illness with pnuemonia. I am still not quite right. Part of me realizes that he is in a place of pure joy and I should be happy about that part. (He once told me of a vision he had of heaven and I know that when we meet again, it will be as though we just parted.) But the other part of it is the loneliness. You don’t just lose your spouse. You also lose the relationship you both shared. It’s like two thirds of you has disappeared. You become a different person. You have to. You have a million things to deal with and no energy to do much of anything. Any day, some little something can hit you with a blow of grief. People who haven’t been through this can’t possibly understand. I know. I used to be that way myself. God speed, as you make your journey through life alone.



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Your Name

posted March 4, 2009 at 3:55 pm


I went through the same thing after the birth of my first child–I wanted to tell every woman I met who was older than I all about it. I think it’s very much like wearing ashes on Ash Wed., in that there are some truths that our culture works hard to ignore/obscure and there’s a need and sense of liberation in telling folks of our encounter with a profound truth.



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Chris Sullivan

posted March 4, 2009 at 3:56 pm


Amy,
Sometime, when you’re ready, please tell us about the Via Media.
God Bless



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Beth

posted March 4, 2009 at 4:10 pm


Yes, you’re articulating something I’ve been thinking about. In these essential, mystery experiences, our humanity and meaning ARE knit! These powerful (inescapable, universal, inevitable) chunks of life remind us of our physical humanity, that God is in control, that we really can’t understand at all. Birth, death, sex, puberty… each of us can’t believe it, and can’t believe everyone else has survived it too. And so we tell the stories. We can’t go around them, must go through.
I am teaching the Incarnation to high school students right now and still can’t wrap my mind (or heart) around God wanting to experience all of these as one of us.



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Beth continued

posted March 4, 2009 at 4:12 pm


Or really, that he wanted to love us so much, he was willing to become one of us. No matter what.



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Lee

posted March 4, 2009 at 5:46 pm


I think there are a lot of people all over the place that have sorrowed, like Bill Bannon expressed above. I know one friend of mine couldn’t get out of bed the day after she found out about Michael, she just felt so sorrowful. I hope that, in some small way, those people are carrying some of the burden, allowing it to maybe be just a little lighter for you, if that’s possible.
I still can’t believe that I did this, that one day, in a vague fog after my husband left (not died, not as bad as dying), I pulled up to the gas pump–unknowingly it was “Full Service.” And all the attendant asked was what octane, but I said, “I don’t know, because my husband left, and this is his jeep, and he . . .” I was off and running, and that attendant heard more than he ever wanted to know and probably wondered what soap opera he had tuned into. The thing is, I knew I was telling too much, but I just kept going. I guess the compulsion to tell the story is there because, like you say, we want to do a reality check.
But I’ve got to say that there is something that seems particularly vulnerable or poignant about a mother with little children, without her husband. But I found that God was there. “Lord, I can’t do this,” I’d utter one minute. But then, the next minute, (and I’d have this picture in my mind) I’d feel the exhilaration that a young pioneer mother might have felt, when she stood in front of her log cabin, her children inside, jubilantly holding the Indians at bay with her husband’s heavy, double-barrelled shotgun.



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Therese Z

posted March 4, 2009 at 5:50 pm


“Tell about it until you don’t need to tell about it any more.” That is the TRUTH. I was suddenly and almost violently divorced, if that’s possible, and someone gave me the brilliant advice to keep a journal of it. I wrote pages and pages every day, and then pages, and then part of a page, and then a few lines, and then a few times a week, and…..
I had to do that as well as wearing down the ears of my friends and family because I was bursting, with emotions I’d never had, and details I’d never anticipated learning, and facts. We’re not even counting the anger, and grief, and bewilderment and humiliation.
Since then, I’ve had my ears worn pretty smooth by friends as their parents died, their children screwed up, their jobs disappeared. Not only is it goes-around-comes-around, but there is something to be learned, about them and about life.
Don’t worry, go ahead and let it out. Someone will either pray for you or learn something about their own troubles or both.



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Surfnetter

posted March 4, 2009 at 6:35 pm


In my experience — and I have certainly never experienced something as starkly and gigantically tragic — just telling the story is not enough. It has to be heard — really heard by caring, quietly feeling and real human hearts.
And then the story changes — deepens. Like peeling an onion.
Funny how both the reality and the analogy make you cry ….



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Brad McNeal

posted March 4, 2009 at 7:11 pm


In 2000 on Leap day, to my shock, I needed angioplasty and a stent at age 47 for this skinny,non-smoking 47 year old.I told every set of ears what happened for about 1 year, then not so much. I realized after 2 years I had been in shock that first year.Not talking about was not a choice, it just had to be done.I know Jesus was walking in the footsteps of all those souls I spilled my tale to. I am ever thankful to Him and them and now accept God’s will for what happens in the next 24 hours.It very necessary process, but for the Grace of God, we are not alone,He is with us throughout.



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Cay

posted March 4, 2009 at 7:24 pm


Powerful post, Amy.
Thank you for writing it…and sharing.



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Peggy R

posted March 4, 2009 at 7:46 pm


It’s interesting that you’re tying a need to talk of your experience at bearing a child with needing to talk of this great loss. Then you talk of bearing a cross.
My first thoughts–self-centered as I am, my apologies–are that I am so uncomfortable around women, including my sisters and my mother, when they talk about their birthing experiences. We were not and will not be able to have children. When my mom called me on my birthday a couple of weeks ago she was describing that I wasn’t quite turned the right way and it was a bit difficult labor. I had and still have no idea what she’s talking about.
We adopted our children. I love them immensely. They are a part of me. But I am often surprised at the pain I still feel at not being able to bear children and never knowing that experience.
Yet, like your birthing experience, I love to talk about our family story of what we went through, the trips to Russia, the various stages at which we face some anxiety and uncertainty. Our worries about the children. Our joys in holding them and getting to know them. How the frightened baby became mine for good when I hummed him a lullaby. How the toddler at first very shy, began to play and giggle with us. And the $1/hr internet access in Siberia!
Yes, I understand the need to share experiences. I think I read that we need to talk about our experiences in order to put make sense of what happened–or at least to achieve some level of acceptance and be able to go forward.
God bless you and your family.
Oh, I’ve been around since In Between Naps. What a journey!



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Mary Rose

posted March 4, 2009 at 8:03 pm


What a poignant and beautifully honest post. I also was touched by many of the comments. We all process loss in our own way. When I lost my mother two years ago, I was a complete sopping mess. My poor hairstylist got an earful (and tears), and going back to work the first day after everything was brutal. Quite simply, I hate crying. But during those days I felt like a plastic baggie filled with too much water. Squishy and leaking all over the place. Thank God for my family and friends who listened and hugged me, then listened some more. Such relationships are the sturdy ropes that help us hold on.



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almamater

posted March 4, 2009 at 9:54 pm


Poignant, Amy. Thanks for sharing your writing with us all.



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Dawn

posted March 4, 2009 at 10:37 pm


Yes, I totally agree. Both about the need to divulge every detail of childbirth and about life’s tragedies. I will talk to anyone that will listen about details of when my son’s epilepsy and the subsequent drug-induced problems he had were at their toughest. And that time was two years ago. If allowed by the listener I would spend time just turning the memories over and over. It may be self-absorption but I also think it is a large part marvel.
((hugs)) and peace.
-Dawn



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Renee Schafer Horton

posted March 4, 2009 at 11:22 pm


Your comment that everyone carries crosses is something people need to keep in mind, especially, I think, those of us claiming belief in God, before we judge. A young woman told me today that a Catholic she knew volunteered with Planned Parenthood, and yes, while most know that the primary business of PP is not exactly planning parenthood but getting rid of it, they do have other things they do in the community. This young man had volunteered doing something that had nothing to do with their abortion side and when others in the church found out, they upbraided him. He’s not been back to Mass since. Point is: We have no idea of others lives, not really, and we need to see them the way Christ did. At least, IMHO.



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thomas tucker

posted March 5, 2009 at 7:45 am


Oh my.
I cant’ wait to read more about what Michael taught you.
What you wrote about idol-making, versus living in the freedom of Christ is, so incredibly important and liberating- it makes me want to share this thought with everyone I know. I am still thinking about it today after reading it yesterday, and vowing to live the wisdom of it.



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Linda Lee

posted March 5, 2009 at 10:29 am


Wow! I stumbled upon your musings on InsideCatholic.com under the heading ‘Why I Love Amy Welborn’, and now I see why too. God Bless you and your family in your loss. I had a ‘time’ quite a few years ago that crushed me and challenged my faith in a way I wouldn’t have believed possible. As I look back on it with a perspective I couldn’t have come to without my faith, I see that out of my utter brokenness God came to me in such a real way, that I am forever His. And I wouldn’t trade all the awfulness for anything because I gained that deep knowledge that God prevails. I rarely share the details of that experience because it would be a burden for others, but I do share the outcome. You are doing others a great service to see inside your life as it is at this time and hopefully doing yourself a great deal of good too. Keep it up! And thank you!



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Your Name

posted March 5, 2009 at 1:51 pm


I remember, in my single days, of standing amidst a group of mothers as they shared, in great and extruciating detail, their childbirth stories. I even said to them, “It’s enough to make me not want to have kids.” It wasn’t until I had my own children when I was able to understand why they did it, and freely participated in the act. For me, it was a life-changing experience. I’m a different person from going through it, and in order for someone to understand me, they really should know what happened.
Both my husband and I also go into great and extruciating detail about our kids’ developmental disabilities, all the tests and assessments, that have ever been run on them, and our son’s seizure disorder. This includes his first seizure at the age of 3, which was accompanied by 109 degree temperature. See, I’m doing it again!



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Michelle Dunne

posted March 5, 2009 at 2:07 pm


Amy,
I like what Annette said about “telling your story until you don’t have to tell it anymore.”
This is how I felt after I learned that our second baby of twins had no heartbeat at 13 weeks gestation. I had to fight the compulsion not to tell everyone who said hello that I was carrying my dead baby inside me, waiting for nature to allow me to let it go……I kept it in as much as possible because it is so hard for people to hear. Miscarriage is so unseen, so unlike “real” death… But it in fact became so difficult that we scheduled a dandc with Dr. John becuase the waiting was too painful.
We pray for you and your family. Keep telling your story, it reminds the living to live more fully………
Michelle



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james

posted February 7, 2013 at 8:21 am


well i can believe it’s interesting for you.



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