Chapter 1 – NO SIMPLE HIGHWAY:A widow’s journey to seek justice for her husband’s death

Grief never ends: This is my journey from the tragic sudden death of my husband Mike, to healing after loss and eventually finding peace and love again.

Chapter 1

The night my husband died

            “How do you use the panoramic feature on this new phone?” my friend Meg asks me as we admire the setting sun.

            “Oh, I just took one last week. Let me show you,” I offer as I kick off my blue Sperry flip flops and walk over to the sand. Meg is my attractive next-door neighbor, a single mom who looks stylish in ripped jeans or librarian type glasses.

My husband, Mike is busy chatting with the new member of our Long Island, New York beach community under the pavilion where fans help keep the gnats away. Mike is his charming self and asking our new friend about the winters she spends in Key West living in an RV. We have talked about someday retiring to Florida so it’s more than just idle curiosity. Since she has recently moved to our neighborhood, the conversation has changed to organic methods of eliminating late summer crab grass. When I first met Mike, he had owned a landscaping business while attending business classes at the community college.  He now practices law but is full of information on the benefits of using boiling water or vinegar solutions instead of fertilizers to protect polluting run off into the bay.

            “Be right back,” I tell Mike as I walk with Meg down to the water’s edge. The vibrant colors in the sky are definitely frame-worthy! To the right, a full moon is rising over the harbor, to the left an orange and pink late-summer sunset. Together we figure out how to hold the phone camera steady and sweep 180 degrees to get both the sun and moon in the same frame. Stunning!

            When I return to my dusk-veiled circle of friends, Mike has left. I guess he has either gone to use our HBCA clubhouse restroom or just headed back to the house. The gnats are beginning to outnumber us by the shore, so I invite the few neighbors still on the beach up to our second-floor front deck to hang out. I pack up the chairs, towels, and cooler and walk across the parking lot to my house.  I’ll light citronella candles to keep the mosquitoes away and maybe order a pizza. I’m starting to feel hungry.

            As Meg and I cross the parking lot, we see a police car speeding down to the beach clubhouse followed by an ambulance. Lights are swirling and soon the local fire department chief pulls up.

            “What happened?” Meg asks one of the volunteer firemen as she shifts the heavy beach bag on her shoulder.

            “Cardiac arrest,” he tells us. Oh no, I think. How awful for someone to have a heart attack during this kid’s birthday party. We had seen all the excited teenagers getting dropped off earlier and heard the music as we sat under the pavilion on the beach. What a scary scene for the partygoers I imagine as I approach my front door. It’s a good thing they just installed that new AED device in the building for emergencies like this.

            Our beach cottage was built in the 1920’s and has hosted a lot of families over the years. It is a narrow three-story structure which you enter by the side door and walk up a flight of stairs to the main living area. At the top of the stairs to the right is a den and sliding doors to a small back yard. To the left, is our dated kitchen with beige cabinets whose hinges continually break and a light blue Formica countertop. The best part of our house is the front deck that we enjoy daily as we look out on the peaceful harbor and nearby beach. I walk through the kitchen and turn on the lights to the front deck where I’m expecting guests. As I’m lighting the scented candles on the bar height dining table, Carol who lives next door calls over from her deck, “Kristin, what’s going on?” Our homes are very close together and it sometimes feels like we live in a college dorm, just with separate little houses.

            “A firemen told us that someone had a heart attack,” I tell her. “Are you guys coming over?”

            “Sure, we’ll be right there,” she says.

When she and her husband Dennis have joined me, we watch a second ambulance arrive at the clubhouse. More lights are flashing, and people are coming into the cul-de-sac at the end of the street to see what is going on.

            “IT LOOKS LIKE YOUR HUSBAND!” my erratic neighbor Frank yells up to me from the street.

            No one ever takes anything Frank says seriously, but it occurs to me that I haven’t seen Mike since I was on the beach. I quickly leave the deck and run inside. He must be in the den watching TV in his favorite green chair, I think, but he isn’t there, so I skip steps up to our third-floor bedroom where my bed is still made. By the time I go back downstairs to the front deck, the first ambulance is leaving, and the DJ has started playing music again for the partiers.

            “Get in our car,” Dennis and Carol urge me and off we race to the hospital. Carol reaches into the back seat to hold my hand as Dennis drives. She reassures me that it may not be Mike and I squeeze her fingers.

            We rush into the Huntington hospital emergency room and give the woman at reception the name of our beach community, Huntington Beach Community Association or HBCA, where the ambulance came from. A nurse directs us to a room. I stand outside in the hall, afraid to go in. What am I going to see? Maybe it’s not Mike. My legs feel weak. I ask Dennis to go in first, while Carol holds me up and we watch Dennis disappear into the room.

            Ambulance workers rush in and out of the emergency room. I recognize a doctor. I taught his son kindergarten 14 years ago.

            “Jack, what happened?” I ask in a faltering voice.

            He stops mid-stride. The look of shock in his eyes as he recognizes me. “We couldn’t get his heart started,” he stammers, then he walks away.

            Dennis walks out of the room and slowly nods to Carol and me. We all walk in together, the two of them supporting my elbows. I see my husband laying on the table. Mike is still barefoot and wearing the Old Navy swim shorts I gave him for his birthday. I recognize the light blue Salty Dog t-shirt we got on our last trip to visit my sister in Florida, and it is his face with the scruffy gray, been-vacationing-for-two-weeks-beard.

As I walk closer, I’m relieved to see that his eyes are open. I think, he must be OK. But as I touch his arm and feel that reassuring bicep muscle that always makes me feel safe, his skin is eerily cold. His eyes are open, but he isn’t there. Why is he not moving? My knees are shaking. My teeth begin to chatter. My heartbeat pounds in my ears. Where did the big bump on his head come from and why is there blood on his knees? This cannot be happening, I yell, “WAKE UP!”


I am approaching the 7th anniversary of my husband’s death and need to share our story. Working through stages of grief and seeking justice takes time and effort. This book is for anyone who has been through the trauma of loss and is searching for peace and hope.

AMAZON REVIEWS:

“A must-read story of hope”

“I read this book cover to cover in one sitting”

“it’s a riveting story”

“..a chilling tale of police corruption”

“one of the most honest, heartfelt stories I have read…”

“Captivating true story”

“so good on so many levels”

“Kristin’s ability to bring the reader into her world, during the darkest of days will leave all who read this inspired.”

Available on Amazon
memoir of life after loss.

I wrote a book for widows: No Simple Highway

Last summer I saw a post that read “write a book in 30 days”. The idea of writing a book has appealed to me, but getting started seemed to be the issue. I enjoy writing stories in my blog. Wouldn’t that be enough, I wondered.

But I signed up for the 30 day on-line writing program last July before I moved to Florida. Each day I spent 1-2 hours writing. It was cathartic since the book is a memoir and tells the story about the night Mike died and the few years afterwards.

My initial idea was to write a self-help book to help other widows deal with the sudden loss of a spouse. I had been through it and maybe my words could help someone. That is what I have tried to do over the years writing this blog and people read posts daily from my Pinterest page so I know others are looking for guidance. I know I was looking for advice and even a “how to” book as a new widow. I threw the literal kitchen sink at my grief journey trying everything and anything to keep moving forward every day.

But once I started writing my story, it took on a life of its own. Sure, I had to deal with all the issues that an unexpected death entail. I planned a funeral service and met with lots of people. I figured out ways to handle the finances despite a delay in obtaining the death certificate and thus any life insurance money. I processed my grief with the support of professionals when necessary as well as my own precarious health circumstances at the time.

But I had one more issue to deal with that not all widows do, though many believe it to be true:

My husband wasn’t supposed to die that night.

When Mike left the beach to use the restroom at the beach clubhouse, he should have been able to walk out of that building without being assaulted and killed. It took two years for us to see the surveillance video of what happened that night.

Pursuing legal action isn’t easy but sometimes it has to be done. With the help of friends and family and a good legal team, I took the road less traveled. We pursued the truth and sought justice for Mike. My book will tell that story.

Stay tuned for chapter one and an opportunity to get “No Simple Highway” on Amazon!

Spring at the Planting Fields Arboretum in Oyster Bay

A visit to the Planting Fields Arboretum in Oyster Bay is a fabulous place to see all the Spring colors in full bloom!

Up early on a Saturday morning we set off to see spring flowers in full bloom at a nearby state park. Since our Empire Pass expired we paid $8 for parking and spent 2 hours exploring the 409 acre estate. We walked the rolling lawns with labeled trees, formal gardens, fountains and a pool area. An original Gold Coast estate from the Coe family consisting of 65 rooms in a Tudor Revival mansion stands tall and is open for hourly tours at an additional fee.

We enjoyed our walk and I had fun practicing my photography skills.

Well worth the $8 parking fee but poor Harry had to stay home. Need to find a park where we can bring dogs. Any suggestions?

Joy in Researching the Family Tree

Learning about the family tree with internet programs is a great way to embrace history.

Great grandfather Berwind and son Leonard

Retirement is starting to take shape for me and I am enjoying the hours of time I have spent on Ancestry.com these past 2 months. My cousin Sue has already done quite a bit of research that is readily available to me, but I am having fun discovering each relative and learning such interesting stories about the past. What a great way to learn history.

Growing up on Long Island, I was always curious about the family farm and where it was located. It turns out that the farm was located on 27 acres off a very busy road called Jersualem Avenue in Hempstead, just south of Hofstra University and includes part of the Southern State Parkway.

The house is beautiful for the 11 children that lived in that farmhouse and helped pick strawberries. I recall the story that my grandmother, Marie Berwind, decided not to take the regents exams her senior year and went home to pick strawberries on the farm. The principal game out to the field and told her that she was very smart and should go to college. She did and became a 5th grade teacher in Freeport. The year that my dad was to go to 5th grade she did not want him in her class, so he skipped 5th grade and went right on to 6th. Dad graduated early at 16 years old and got accepted into college. They put him on a train to Ithaca with a duffle bag where he started his freshman year at Cornell University and joined the Sigma Nu fraternity.

Berwind farmhouse in Hempstead
Berwind family at Jones Beach
News article about the Long Island Berwind Farm

Newspaper Article About the Berwind Farm

Merrick Life 

Thursday, November 28, 1968

“When Thanksgiving Meant Harvest Home”

by Faith Laursen

Not so many, many years ago this was the season of “Harvest Home”, as a number of families gathered in the fruits of their labor from farms which lay in what is now the confines of the Merricks.

Mr. and Mrs. Otto Gentsch of 2418 McCord Avenue lent “Merrick Life” old photographs which show life on the Berwind Farm, formerly located at the intersection of Merrick Avenue and Jerusalem Avenue.

Mr. and Mrs. John C. Berwind and Mr. and Mrs. Leonard Berwind were two brothers who married two sisters, and purchased a 27 acre farm here in 1905 after having spent two summers here and finding they liked the place.  They bought it from Kate Barnum, for whom part of Merrick Avenue was named. (“Barnum Road” still shows on old maps.)

Around 1911, John Berwind bought out his brother’s share and started to specialize in raising strawberries.  One of the pictures shows members of the family eating as well as picking.  At one time about 60 people were employed in picking these strawberries.

Later, Mr. Berwind changed to raising corn and beans, which didn’t require so many workers.  Little Thomas Humphrey, a grandson, is pictured sitting on a harvesting basket tasting the beans.

There were chickens on the farm, too, and grand-daughter, Virginia Gentsch is shown feeding the fowl.   Brother John Berwind is shown driving a horse-drawn wagon, and Otto Gentsch is shown lifting out the bees.

In top scene of a roadside under snow, one can see an area at the foot of Whaleneck Road in 1941, which looks like an illustration for the song, “Over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house,” the Berwind home from 1905 to 1952.  

Mrs. Gentsch recalls, “We were a family of 11 children.  The older children had to go to Smithville South School (now North Bellmore.)  First school was in what is now the firehouse in North Bellmore.  Then we went to the old wooden one that burned down some years ago. Five of us graduated from Smithville South and Freeport High School, and the remaining six from North Merrick and Hempstead High School. “

My grandmother and siblings at the beach
Grandma or one of her sisters in a runaway horse accident
1923 Great grandmother Berwind and some of her 11 children
1901 Great grandparents on my dad’s side
Wilhelmina M. Schulein Berwind (great grandmother)
My dad and his brother Richard
Family Plot

Well I am off and running with stories of the past. Earlier today I discovered an 11th great grandfather who was a Knight.

My sons gave me for Christmas an ancestry.com DNA kit so that should be cool to see how that affects the family tree I have made so far. Interested to see how many second and third cousins I will be able to connect with. Also looking forward to seeing if any more ancestors lived in castles that I can visit in the near future.

14 Awesome Things to do this Summer on Long Island

Summer 2020 on Long Island offers many places to visit without going far. Beaches, trails, boating, towns and more.

For the past several summers I have put my United States passport to good use and traveled around the world.  I’ve shared photos and posts about some exciting places but my most popular post is about a small town in upstate New York, 17 things to do in Ithaca.

Like many, I am hesitant about traveling this summer. We are now entering phase 3 post pandemic, so some places are opening up here in New York but I will not be going too far away. In fact, with an abundance of outdoor opportunities on Long Island, I will share my summer bucket list with my fellow islanders.

While the state parks do charge an entrance fee of $10, the Empire Pass can be purchased for the year for $80 and with this summer of limited travel, it is well worth the investment.

1.  Robert Moses, Field 5

Yesterday I drove myself over the bridge to Robert Moses ocean beach on Fire Island.  Clean, soft sand, refreshing salt water with moderate waves, qualified life guards and open bathrooms make this beach a true pleasure. If your ideal day is to sit in a chair under an umbrella and read or to take a long walk along the shore, visit the lighthouse and maybe stroll into the small beach village of Kismet, this can all be done in a day trip. Walking east along the shore I will warn you that some bathers prefer not to wear swim suits.   Just remember to wear your mask in the bathrooms at the beach.

Parking $10 or Empire pass. https://parks.ny.gov/parks/7/

Fire Island Lighthouse Kismet Beach

2.  Montauk

The eastern most point of Long Island has this amazingly, still quaint fishing village. The cost of hotel rooms has sky rocketed in recent years but since you save money on air fare and time and the hassle of driving through New York City, it can be worth the splurge.  More ocean beaches, fishing trips, fresh seafood, hiking trails, cliffs, surfers and a light house to climb are just some reasons people keep coming out year after year to visit. My friend has made 2 visits already this summer with her kids to watch the sunrise at what is called THE END – and breakfast spots are open for the early birds too.

Hotel rooms are available but the average price per night is around $500 with a 3 night minimum on weekends. Day trip or a little getaway;  I’ll be planning my trip out east soon.

Montauk – Budget Friendly Vacation  

Montauk point light house
Montauk Point lighthouse

3.  Sunken Meadow State Park

What I love about this park is the 2 mile boardwalk along the beach for walking and riding bikes.  This park has hiking trails through the woods, and a public golf course with a driving range.  You must reserve a tee time in advance.  In addition, I like to visit this location as it is where we got married on the beach last June and had a fun celebration with family and friends.  We’ve been back a few times this spring and always enjoy some time outside.

Parking $10 or Empire pass: https://parks.ny.gov/parks/37/

4. Caumsett State Historic Park Preserve

This scenic park is located on the North Shore in Lloyd Harbor.  The old estate and buildings are still standing on the hill above the Long Island Sound and active horse stables give the feel of being a guest at a country estate.  The three mile paved and shaded trail is available to pedestrians and bicycles only.  No dogs allowed.

Parking $10 or Empire pass: https://parks.ny.gov/parks/23/details.aspx

IMG_9946

5. Cold Spring Harbor hiking trail

This one is Free.  Simply park by the library on Harbor Road in Cold Spring Harbor and you will see the sign to the entrance.  This is the north end of the 19 mile Nassau-Suffolk trail and does have some hills to climb.  People often bring dogs along on a leash.   I would highly recommend spraying for ticks before you head out on this trail or any trails on Long Island and be sure to check carefully when you return home as well.

https://www.hikingproject.com/trail/7029784/cold-spring-harbor-state-park-out-and-back

6.  Huntington Village

The restaurants in town are most creative as they set up outdoor dining tables on side walks and alleys.  Musicians on the street, music coming from the restaurants and people walking around make us forget that we have been sheltering in place for 3 months.  The waitstaff is required to wear masks and you have the option to wear a mask as well.  Walking around the town, getting an ice cream and seeing people again can make us all remember we are part of a bigger community.  And when you go out to eat, you can feel good about supporting the local economy too!

7. Planting Fields, Oyster Bay

If you prefer gardens, this former Gold Coast estate features 409 acres of gardens.  The Coe house and greenhouses are currently closed but the grounds are open for walking and enjoying the outdoor gardens and architecture from the early 1900’s.

https://plantingfields.org/plan-your-visit/

8.  Bayard Cutting Arboretum

Located on the south shore in Great River, the grounds are open everyday except on Mondays.  The trail along the river is lined with a variety of trees and plants in an informal setting.  The house is closed currently but this is a beautiful park to visit and learn more about the types of plants in this area.

9.  Long Island Aquarium

A favorite place to visit with families is the aquarium in Riverhead.  The sea otters, penguins and sea lion exhibits are outdoors.  Sting rays and sharks are indoors and masks are required.  Due to reduced guest capacity, reservations must be made in advance.

Tickets & Aquatic Adventures

10. Fire Island by Ferry

I grew up on the south shore in Sayville, known as the “friendliest town in America”.  This is really a great little town with restaurants and small shops along a quaint Main Street that often closes for town events like car shows and summer festivals.  Following Foster Avenue south towards the Great South Bay and turning left at the end, you will see the docks for the ferries.  Two of my first jobs were cleaning houses at Fire Island Pines and making pizzas at Cherry Grove. Both awesome little beach communities that do not allow cars, homes are connected only by boardwalks and the vibes from the New York City gay community are alive and vibrant.

The ferry to Sailors Haven and Sunken Forest also leaves from the same dock area and while homes are not available to rent and only a concession stand is available for dining, this natural setting makes for a great day trip for families.

Ferries cost $16-18 round trip and you can pay to bring your dog as well.  Ferries leave approximately every 2 hours.

http://www.sayvilleferry.com/schedule-pines.php

images

10. ROBERT MOSES, Field 2

The western most end of Fire Island National seashore has a 3 par 9 hole golf course right there at the beach.  No reservations necessary as it is first come, first served. Perfect for beginners and beach lovers.  Pack a lunch or dinner, play golf and take a long walk around the point or hop in for a swim in the sea.

$10 parking fee or  Empire Pass.

11.  Jones Beach, Field 6

Although the concerts have been cancelled this summer, the iconic boardwalk at Jones Beach is still a treasure.  I prefer field 6 on the eastern most part of the park as it is the shortest walk to the water and right on the boardwalk.  Also a great place to walk with a stroller.  The playground may be opening soon and a there is a small 9 hole pitch and putt golf course along the boardwalk as well.  My grandmother and mom used to tell stories of going to the pool located in the building during the summer and the many evenings they spent dancing to music outside at the bandshell.

$10 parking fee or Empire Pass

https://parks.ny.gov/parks/jonesbeach/

JONES BEACH BREAST CANCER WALK

12.  Kayak River Rentals

I have heard wonderful tales of kayaking the Nissequogue River starting in Smithtown near the bull (It’s a famous statue here on Long Island).  So you make a reservation and meet the group – sign some papers and board the kayak.  Double kayaks and canoes cost about $60 for the approximately 3 hour tour down the river toward the Long Island sound. Nature, birds, and water are the best, just prepare for the sun, bugs and hydration on your adventure.  A bus even brings you back to your car. This summer I will definitely try this.

http://www.canoerentals.com/

13. Motor Boat Rentals

Living near the beach, I have always had either a sailboat or a motor boat… except for this summer.  While I am happy to save on the expense of maintenance and repairs, I will miss going out in a boat.

Having friends with boats is always a good alternative.  But if your friends don’t have a boat, it is possible to rent boats for a day or even half a day.  I did this last winter in Florida with my sister and her family and we had a blast. So as a consolation to staying home this summer without a boat, I have been looking into day rentals and am considering two. For a boat that could accommodate 8 people, for the day it is about $1000.

In Freeport, the rental shop offers hourly rentals starting at 2 hours for about $300.

https://summerboatrental.com/

In Port Washington, Long Island Boat Rentals offers deals for small boats as well as captained boats for the day.

I am looking forward to trying out one or both of these places this summer.  Who’s in?

I am grateful to live in such a beautiful place and to have the summer off.  I can not imagine what the fall will bring for me as a teacher but I know that I have today to get out and enjoy.  Keep safe, wear a mask if you will be near people and have a great summer!

 

FALL – Is it time for a change?

After a busy summer finding peace with the change of season and changes in life as a widow. Accepting the life you have and changing what you can.

What happened to the summer? Does it seem to go faster each year or is it just me?

Harry has a new trick: He greets me at the door after I get home from school with his leash in his mouth.  If I don’t take him for a walk he persists in barking.  He has me well trained.

As I was walking along the beach this afternoon, it was so quiet.  The remnants of Saturday night’s camp out bonfire still visible on the sand.  I couldn’t help but feel nostalgic for all the 13 past summers that we have lived in this house.  Each year the neighbors all gather with their tents and set up on the beach.  Some bring private hibachis to cook but there is always one big fire for everyone.

bonfire on the beach day after

I could see in my mind’s eye my younger son running around with his friends until the wee hours of the morning.  I admit that after the first year, I would sleep in my bed (my house is in walking distance to the beach) and then set the alarm for 6:00 a.m. to help set up coffee and bagels for the masses.

As he got older and more independent I am sure that he and the other kids in the hood were up to no good – but it was innocent fun with friends that he grew up with.  At least I think it was innocent.

This year the crowd was smaller than past years.  The new families with small children were braving the dark tents and dew covered sleeping bags the next morning. They donned their kids with light up necklaces and put marshmallows on long sticks which never quite make it to the extremely hot bonfire.

My son and many of his friends are off at college or just too old for this now. A few folks went down to the beach to visit with one another before we all start the long winter hibernation of staying in during the winter. It happens every year.

My oldest will be turning 25 on Friday.  How did that happen?

Those baby days were fun.  I loved being with my kids when they were little and watching them learn about the world.  As they got more independent I was ready for it and happy to give them some freedom.  Now I can go a couple of days without talking to them.  I guess that’s normal but sometimes I really do miss those days when they were little. Why I’m glad I worked when the kids were little

I remember crying when I turned 10.  I would never be single digits again. I may be a bit sensitive.

I think becoming a widow so early in my life has made me less sensitive.

Sometimes things don’t go the way you would like them to.  Sometimes things just aren’t fair.

I’ve come to realize that some things you can not change.  What is that serenity prayer?

Serenity prayer

And then when change is a good thing, you may need to just do it.

I am thinking about doing some changes to my home. We never took the plunge with redoing kitchens or bathrooms.  They could use an update.

I am thinking about changes in my life.  When do I retire? If I retire what do I do next?

My kids will be graduating college and law school soon and I am sure there will be changes after that.  Will they live with me, near me or far, far away?  I don’t really have control over that one!

I’m trying to plan the next phase of my life.  As I walked along the deserted beach today I felt like I am entering the season of Fall.  Summer is those years that you raise a family or build a career.  You are busy.  You have important things to do and take care of every day.   Hopefully the sun is shining and most of your memories are good.

Fall is different.  Change is in the air.  It just happens and it’s time.  Making those changes without my husband of 26 years is unsettling.  He always had some idea of what we were going to do next.  Even if I didn’t like the idea, we could discuss it.  Now it’s up to me.  I do have some people influencing my decisions but, sometimes I feel like I am just treading water. I’m not sure which direction to go.

I’ve been having stressful dreams.  Maybe it’s because tomorrow is my birthday, or because I have a son who is a quarter of a century old!

I need to recall what got me through my tough days.  I would listen to my “Thinkup” app and start my day with positive affirmations.  Going to yoga classes was amazing and so very calming and centering for me.  Taking longer walks for exercise always has kept me grounded as well.  Walking gives you time to think and put your thoughts in order.

Tomorrow should be a fun day.  My boyfriend and I share the same birthday.  We celebrated this past weekend with a trip out east on Long Island to go apple picking.  We stopped at a few vineyards along the way enjoying the sunshine, music and some tastings.  At the end of the North Fork is the town of Greenport.  This town is an old seaport which had a strong fishing and whaling industry in the past.  Now the town is crowded with cute shops, fine dining establishments and a sweet old fashioned carousel.

To read more about the North Fork click here: Touring Out East – The North Fork

oysters and wine at North fork vineyardsAFD78CCE-95AA-496F-8816-D9CB3023A373

After a busy day of collecting apples, tasting wine and fine dining we headed back home.

Dating is a good thing!

Hope your fall is full of thoughtful changes as well as pumpkins, apples and pretty colored leaves.

fall is time for a change in life of widow



 

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