Seeking My Best Self

trying to make sense of my life – and lose some weight

Thoughts on the Eve of a New Year

glasses

Another year has passed. Of course, seasons and years are artificial constructs – they don’t truly exist, except in our minds. Still, they provide a way for us to divide the expanse of time into digestible chunks. At the end of this chunk we call 2015, I find myself reflecting back on a year of heartbreak and breakthrough.

The breakthrough began when I finally went to counseling. Yes. Me. I know I’ve ranted (for decades) about the voodoo that is psychology and huffed self-importantly as I denigrated the soft social ‘sciences’ (usually including the air quotes.) Dubious or not, I finally tired of repeating certain life patterns and found a competent counselor.

07atiyeh 48webOn my first visit, I did my best not to roll my eyes when she wanted to start with my childhood. Hello. I’m almost 60. How relevant could my childhood be? I’m WAY past blaming Mommy for my choices. Then I found myself blubbering like a baby as we discovered that my deep-seated abandonment complex came not from my husband’s suicide in 2002, not from my mother’s remarriage in 1961 (she spent two whole days alone with my step-dad before fetching me to share the rest of their honeymoon) but from my bio-dad’s abrupt departure when I was a toddler. It turns out, understanding origins really can help.

cherie bio pic 2016I learned that there isn’t a bad Cherie and a good Cherie. That the good Cherie isn’t the ‘real’ Cherie, but that I come as an entire package and until I learn to embrace my whole self, I can’t be happy. So I let bad Cherie out of the dungeon. I felt sorry for those around me, because bad Cherie – ahem, because I – can be snippy and abrupt, quick to let others know when they’ve tread on my toes, and impatient with rudeness and incompetence.

Imagine my surprise when a friend told me I’m actually easier to be around. “You’re more light-hearted,” he said. “You seem calmer, even in the midst of small crises.” He’s right. I do feel calmer. I’m glad to know my outside matches my inside.

My self-improvement crusade included losing fifteen pounds (ten to go), having a regular yoga practice, daily prayer/meditation, and regularly indulging hobbies, including playing my piano, guitars, and ukulele. I haven’t opened my clarinet case yet, and I’m sure my neighbors are grateful. I’m clearer on my life and on my goals. And at the very end of the year, I met someone. More on that (I hope) in posts to come.

My heartbreak is for our nation. Police treatment of people of color in our country has been beyond shameful – it looks a lot like deliberate genocide. The response of our court system to the police murders is even more horrifying. It appears they’ve totally misinterpreted the statement, “Justice is blind.”

grandkidsI fear for my grandchildren, who could be shot dead on a playground for playing with toys that white children may use with impunity. I fear for my son-in-law – a teacher, a tri-athlete – who runs daily. My daughter said she worries every time he goes out. She should. Apparently, no judge would prosecute the police officer who killed him for the crime of jogging while black, which means it’s open season on people of color.

grandma and gidu scanThe Syrian refugee crisis hits just as close to home, because my grandparents emigrated from Syria in the early years of last century. The rhetoric of some in our country toward the refugees scares me. Their concerns have nothing to do with national security, it’s merely an excuse to hate and to attack anyone who looks different from the white ‘norm’. I am outraged at those who dare use the name Christian while spouting such ignorance and hatred. I am frustrated because I don’t know what to do about it.

I don’t know what to do about ANY of it. The injustice. The bigotry. The deliberate choice to hate. What I do know is that I cannot respond with hatred. In the midst of it all, I am called to love. To embrace those who are hurting. To embrace those who do the hurting. To embrace myself. All of myself – the hurting and the hurter, because I am both. Our country is both. Hating will not lead to healing. We can only love ourselves into wholeness.

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Time to FOCUS

2016 Focus List web

Annually I create a FOCUS list – a short statement of the things most important to me for the upcoming year. It reminds me where to spend my time and energy. It helps me to say NO when the urgent (but not necessarily important) starts flaming and shouting in front of me.

This year, I’m a little early with the list. That’s OK. This isn’t a solar thing, it’s a heart/soul thing. I know when it’s time to refocus.

I make it my computer background so that I see it every day. That’s all I do, really – I just read it daily. Over the next months, I’ve found that my life naturally unfolds along the paths of my focus. It feels like magic. Maybe it is.

If you’d like to create your own FOCUS list, here are the instructions: FOCUS. I’d love to hear how the list works for you.

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Love Poetry

loveRomantic love is a messy, dangerous, painful and glorious thing. There are no guarantees, yet we yearn for it.

Lately, I’ve taken to writing poetry. Most of it is spiritual in nature, but occasionally, a passionate poem breaks through. Though I would posit that love poems are just as spiritual as the more celestial ones. The sacred is present in our entire lives, including romantic love, perhaps ESPECIALLY romantic love. How else are we so transported, but through the passion of love?

The first poem was written for my good friends Sydney & Michael. College sweethearts, their paths diverged. Forty years later, they found one another again. Two days ago, they were married. Love triumphs!

Improbable Love

We wait
impatiently
imperfectly
impossibly
for ‘the one’
to grow and become
the one
for us.

We wait
impatiently
imperfectly
impossibly
to grow and become
‘the one’
for another.

How does love ever bloom
in the midst
of all this
improbability?
And yet,
the miracle happens.

I’m so glad it’s happened for you.

The next poem was inspired by a passage from the great book of poetry known as the Psalms. This came from contemplating Psalm 36:5 – 9.

Impatient Love

Outside my window,
autumn rains loosen leaves
and chase away
summer’s dust.

Yet a torrid breeze
whispers past my ear
bringing promises
of midnight sun encounters.

My head turns.
Almost
I can smell the zest
of a lover’s fervid skin.

Where are you?
my pounding heart taps
in lovesick code
Where are you?

I know your essence,
though not your face –
I knew you before
there was a before.

Your shadow lies long upon my path
from behind time’s fluttering veil.
So close.
So familiar.

Hurry.
I’m breathless for you.

Any other closet poets out there? I dare you to share.🙂

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An Inverted Turtle

situ and kidsI’ve loved my sojourn in Gettysburg and Madison. Caring for my bright, determined grandchildren. Discussing theology, listening and being with my daughter as she walks the path of the pastor-to-be. Basking in the energy and enthusiasm of my son-in-law. Immersing myself in passionate intellectual converation with my son and his friends. Learning new ways of being church in the twenty-first century. Ballgames! And so much more.

After three weeks, it’s time to return home. Or perhaps I should say it’s time return to another home, because a piece of my home is wherever my children and grandchildren live. Truth is, I’ve realized that home isn’t a place external. I am an inverted turtle, carrying my home not on my back but in my heart. Home is with all I love, including me.

That means the more of the world I can embrace, the larger my home becomes. Without monetary exchange or land title. Could that be the key to solving the world’s strife? If we take more time to love, we’ll feel less need to possess, because we’ll already be home.

“You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one. I hope some day you’ll join me, and the world will be as one….”   –  John Lennon.

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My Favorite Job in the World

grandkidsI’m sitting at my daughter’s dining room table, sipping coffee and listening to the rain. I’m here for three weeks to care for my grandchildren while their parents work. However, school is still in session (two more days until summer vacation) so the house is quiet.

I’d planned to walk to city center to shop and explore, but the weather isn’t cooperating. Looks like a home day. The grandkids won’t return for seven hours. The living room is picked up, the dishes washed, the beds made. There’s nothing more to do.

Anyone who’s known me for more than five minutes knows that the girl must not be bored. But I’m not bored. I’m relaxed. Happy. This is my favorite job in the world. It always has been.

True confession time: I love being a homemaker.

My mother always worked. As a child, I hated it. So when I had kids, I stayed home. I discovered that I loved moving through the world at their pace. I loved sharing it with them, teaching them about plants and people, about stories and science. I loved keeping a clean and beautiful home. I was really, REALLY happy.

But finances were tight, and people were disapproving. (Which is a conversation for another blogpost. For now, I’ll just say that I was young and impressionable.) So I found part-time work. Bookkeeper, bank teller, delivery driver, salesperson: a quick succession of jobs. Wherever I worked, I rose quickly to positions of greater responsibility, because I was (and am) smart and competent. And just as quickly, I’d hit a glass ceiling. No degree? No further advancement.

So I returned to college. Got my degree. Started a full-time, well-paying professional career.

And hated it.

I was good. Very good. But it just wasn’t fulfilling. So I worked harder. Over the next years, I moved up the ladder until I hit a position – and company – that was an extraordinarily poor fit. I was miserable. With my husband’s encouragement, I quit and spent three months at home while I searched for a new job.

Once again, I LOVED being home. It was as challenging as any outside job, but much more fulfilling. Eventually, though, a call came. Would I interview for an administrator position at a local non-profit? It seemed like a perfect fit. I interviewed and was hired immediately.

I cried when I got home. I didn’t really want the job. I already HAD a job. Nicholas, then ten, cried when I told him. “Please don’t go back to work. Please, Mom.” I cried the night before I started.

“You can stay home,” said my husband. “We’ll figure the finances out.”

But I wanted to ‘pull my weight’. To contribute. So off I went.

Taking that position is one of my biggest regrets. I wasn’t true to myself or to my family. The time that was lost can never be regained.

So this morning, I revel in the home around me. I rejoice that I am temporarily returned to the job I love most. Caring for family. Keeping the home fires going. Enjoying the expectant silence of the morning, because soon this house will be filled with the sounds and sights of those I love.

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It was about Loving Myself

artist: Agnes CecileIt’s been two months since I last posted.

Why? OK, I’ll admit it: I was a coward. I didn’t want to write until I knew if what I was doing was going to yield results.

Remember my last post, where I talked about my relationship with food? How it was becoming a stand-in for everything? Well, after that realization, I decided that food and I needed to break up for a while.

Bur how exactly does one DO that? It’s not like a difficult interpersonal relationship. Or alcohol. Or gambling. Difficult as ‘walking away’ from those things can be, they aren’t ultimately life-threatening (usually.) Food is different. It’s like breathing. How could I sever a relationship with something that is necessary for my continued existence?

The solution came from a client (I have the most amazing clients!) I met Tandi about five years ago, and I’ve photographed her at least annually ever since. She’s petite, spirited, and beautiful inside and out. When she visited me this February, she mentioned in passing that she used to be heavy.

“What?” I exclaimed. “No way. You’ve been thin since I’ve known you.”

“Don’t you remember?” she replied. “I first came to you to celebrate my weight loss.” Then she showed me *before* photos. She was right. She’d lost a lot of weight. And she’s kept it off.

“What’s your secret?” I asked. She told me. “OK, I’m in,” I said.

I started what I dubbed My New Life on March 4.

The food I ate was plain. Very nourishing, but unexciting. And there was no satisfaction to be found in preparation, either, because I merely opened a packet and reconstituted it with water. Unappealing as this sounds, it was exactly what I needed. You see, it allowed me to disconnect eating and pleasure, so that food became sustenance, not fulfillment.

I didn’t *just* go on a diet. I started seeing a counselor and dealt with some long standing emotional questions. I immersed myself in Lenten spiritual activities. I reprogrammed my brain: instead of relying on food, I found joy and fulfillment through writing, photographing, sewing, playing and listening to music. In walking and yoga. In meditation and prayer. I even learned to crochet.

As I attended to my entire person – body, mind and soul – the weight came off. As of today, I’ve lost fourteen pounds.

Turns out, it wasn’t about weight loss. It was about attending to my needs. About listening to my body. To my heart. To my soul. It was about loving myself.

It still is.

PS: Tandi is an excellent health coach. Find her on Facebook: Tandi Graff

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Truth or Vegan

veganClients came in a couple of weeks ago. They are about ten years older than me. They are lean, fit, healthy. They espoused the joys of vegan eating. “We started a few months ago. We lost weight hand over fist,” they reported.

That caught my attention. Even though I know vegan eating doesn’t make me feel as healthy as a diet that includes small amounts of lean meat and dairy (I’ve tried it before)…well, losing weight, right?

So I researched (like I do) and got a bevy of delicious recipes. Spent four hours cooking, so I’d have a refrigerator full of wonderful options.

And I gained two pounds in the first week.

Because my issue isn’t about what I eat. The issue is my basic relationship with food. It’s my solace, my lolo-blankey. It’s my lover, my friend. It doesn’t matter WHAT I eat. As long as food is substituting for something else (everything else?) I’m not going to be healthy on the inside. No matter what happens on the outside.

Ouch. Ouch. Ouch. I hate painful truths.

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Life Without Glasses

body-shape-hourglassI crawled out of bed this morning, stumbled to the bathroom, flipped on the light, and caught sight of my naked self in the mirror. I saw an hourglass shape: large rounded breasts, small waist, lovely curve of tummy, hip and thigh. I saw long, free locks tumbling over my chest and shoulders.

I stopped and stared. I thought, “Wow. I’m really beautiful.”

What??? That’s NOT my usual reaction when I see myself naked.

But this morning I didn’t have my glasses on yet, so I couldn’t see the dimples and ripples and jiggles and sags that usually command my attention. I could only see the outline. The big picture. And it looked pretty darn good to me.

I find it both sad and amusing that at age 57 – deep in menopause, when all hope of rock-hard firmness is gone, when skin elasticity cannot be regained, when my weight is higher than my Wii or my doctor would prefer – that NOW is when I can look at myself and say “Damn, girl, you’re hot.” Why couldn’t my firm, thin young self have known that?

I can blame coming of age in the skinny 70’s, when the ‘ideal woman’ looked like an undernourished pre-adolescent boy with cartoon bosoms. I can blame society, men, women, parents, Hollywood, Argentina, porn…the list of righteous blaming runs long. But blaming moves me into the past. It detracts from the joy of now.

So I put that thought down and step away, consciously choosing to bask in my current self-acceptance rather than wallow in moments gone by. I can’t change them. Why relive them? Much dissatisfaction and even depression comes when I focus on the past or the future. Disciplining myself to the now produces a much more positive paradigm, especially when I look at the big picture.

It’s like the moment in the mirror. When I can’t see all the pesky little details, the overall picture looks pretty perfect. Yes, there are imperfections, some of which can be changed/improved/eliminated and some of which cannot. But if I focus only on the minutia, I lose the beauty of the whole.

So I choose a vision of myself, of my life, and of the world that fills my heart, my soul AND my eyes with joy and self-acceptance. I vow to look at myself – and my life – without glasses more often.

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It was a Good Year

By most measures, this was not a stellar year. In 2014, my marriage turned rocky, my brother had a stroke, I had a heart event, and now my mother has died.

Death, ill health and relationship struggles dominated, yet I feel fondly toward 2014. “Wasn’t that a nice year,” I find myself thinking. “I hope 2015 is as good.”

Really? From the outside, this doesn’t look like it was such a great year. Heck, I didn’t even lose weight. I’m still hovering at the 150 mark, which is about 15 pounds heavier than I’d like to be. How can I feel optimistic about THIS year?

The thing is, for all its sorrows, 2014 brought significant emotional growth. I am more content and peaceful than I’ve ever been, and it was the challenging events of this year that provided the jet fuel for my rapid progress. (That, and being in my fifties. Did you know that happiness increases dramatically beginning in this decade? I’ll talk about this in another post, but for all you youngsters – it turns out aging is something to look forward to on a LOT of levels.)

ertswed1313I’ve been pretty close-mouthed about my relationship woes. I’ll admit, it’s been a pride thing. I hate providing fodder for all the I-told-you-so’ers, who rolled their eyes when I married a much younger man, whispering behind their hands that it wouldn’t last. (Yes, your comments DID get back to me. Gossips gossip.)

Despite my best intentions, when B and I married, I drifted into some of the same old poor relationship habits. He did the same. As a result, in March we made an almost complete emotional break. We’ve moved to different homes. But over the ensuing months, we’ve discovered that this relationship – whatever it will be – is worth working on. Changing for. We’ve both been doing hard work on ourselves, to be the people we want to be in this and ANY relationship.

I don’t know what ‘we’ will look like when we’re finished. If there will be a ‘we’. But I’m not looking ahead, I’m doggedly focusing on now. Let the future take care of itself. I’ve wasted too many nows worrying about thens. This year, thanks to our relationship crisis, I finally learned to live in the present. Turns out, I am much happier concentrating only on NOW. I have so much more emotional energy for the present when I’m not angsting about the past and anxious about the future.

mikecorinnaIn June, my brother had a stroke. I immediately moved in with Mike & my sis-in-law Corinna, to help and (let’s be honest) to hover. When Michael came home from the hospital, it looked pretty grim. He depended heavily on a walker. He couldn’t hold objects in his left hand. His face drooped. When I left a month later, Mike was walking over a mile a day without assistance – no walker, no cane! His face was symmetrical. He’d lost significant weight, thanks to new, healthy eating habits. He was even recovered enough to do some photography work for me.

I didn’t participate in a tragedy, I witnessed a miracle. I watched Michael take charge of his life; make changes that were needed; show determination and optimism in the face of a terrifying physical event. We can ALWAYS make a new start. It’s never ‘too late’. Our dreams and our life lie ever before us.

Even more importantly, through this event, my brother and I reconnected. We’ve always loved one another, but we’d drifted off into our own busy lives, and hadn’t been close in decades. This brought us back together – Mike, Corinna and me. It rekindled our delight in one another. We rediscovered true family. Became a strong, cohesive team.

mom webWe needed all of that new-found closeness to work cooperatively in helping Mom, who was showing signs of mental decline. We worked together to move her from her house and into an independent living apartment. She went from a life of isolation into one of community. For the first time in years, Mom had regular interaction with others. A social life. Friends.

Then Mom died in a freak accident. How would we have endured if we hadn’t re-established strong ties? But we did, and it’s made ALL the difference. We text and call daily. “How are you doing?” we ask one another. “I love you. I need you. I just wanted you to know.” Our closeness holds us together through this grief. It is a blessing.

My heart event came as a result of years of maintaining ridiculous cortisol levels as I worked too hard, too long, took on more than any reasonable person could possibly manage – in other words, led the typical Amerian life. Then came a kicker event: in October, a job that I thought was going to provide tremendous income for me and for the family members and friends with whom I’d contracted, looked as though it were going to tank. All these people were depending upon me, I thought, and it looked like I was going to let them down.

BOOM. My heart called a time-out. I spent a month wondering if I would need to revise the almost four decades of life I envisioned yet spooled out before me. Would I have mere months or years? Would I have to let go the dreams of 500 mile walking pilgrimages? Of travel to foreign lands? Did I have a future at all?

The tests came back negative. My heart is strong. Chances of another event verge on zero. But I am not immortal, and I do NOT want to spend what hours, days, or decades remain focused on unfulfilling tasks.

So, since October, I’ve published my first book. I’ve started an art project that mixes Spirit and photography. I’ve moved to the helm, rather than the decks, of the exciting new venture that melds ministry and business. And I daily embrace my friends and my family. It’s a good life. It was a good year.

And next year, I’ll get those fifteen pounds off. No, really.

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Eulogy for Mom

07atiyeh 48web

Mom & Me, 2007

Mom died on December 7, 2014. She slipped in the shower, hit her temple, and passed immediately. A freak accident. A totally unexpected loss. My last parent – gone.

We held services this Monday, December 15, 2014. My daughter, a Lutheran seminarian, gifted us with lovely liturgical service at the cemetery in the morning, while my brother’s church poured out their love with a beautiful praise service in the afternoon. Nicholas sang at both, and Gabriel and Hanna provided scripture readings. I gave the eulogy. It was a family affair – which is just how Mom would have wanted it.

Here is the eulogy:

“We’ve all seen families torn apart by greed after a family death. Otherwise loving people turn ugly when it comes time for inheritance. Not my brother. As we sat together in Mom’s living room on that terrible day of her passing, his eyes wandered slowly around, and then he spoke. “Cherie, I know that you’ve always wanted it, so it’s yours…

…you can have Mom’s dustbuster.”

Anyone who knew Mom more than five minutes knows that she had a penchant for ‘clean’. One might even gently, and with great love, call it an obsession. And yes, this quirk could be exasperating. But we all have quirks. What Mom also had was a huge heart filled with love for everyone. She expressed it through true Syrian hospitality – which meant that every person who walked through her door was automatically ‘family.’ Welcome. Loved. And expected to eat, and eat a lot.

She was a woman who loved to laugh. She had a great sense of humor (my brother inherited it from her.)  I loved to make her laugh, and did so the last time I talked with her. After I hung up the phone, I told Bryan, “I guess when it comes to our mothers, we never grow up. Robin Williams became a comedian because when he was a little boy, he made his mom laugh, and he wanted to do it again and again. He craved his mother’s approval. And so do I. Still. At age 57, making my mom laugh matters more to me than almost anything else.” It made my day, and I think it made hers, too. I’m glad that’s my last memory of Mom.

Mom was a voracious reader. She especially loved romance novels. She, her sister Lyn and my daughter Ariel traded them around like baseball cards. It was a hobby that drew them close. Mom liked her family to be close. Most of her life centered around family. She loved her grandchildren and her great-grandchildren, and talked often of them. She believed that she was the one who nicknamed Isabelle ‘Izzy’. It tickled her to believe so.

memom1web

Mom & Me 2008

Speaking of grandchildren. Some of you know that Mom had some mild dementia in the past couple of years. Thinking back, I realize it must have manifested far earlier than I realized: about the time the grandchildren came along. You see, things that were REALLY important to her when Mike & I were growing up suddenly slipped her mind when it came to the grandkids.

For example, when I was a child, I had to have the contents of the refrigerator memorized, because I had about 1.2 seconds to open, grab, and close the door. Any longer, and Mom would be unhappy with me – and she could hear that door from ANY part of the house.

But I remember the day when my youngest, Nicholas, toddled into the kitchen with his cousin, David. They told Grandma they were hungry. She walked them to the refrigerator and opened the door.

“What would you like?” she asked.

“I no know,” Nick replied.

They proceeded to point to EVERY container in that refrigerator. “Whatsat?” they asked. And Mom patiently told them. Over and over. The door was open for at least two minutes. At the time, I wondered who this person was, and what she’d done with my Mom.

On another occasion, David & Eric were terribly ill – vomiting & diarrhea. Corinna was exhausted and ill herself. Mom called, and when she discovered what was going on, she & Dad went over there, packed the up kids, and brought them back to her home – brought these ultimate mess machines into her tidy home – and cared for them until they – and Corinna – were well.

Mom 2014

Mom 2014

So, either an alien abduction/swap thing happened, or Mom was a bit confused even back then. Or I suppose it could have been her extravagant love for her grandchildren.

Mom was a very organized person. She worked as a bookkeeper for United Grocers for many years. She helped me with my filing and books when I first started my photography studio. I also asked her to write my thank-you notes to my clients, because her hand writing was beautiful. I think it was a peek into the artistic person that lived inside.

I was far into adulthood before I saw much of that side of my mother. I learned that she was a bit of a rebel in her teen years. For example, in the mid-1950’s, cashmere sweaters were ‘the’ fashion statement, but my grandparents were very thrifty people, and didn’t approval of frivolous spending. Mom was undeterred. She would buy a new sweater, leave it in the bottom of her drawer for a month, and then wear it.

“Is that a new sweater?” my grandmother would ask.

“No, Mom,” she would reply. “I’ve had it for a long time.” She didn’t lie to her parents, but she was creative!

Some of you may not know that Dad was not my biological father. My mom eloped with a sailor at age 17 (he was barely 18.) I found a copy of the marriage certificate – she lied about her age! The witnesses were two of her best high school friends. I occasionally heard stories about the antics of these three girls, but this was their most madcap adventure.

Mom & Dad's wedding day

Mom & Dad’s wedding day

Like many adventures, it was ill-advised. She returned to my grandparent’s home two or three years later with me in tow. Then she met Dad, who bore a striking resemblance to a Marlboro man, married him, had another child, and happily lived her life.

Dad adored Mom. He loved this sometimes irascible, exotic beauty. To the day of his death, he treated her like his own fairy princess. When Dad died, a big part of Mom died, too. I don’t think she ever really recovered.

Her passing is way too soon. My family is extraordinarily long-lived, and I expected another decade or two to enjoy her. It reminds me to appreciate everyone now, in this moment, because there is no guarantee of future moments. I loved my mom, and I know you all did, too. I will miss her. Oh, how I will miss her.”

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