Tuesday 17 November 2020

Can you 'Heal' Grief?

Hello everyone,

As I recall, it was around six or seven months after Kinga died, that I eventually decided to seek professional help - in the form of counselling. I remember this being the period where my grief was at it's most overwhelming - when the shock of Kinga's sudden death had first begun to peel away. The shock was almost like a protective layer of numbness over my whole body - when it first started to dissipate, it felt like all my nerves had become exposed at once. Everything at that point was just raw, excruciating pain, and it felt as though it would be completely unending - like life was truly over. After all, how could that pain ever become manageable - how could life ever continue, when she was just... so permanently gone?

I had a phone assessment, before counselling was due to begin. It was completed by a woman whom I never met, going through some semblance of a fairly bog-standard sounding script. It was, I guess, quite typical in that sense - but one thing she said really stuck with me. She said, in the most matter-of-fact way, that it would take two years to 'heal' and 'recover' following such a significant bereavement. It is now 23 months since Kinga was killed, so by that barometer, I should be close to healed by now. I recall hating that thought from the moment I heard it - the thought that I could ever return to any form of normality without Kinga seemed... wrong - like doing so would completely erase her from my life, and ultimately negate the weight of her death. But, people are able to live again after experiencing grief - a thought that was to me, at that time, deeply confusing, and utterly incomprehensible. Today, after almost two years into this journey, I want to explore what I think it truly means to realistically 'heal' after your world has been completely shattered by loss and grief.

I'll literally never understand how someone so ridiculously beautiful - inside and out - wound up with me.

We are, in my opinion, a society of fixers. We see a perceived negative, and in general, we are instinctively compelled to want to make it right - make it better somehow. I believe that societal drive toward fixing carries on over to a general attitude toward grief, too - that push to 'move on', to thrive and succeed, or at the very least return to a previous level of productivity and capability. No well adjusted person enjoys seeing people struggling, or in pain, after all. I can recall finding that frustration, even within myself at times - wishing that my own ability to focus and function hadn't suffered so much as a result of Kinga's death. The effects of bereavement - much like the loss itself - are not a thing anybody chooses. It is natural for everyone - whether they are grieving, or adjacent to grieving, to want to reach a point whereby they are no longer suffering from it. The concept of 'healing' is a deeply appealing one to anybody who sees pain, or experiences it, I think.

But grief isn't something that you can change - that you can treat, or cure. It can look like an illness- it's symptoms are similar (and can of course lead to various ailments), but it is distinctly different. It is a constant, a permanence - a void, brought about by the absence of someone deeply loved. It is a void that remains, regardless of anything you do in life. These days though, I don't tend to view my grief itself as a negative, even though it has crippled me in innumerable ways. My grief is a natural response to Kinga's horrendous death. I feel it because I love her beyond what any words can say. To me, that grief simply is that same love by another name. The love that will never diminish - and as a direct result, neither will the grief. It is easy to look at grief in a vacuum - that the pain of it exists in and off itself - but remembering the place it comes from... That overwhelming place of warmth, and joy... To me at least, that is a comfort. I've simply come to believe that grief and love are two sides of the same coin - and I will carry them both forever.

We were totally too cool for school once - think this was our third anniversary!

To me, both grief and love are like an irreversible chemical reaction - and the effects of both are lifelong. Both are at the core of who I am - because Kinga shaped my life - I can't even begin to imagine who I would be without her - and I honestly dread to even think. When someone so essential to your being dies - the impact of their life and death does not go away. It doesn't go away when they aren't mentioned in every conversation. It doesn't go away, even if you are able to find love again. It won't go away 10, 20 years after the fact, when life is unrecognisable - because that is the impact that person has had on your life. That grief, that love - they exist outside of time - and they defy simple human logic and measurements.  

I do think though, that time is often falsely - and somewhat dangerously - attributed as the main way that people 'heal' from grief. Indeed, how often do we all hear the phrase 'time heals all wounds'? 'It just takes time'. 'It'll feel better with time'. Much in the way grief on it's own isn't an inherent negative, I don't believe that time is a healer, by itself - and this is, in my opinion, one of the greatest misconceptions about grief. Time can provide opportunities to adapt to grief - to learn to live with it - but it is opportunities, experiences, and the people you meet along the way that allow this to happen. Time can also provide opportunities for wounds to become completely overwhelming, and cripple a person long term. Grief isn't a wound by itself - but it can certainly inflict deep, entrenched trauma - and time alone isn't a magical cure to that. 

Yeah, yeah, I know. Too many pictures, right?

We are all vastly different people, living on different timescales, experiencing life through very different lenses. Grief is a process of adaptation, I believe - not a process of healing. I think there is some stigma - some societal expectation - that after x period of time, you are not meant to struggle any more - you are not meant to feel your loss any more - and that is something that we really need to dispel. There are no shoulds, and should nots in grief - there is no guide book, and there should be no expectations - we adapt in our own time, and at our own pace. A person struggling with their grief 10 years down the road, is not doing better or worse than someone who is functioning remarkably well at six months. Grief exists outside of time, and logic - it simply is.

There is a grave, very close by to Kinga's. In my mind, it perfectly illustrates all of what I have said today- and the story it tells has been endlessly inspiring to me. It is a very well looked after grave of a 93 year old Great Grandmother. On this grave, their are three names - hers, then her first husband - who died 'at sea', during the war judging by the year - in his mid 20s. After that, is her second husband, who died at a similar age to her. She was widowed in her 20s - and went on to live a full life - but never did her loss diminish. She may have moved forward - but even some 70 years after the fact - never did she forget him. 

If love is to be eternally immortalised, so to is the grief that comes with it. And as much as I still struggle at 23 months... Choosing her pictures for these posts - seeing that smiling face - the person I shared my life with, my soulmate? Yeah. She makes me smile, long before she makes me sad.

I hope they're keeping each other company now.. <3

It has been a while since I have written here, once again. I'm not ashamed to admit that, like so many others, I have struggled in recent times - due to court, and due to covid preventing me from visiting my family for what will be at minimum a full year. Perhaps the biggest reason for my downturn though, was the passing of Cinnamon Roll, the hamster I got Kinga for her 26th - and final - birthday. I remember vividly telling her not to get too attached to him, as he would have a short life - never expecting him to outlive her... She literally cried tears of happiness when we got him - she loved him dearly. He went on to become my own constant grief companion, and a bridge between my life with Kinga, and without her. 

He passed away on 20th September, and I scattered his ashes underneath Kinga's gravestone shortly after. He had a good run - living to two and a half years of age, and passed peacefully in his favourite house - I assume whilst asleep. A part of me believes that he held on as long as he did, because I needed him to. Since his passing, I've actually learned that hamsters have a greater understanding of emotions than I ever knew - given their solitary nature... Perhaps there is something to that. Kinga announced his arrival on this very blog here - if any of you want to revisit her excitement about getting him. 

Thank you all for reading - and for all of your continued support. This blog - Kinga's blog - has really helped me to make sense of my own grief - and all of your comments, and messages throughout all of the places it is shared in mean the world to me. I hope you all continue to stay safe - truly, none of us are alone in navigating any of this darkness.

I think that's enough for today. 'Til the end of time, Cub. That means you too, Cinnami.


Tuesday 8 September 2020

A Letter, to my Newly Bereaved Self.

Hello everyone.

As lockdown tentatively begins to ease, and the world starts to look just a little bit more recognisable... Lucky, are the people who have survived thus far with all of their loved ones intact. Whilst I am fortunate enough to be one of those people - I am, of course, already intimately acquainted with grief. As more and more people start this same horrendous journey - a journey that I have travelled on for almost 21 months now - and a large amount of them as a direct result of the pandemic - I find myself frequently interacting with people who are much more recently bereaved than I am. That is, in and of itself a challenge - grief is a deeply individual experience, and I cannot begin to understand the extra layers of grief and aggravation that the restrictions have created, that newly bereft people have had to contend with this year. Nevertheless... There remains a sense of unity amongst those affected by grief - the roads that brought us here are innumerable - but the end result is still more or less the same - even if we all experience it according to our own unique lense. 

Time has continued to move me further and further away from my old life with Kinga. The fog of the first year has largely passed for me - I can now see the full emotional, and physical scale of my loss in such clarity - on an almost objective level. Much of my own memory of that early, raw pain has been left in a great cloud of blurriness - a testament to just how overwhelming Kinga's sudden death was for my brain to process. If my brain were a machine, you could say that it's system were overloaded, and it's circuits fried - and it took a lot of time to even start repairing it. It also blocked a lot of things out, as a protection mechanism. I think, in order to continue to understand and explore my grief, however, it is important to stay in tune with those early days - to attempt to decipher that blur - to sift through the memories of those awful, traumatic, and horrendous days - and to try and make some kind of sense of it. To that end, I have attempted to write today's post. 

Mount Teide, Tenerifé, 2018. Our last holiday.

Today, I wanted to write to myself - the self that was thrust into this world on the 12th December of 2018 - like a newborn in an adult's body, forced to instantly learn life from scratch. I write this to myself, because I want to explore the ways that I could have been supported back then - and to see if there is anything to be learned from that time - partly to help me to try and stay connected with those newer to grief. Grief is a deeply individual and unique experience, but I share this here in the hope that some of those who are just starting their journey may find something in it - some small rock to anchor onto in the endless fog of grief. It likely speaks to the difficulty of this task, that it has taken me almost two months just to find the words to complete it. Grief doesn't come with a manual, in the end - it is understood best through sharing our stories, and experiences.

Before I continue, I should preface this. As I have said many times - Grief is very individual, as are the people who experience it. So many people I speak to, I speak to purely because they have experienced it - but  may have little else in common with. What I may tell myself, may not be what another person would want to hear - it may even possibly negatively affect them. Frankly, some of what I have written will not directly apply to everyone. I personally despise positivity and negativity - if they aren't based in reality (my reality, at least). So much of what people say to those who are grieving can come off as a platitude - a phrase that sounds great, but is essentially meaningless - said because it is deemed 'the right thing to say'. Some people look for hope, in grief - and it is easy to see why, when the experience is so covered with absolute despair. I am not suggesting positivity and hope don't exist amongst grief... But, for myself, I cannot speak of either, unless I truly and completely believe in it.

Mr S. Branch
12th December 2018
(Open me in a few days time - no rush)

Hey man.

No, this isn't another form to sign, or another person who needs proof that she is gone. This isn't more painful and soul-crushing death admin. You've done enough of that. They can all wait. They aren't as important as they pretend to be. This is for you. Well, it's for her too - it always will be - but for it to keep being for her, it has to be about you right now. 

Stop. Just stop. You're still here. You're alive. You are. You are going to stay that way - no matter how much you wish it were different. You still matter without her. Yeah, I know. I can feel you rolling your eyes - but it's truer than you can believe right now. I know how badly you want to join her. I ain't gonna tell you not to do it - what's the point? But here I am, 21 months later... We're still here man. We're still here. Not one part of it has been easy, but now? I can smile, sometimes. Laugh, too. We're managing. Surviving - hell, we've survived more than we ever thought was remotely possible. Why do we do it? For a lot of the reasons we used to, actually. So much has changed... But not everything has.

You love her, and she loves you - nothing will ever, ever change that. You will never not care about her. You will never not talk about her - and you will never, ever even begin to remotely forget her. She literally is you now. Realistically... She always has been. People are going to tell you that she is 'always with you', and you're going to hate it. I know. It feels fake, because that is just what people are 'meant to say'. But your relationship with her is an irreversible chemical reaction - we are forever changed - shaped - by her - as she was by us. There is no undoing that - not even slightly. There is so much power in that, and you will learn it in time... But for now, just know that there actually is time. She is always going to matter. I can guarantee that much with absolute certainty- don't doubt it for a single second.

You don't have to make any big decisions. Not now, not yet. You don't have to throw all of our stuff away, either. Yeah, you are going to have to move out... We really can't avoid that. Always about money, right? But christ. Take it all with you. It doesn't matter. There's time for that. There's space in your flat. You can sort it properly in time. Because there is still time. Don't rush going back to work, either - it isn't expected of you... Even if it was, why should we care? Kinga loved to say that we work to live - not the other way around. Right now, living itself is hard work - we needn't add to that. Not right away. There is still time. 

You are severely - and I mean severely - underestimating people. Nothing new there, right? It's not weak to accept help. Not at all. You aren't failing her, if you do. You aren't forgoing your duty to her. People you never dreamed would care genuinely want to help - let them! You'll learn in time the value of those people - and the value of those you have yet to meet. No one is expecting anything of you, except yourself. No one is expecting you to be fine. I know your first instinct is to want to be alone - but for once - just once - try and let people help you - at least with the practical things, if nothing else.

There is no right or wrong way to do this. You don't have to fight it. You don't have to look, or act a certain way. The only pressure is the pressure you're putting on yourself right now. If you need to cry, cry until there are no tears left. Then cry some more. If you need to shout, or scream, do it. Please, don't use what little energy we have left on fighting yourself. We can't change how we feel - and our feelings, no matter how dark, are completely valid. 

She is as essential to your life now, as she has ever been. She is you now. Her voice is yours now. You don't need to find it right away - like I need you to hear so much right now... There's time for all of that. Her story isn't over yet. It'll last longer, if you keep telling it. We can do so much with all that she has taught us - and all that she has inspired us to be. We've got to be around to do that, though. She needs us to be. Take it one minute at a time. Breathe. Keep going. Push on. That's all that you can do right now - and that is okay.

It's not okay. It will never be right. It's absolute hell. But this isn't how the story ends - for either of you. You have time to recover. You have time to find the words. You can make her legacy shine even brighter. You have that power. But for now... Grieve. Survive. The world can wait for you. She can wait for you. You're doing fine.

Future You.

P.S. The printer doesn't work. That'll save you some stress later.
P.P.S No judgement, but a few less needless 'f it' expenses will save us hassle in the long run! 
P.P.P.S People. Care. I know you won't believe it, so I thought you needed the reminder.

Kinga took this of me in Tenerifé. It has always felt very fitting, as a visual analogy of grief.

Thank you, as always to those who continue to read here. The last two months have been... Challenging - and I have really struggled to formulate the words that normally come much more easily to me. We had our first court dates for the man who... 'is accused'... of killing Kinga. Needless to say, I legally can't speak to circumstances - but he pleaded not guilty, and we are going to have a full trial some time next year - covid has created a substantial backlog, so it may be some time. It is funny, almost... It is something we have waited so long for, and willed to come sooner - but when it is here... None of us want to live it. Not at all. None of us want to sit in that room, with the person who ended her life and hear... Excuses. There is no good outcome for this situation - the best we can hope for, is that it simply doesn't get worse.

It was also Kinga's birthday, on the 13th of August. Her second one, since she passed. She would be 28, now. I don't often share pictures of where she is buried - but I'll make an exception, this one time. As with last year, I spent the full day with her. There was a storm due that morning - but it got delayed until the afternoon... Then again to the evening - leaving it dry all day. I often associate the weather with her - perhaps I will talk about that more, sometime. I find her birthday hard - as with any occasion... But for me, it is a little lighter to continue celebrating it, even after she is gone. We had our mutually favourite wine, vegan birthday cake, and played her favourite songs... Things that we would likely have done, had she lived.

I also did do an Instagram 'Tawk' last month (link here - regrettably, you will need an Instagram account to watch it), with my good friend, and fellow WAYer Kate Banks Siegler. It is essentially an informal interview. We talked about grief, about Kinga... Just everything, really. There is so much more I could have said in hindsight - but that always seems to be the way of these things. Speaking doesn't come as naturally to me as writing ordinarily does - so I thank anyone who took the time to watch this. I'd highly recommend this series in general - as Kate does give light to a lot of different experiences amongst young, bereaved people.
Thank you all so much for your continuing support - it truly does mean the world. Also, I have to give a special shout out to those who donated to my mum's 50th birthday fundraiser for WAY - I know a few of you are reading. Over £400.00 was raised - which is truly unexpected, and staggering. I know that money will go a long way to helping others in my position to find the support they need.

'til the end of time, eh Cub? Always.


Sunday 5 July 2020

A Legacy of Words - Grief, Writing... And a Massive Thank You.

Hello everyone,

So... Shoes and Glitter is now an award winning blog. How about that? Just last week, this blog won the Helen Bailey award, named in honour of the late author, WAY member, and writer of the blog 'Planet Grief'. There are no words that will describe just how much it means to me - for Kinga's legacy, and to be recognised on a personal level by a charity of my peers that I consider family. It is still bittersweet that Kinga did not live to see it - and that it has only come about because she both lived, loved, and died.

I've had some somewhat puzzled reactions from people initially, when I  call the award 'ours' - I think because it is my writing that technically won. I must reiterate though - it is our award - perhaps even moreso Kinga's than my own. This blog is - and always will be hers - she built it, and poured her heart and soul into managing and maintaining it. She doesn't inspire my writing - she is my writing - quite literally, she is at the heart of all of my words in this place - and in the vast majority of my words and actions outside of it too. In essence - she did the hard part - I just try and give her life a voice, now that she is so forcibly muted. I wish so much that I wasn't the guest writer here - that she could still use this outlet as hers - that her voice wasn't diluted with my own interpretations of her and our life together.

Writing is a bridge between lives, that can survive time itself. It is a gateway to the past, where we all will eventually be consigned to. Writing is in so many ways, a way to be heard, long after you are no longer here. Today, I want to spend a little time revisiting the words that she wrote here - looking just a little at some of the legacy she created.

Kinga made this blog three years prior to her death. She built it to a point where it still, to this day, receives 5000-7000 page views per month - my own posting only accounts for around a quarter to a third of that, on average. This blog is still alive, and for it's intended purpose - over 18 months after she has passed (really makes you wonder what she could have done with another 50 years, right?}. When I first began writing here - I only did so so that her following would know she had passed. I then decided that I really didn't want to let this place die - but it took a long time for my thoughts to become coherent enough to have any real weight. Once I actually realised that this place had never died... I felt bad for underestimating her. People still look to her for advice on beauty and lifestyle stuff - even though she is gone.

Anyway, as her posts slowly get buried by my own, and as this blog gets mistakenly called more and more often 'mine' (which it will never be), let's get into a few of her posts. I did this once before - but there are so many to talk about! Even though the subject matter may not appeal to everyone - it is her personality that shines through in everything she writes. It is also a chance to show off her epic photography skills - Kinga had a rule whereby she would only ever post images here that she had taken herself - I've thus far managed to stick to that rule myself as well.

Boyfriend Makeup Knowledge Tag

Starting off with one that personally makes me laugh - because it is perhaps the only post I was ever directly involved in! She wrote it pretty much as it happened, too... I think I did alright on the test actually (and the comments seem to agree)! To preface, I did actually read (and, when she was less confident starting out, proof read) every single one of her posts - but never wanted to be directly involved. Can't recall how she talked me into this!

She wanted me to try and do her makeup once for a post. She never successfully got me to agree to that one - it would have been an absolute disaster!

Any of her perfume posts

Perfumery was Kinga's passion - as anyone who regularly read her blog would know. She owned, at the time of her death, 170 perfumes - and that was after she sold a few, too (they are currently with her parents, who have them displayed in a glass cabinet. It is quite a sight to see). The way she talked about them - she was just so full of knowledge, and passion. She was pretty much an expert on the topic. I still spray her headstone with the couple I kept sometimes.

She had just started to put together plans to write a book on perfumery when she was killed - she didn't think anyone had done a good one. I have no doubt it would've been awesome.

Unpopular Beauty Opinions

Bringing up a random one here - Kinga was just never afraid to stand on her own. She had a fire to her, that few had any reason to see - but was ever present under the surface. I think it took her a while to use this space to speak out - but she was really starting to. I think a better example of this that I've highlighted before is her 'Forced Positivity In Blogging & Why It's Okay To Be Sad' post. Like her, I really hate platitudes - I say things as they are - whether they are positive or negative.

A little controversy never hurt, right?


This makes me smile. She was super, super excited to finally get a pet - words seriously cannot express just how happy she was (she literally cried when we got him). Kinga named him Cinnamon Roll (I call him Cinnamiko, which kinda stuck as a nickname), and picked out all of his things, designed his habitat, etc. I kept telling her not to get attached too much - as he wouldn't live all that long... Then he outlived her.

He's still going - he's a little over two now. He's been quite sick lately unfortunately... Now I'm the one who is fully attached, and isn't ready to see him go. Life is strange indeed.

100 Beauty Blog Ideas

I don't have any particular attachment to this post - but it is probably the best example of how this page is her legacy. This post is consistently the most regularly viewed post on this page. It is not the most viewed - that goes to a lipstick review, that Kinga never fully understood why it blew up, and that she was actually really not happy with! At it's current pace though, it will likely become the most viewed post here.

100 beauty blog post ideas. How many people who have viewed it have been inspired by these ideas? How many words have, even slightly, been influenced by this? Continue to be influenced by this? I truly have no idea, but people keep on coming back to it. Now that? That makes me smile. The ripples just keep flowing on.

How to be a Successful blogger when You're Socially Anxious?

I highlight this post, more as a 'what could have been'. Kinga was becoming more and more open to talking about her mental health - especially around her anxiety (which I don't think many had any clue was as crippling as it was). She presented as much more confident than she gives herself credit for in this post - especially as she grew older - and really didn't let many people in on what was going on in her head. As her partner of nine and half years - I do know, but also don't feel it my place to tell that story - but I can highlight the few pieces where she expressed that side of herself..

One of her many unpublished posts was about her struggles with anxiety and mental health. It is too unfinished to publish - but she really could have and would have - used this platform to help some people. It reaffirms my belief that she would be happy with what I am writing here now.

I've been meaning to revisit her posts here for quite some time - it feels good to have finally done so again. She built her legacy in the short amount of time she had here - and I am glad to be able to continually add to it. In the spirit of that evolution - I recently recorded a video for men's health week - something the pre grief me would have massively shied away from. I figure that now, more than ever, it is important to speak out - to take every opportunity I can to give her pointless death just that much more meaning. Every time that I do... It adds to her legacy. You can find that video here (apologies, as it is a Facebook link).

Also, my words have been published in print - for the first time ever. She always thought I should write more - and always encouraged it. It's pretty amazing to actually see it happen. This is a modified version of the Year in Grief post I wrote around the year mark. Everything I wrote there is still true - and in my lower moments - when I lose sight of these things - I go back to this one. I never normally re read my own words. Funny that eh?

I want to end this (slightly longer) post today with a pretty massive thank you to WAY, to everyone who voted on the award, and everyone who reads and contributes to Kinga's legacy.  The Helen Bailey award really isn't a competition to me. To me, it is a celebration of grief writing - something I feel is so important to do, if we want the people unaffected by grief to understand our experiences. Nobody wants to be eligible to join WAY - but it is where we find ourselves, nonetheless. In the spirit of this not being a competition, I would like to give a quick shout out to the other nominees. We all have such wildly different experiences - and I would encourage anyone reading this to take a look at their work. They are as follows:

'Swimming Through Clouds' - by Beverley Ward, who also authored the book 'Dear Blacksmith', about her life with her partner, Paul.
'Life without Mummy' - by Lee Cripps, who documents life as a widow whilst raising twins.
'Widowed at 26 Years Old' - a guest post on 'Let's Talk About Loss' by Olivia Rose - who writes about being widowed by cancer at an especially young age.
'No Rain No Ranbows' - by Mark Wilcox, who writes about navigating grief as a widowed father, and about rebuilding a life after grief.

Aside from the nominees, I would also like to give a quick shout out to last years winner, Aimée Claire, for her aptly named blog 'A Nameless Pain'. In addition to being a constant source of inspiration and support to myself, her writing on being an unwed widow at 26 is truly unlike any other.

They asked everyone to give a picture after they were nominated - and I insisted on having one of us - because it is our award, like I previously said. Nobody argued with me on that. It's the small things that count, eh? Thank you so much for reading here. I have no plans to stop writing... In fact, things are only going to ramp up, I think. Court proceedings officially begin in just over a week too... This journey is only going to get harder, before it becomes at all manageable. 

Anyway, we did a thing Cub. How 'bout that? 'til the end of goddamn time.

Tuesday 26 May 2020

A Future with Grief.

Hello everyone.

In a few short days, it will be Kinga and I's 11 year anniversary. She has been gone so, so long now, that I have no real clue what life would be like were she still here - there were long term plans of course, but no specifics - no guarantees. Last year, celebrating our 10 year anniversary alone - an event we had planned (we had booked a holiday to Cyprus), one that she was so excited for - it crushed me beyond all words (This was coupled with the fact that we interred her ashes the day before that - the last time I ever held her... May of 2019 was a hard month). This year is different - this year... I'm mourning an event I could not possibly predict. Time has drifted me so far away from that life now, that the details and particulars of it are now entirely lost to an alternate timeline.

The idea of a future with grief is... Well there are no words that can fully express this struggle - but it is something I want to try and talk about today. I realised early on that grief was something I would live with forever - despite the overwhelming agony it creates, it is not some ailment to be cured - there is no pill that could take it from me. Immense grief is a result of immense love - and if that love is now immortalised... Then so is the grief that comes with it. If unspeakable, unimaginable pain is a result of that love, then it is a side effect I knew I'd have to learn to live with too. Words make it sound so simple, don't they? I've spoken before about mourning the version of the future we had planned - the version that my own head can make sense of - the one that was lost. But actually learning to exist in this present reality - the one where an unthinkable, nightmarish version of the future has actually come to pass... It is a feat beyond words.

She probably hated me for taking this. Perhaps she'll come back and shout at me for posting it... Here's hoping!
At first, after Kinga was killed, it was hard to even accept that there is still life after her death - that I hadn't physically died with her. It became hard to even accept that I could be alive in a world where something so unlikely - so evil, had happened. Just looking beyond the next few minutes or hours could be... Impossibly hard, on some days. For me, It became necessary to attempt to live in the immediate moment - the past had become filled with bittersweet, painful and tainted memories: and the future was engulfed in a great, painful void - a place that even glimpsing at could conjure images of great despair.

After some of the initial rawness passes, it seems to become more natural to try and fill the present with distractions - hobbies, work, daydreaming of an alternate reality - anything that can avert your gaze away from that overwhelming void, even for a while. As time goes by, I have found that you can look into that void for longer - but it is no less crushing, and it remains an insurmountable task to even think about attempting to do anything about it. Accepting that you still exist, means accepting all that you lost no longer exists - your person, the future you had planned, and, to some degree at least, the person you were as well. Everything is changed: and none of it is easy to swallow.

Heaven? If it at all exists, I think it'd look something like this.

One thing that I have struggled with - in terms of moving forward, at least - is a changed relationship with death. Death is no longer a concept to me - no longer something that only happens to older, or sick people; I see how indiscriminate an event it truly is. I am more in tune with death - I notice it more on the news, or when I hear people are ill - when people are in situations that may cause even the slightest risk of death. I simply expect death now; I see it everywhere. I'm simultaneously more sensitive to the risk of it, and yet somehow more desensitised to actuality of it. Kinga's death was so random, and so unexpected - that I guess it made me realise that this is an immensely unsafe and dangerous world - that we can die on any day, at any moment.

I have lived over two years longer than Kinga, now. I have had much longer than she ever had - and yet it felt like our lives were still just starting. As I slowly approach 30, I begin to hear people jokingly tell me I must feel old - but the reality... I already feel so, so old. I feel like every day I have lived longer than she has, has been borrowed time - that it could - and will - just run out on any given day. That any moment, a satellite will fall on me when I'm out walking, or perhaps the ground under my feet will give way - maybe even to a super-volcano - these absurd eventualities feel as possible as what happened to Kinga (Case in point... We are living in the middle of a global pandemic - truly anything is possible). That feeling has been so, so prevalent for me; and has made existence seem so futile. When every day feels like borrowed time - when death becomes an expectation, how do you make peace with that? How do you rebuild a life, when it feels like you are laying the foundations of it on quicksand? Why create any new life for yourself, that can be lost in an instant?

One of our last pictures together - our 9 year anniversary trip to Tenerife. She had allllll the cocktails...!

There isn't really an answer to these things, I think. I have come to contextualise these questions over time less as barriers; and more as just myself having a greater understanding of the fragile nature of life. Over time, they have made me more appreciative of my past; and of the things that I have left in my present. But even being able to accept a present existence doesn't make the idea of a future any easier to swallow - because it is not the future we had planned by any stretch of the imagination. The future went from being familiar - full of years of  carefully laid plans and goals - to complete uncertainty, resembling none of that. Even when you begin to accept that you are in fact, still alive, you are still trapped in the middle of an ocean, on a small, rudderless boat... A boat that you constantly need to bail water out of, just to stay afloat.

The future is an illusion, in reality. You can never live in the future - but we all try and plan for it, on some level. For myself, I don't yet know yet what it will look like - beyond the impending court case, of course -  but time has allowed me to begin to accept that it can still exist - and if that it does exist, it is because of Kinga, not in spite of her. I will never 'move on' from her - she is at the heart of all of my actions. I will carry everything I have learned and gained from her with me until I die (whether that is in five minutes, or 70 years). I think that is one of the great misunderstandings about grief - that you have to choose between embracing your past, and trying to have a future. I choose both - and no one person can make me decide otherwise.


It is still hard to imagine a 'happy' future - but I think just accepting that it exists is enough for now. Despite how this post may read - I do genuinely believe that there is some hope - for all of us. In writing this,  I hope not to depress anyone - more to simply recognise the struggles of rebuilding a life after overwhelming trauma. The more we talk about these things... The more we learn. The more we can understand, and support each other.

Thank you, as always, to all who continue reading here. This was quite a difficult post to write - and wound up touching on some darker places than I intended it to. People have really responded to my grief writing lately - ever since the 'Year in Grief' post, really - and it has bolstered my confidence in continuing to talk about it. Grief truly is the loneliest place - and if anything I write can help make someone feel less alone - even for five minutes - or help someone grief adjacent better understand it - then it has been worth the effort. It certainly benefits me in getting these cloudy, complicated thoughts out here - helping me to navigate the tangled mass of webbing that is grief... And I know she would approve of that.

Here's to 11 years Cub. 'Til the end of time, eh? Whatever may come.


Wednesday 15 April 2020

Grief In Isolation

Hello everyone.

The world has finally stopped. At least, that is how it both looks, and feels. People are describing their current, temporary losses - routines, freedom, certainty, safety - in ways that are distinctly grief-like. I can, of course, only speak for my own experience when it comes to grief and loss - but these are all things that were lost to me when Kinga was killed. The world ceased to make sense - and now, with a global pandemic gripping everyone, the world has managed to become even more implausible. I spoke in my last post about how this world where Kinga no longer exists feels like an alternate timeline... That feeling only seems to grow, as this reality becomes less grounded, and all the more absurd.

Like many, I entered a period of self-isolation after developing symptoms. I only had to isolate for 7 days - not 14 - literally because Kinga died, and I live alone as a result. Were Kinga here, 14 days alone with her honestly sounds great - we were constantly lacking on time together due to work commitments.... But she is not. That timeline is one that I know a lot of bereaved people can relate to right now. It struck me that this is literally the longest time I have spent away from anyone, possibly ever. This period of time has been amongst the most challenging, and dark I have ever lived - I have been forced to survive without the few small things routines and rituals that have kept me going these past 16 months... I can't imagine how I would have felt, had this happened at this time, last year.

I decided to write this post for a couple of reasons: but chief among them, I think, is just to remind the world that now more than ever, it is vital to not allow this time of  physical isolation to breed actual isolation... That now, perhaps even more than usual, it is important to recognise the unique impact that this pandemic can have on grief, and perhaps more general mental health. My experience is all too common: but now feels like a deeply relevant time to talk about it.

Our flat in Plymouth. We had more time in those days - we would have had so much more fun in isolation.

In the early days of grief, the fact that the world kept on spinning felt like an insult - the idea that the vast majority of people were not directly affected by Kinga's death - that she was just another tragic face and name plastered in the local headlines - It was not something my mind could understand (to tell you the truth, it never really has). I selfishly wanted everyone to grieve her - even those that never even knew she existed. I wanted everyone to be miserable, to feel deeply uncomfortable living in such a dangerous, unpredictable world. I couldn't understand how apathetic the world was to her death. I think, as humans, we often feel invincible - we live with that whole mentality of bad things only really happening to other people - risks are conceptual, up until the point they become real. The pre-grief version of myself was guilty of that too. In so many ways, the world at large right now seems to be gathering a growing awareness of just how fragile our existence really is - but I have little doubt that those not directly affected will return to apathy once the dust has settled.

But now the world has stopped. For me, it stopped just as it finally began to slowly start spinning again. I know, from my support group, that so, so many of the bereaved are struggling right now. It takes a monumental amount of effort to build momentum in a post-loss world. For me, the person who killed Kinga had finally been charged - just in time for the courts to close.  Literally all positive plans that had been made - no matter how minor - were cancelled. I no longer can visit Kinga - as I did once or twice every week - because the cemetery is closed. Early in my grief, I established a rule to protect my own mental health from (ironically) isolation - whereby I would go out every single day (a rule that has been vital and consistent in my grief) - but I lost even that, when I had to self-isolate. Everyone is losing right now. Greater losses - people, livelihoods. But, when you have lost that which made your life worth living - and then lose what little else was left... It is so, so hard to retain any measure of hope.

Dawlish - one of our early anniversaries. Happiness... Sunshine... Perfection.

This period of forced isolation felt entirely like an entirely different world to me. I had only my own company (and mercifully, our hamster), which is something I have not been entirely comfortable with since Kinga was killed. Early in my grief, I realised that sitting still simply brought attention to the inescapable void in my life that Kinga left behind - hence I developed the aforementioned rule where I had to keep moving. I think it is inevitable that in grief, we will try and fill that void (an impossible task) - be it with more socially acceptable things (like exercise, or hobbies), or less acceptable things, like alcohol. Isolation forced me to sit in my flat, with my grief, and without any of my socially acceptable coping mechanisms. My brain, which had finally begun to regain it's focus somewhat, was complete unprepared for just how overwhelming grief in inescapable isolation could be. It was like being stuck with a giant, hulking, starving monster.

Those seven days were a blur. I recall getting to Thursday, and having a minor panic attack because I believed, truly, that it was a Monday. Time loses all sense of meaning when your person dies - and that is even more true in periods of concentrated grief. I believe that is also why this current pandemic is hitting bereaved people especially hard... I've talked before about how hard the future is as a concept, when you have lost your partner, and your almost expected future. It forces you to exist in the present - day by day, hour by hour - sometimes even minute by minute in order to manage your reality. When your present feels utterly hopeless - it is hard to feel any kind of hope that life will get better. Whenever I have talked to people about how hard I have found this lockdown - they like to assure me that it is 'temporary'. When time is a complete illusion - when there is no tangible future - temporary loses it's meaning. The present is the only, unfortunate, reality.

One of our first truly big adventures - Paris, 2012

I recall finally leaving my flat after those seven blurry days - and seeing how the world had changed. I began developing symptoms shortly after the lockdown announcement (they passed after a couple of bad days - whether it was Covid-19 or not, I likely will never know), and people weren't taking many measures yet to combat it. The world afterward... Was strange. It was similar to how it felt leaving our house in the really early days of grief (dizzy, surreal, tilted) - but this time... It was kind of how I imagined it being after she died - instead of the world just kind of continuing as it did back then. The streets were emptied. The people I saw avoided me - some wearing face masks. I had stepped into a different world than the one I had left. My grief left me wondering if all of this was just more fallout from Kinga's death - more evidence of the world just going completely wrong without her. That probably seems a ridiculous thought to those not affected by early bereavement - but grief so easily becomes the centre of my own existence.

We are still in lockdown, of course. I am not personally in isolation. I can (and do) walk, now, and  can work again. I think it would be easy to believe that that small piece of freedom means that all that I have written about is past tense now - but it is not. Regaining lost momentum is impossible right now, whilst the world (ironically) refuses to spin. Even as clarity begins to make a comeback - it will likely be some time before hope does the same. I know so, so many feel that right now... In an era of seemingly forced positivity, I think it is so damn important to recognise and validate the truth of what we are feeling.

We were both kind of in love with these chairs!

So... This was a very different post for me - but it feels like an important one for right now. This blog isn't mine - it is Kinga's - but I believe she would approve of what I write here - and the messages I receive from it. I'm not yet ready to fully speak about the full extent of the darkness my grief has wrought - but I hope to, one day - if people continue to find it helpful. Writing truly does bring about a sense of order amongst my thoughts, a level of connection with the world, and a degree of catharsis to me. I've said it before, but I believe everyone should write about their grief, and mental health.

More importantly, if you are isolated, and struggling - you're not alone. I know - I really, really know -  just how damn alone it feels - but you aren't. And if you're reading this, and not struggling? Reach out to someone who is. There is enough death in the world on account of this pandemic - and whilst the world is focused on curing the physical side of this disease... Loneliness, despair, isolation - they are all killers too - we shouldn't allow them to operate in silence.

Thank you as always to everyone who reads this. I intend (as I did before this pandemic) for my next post to once again highlight some more of Kinga's writing. Her legacy forever lives and breathes in this space, even if she can't add to it any more.

'Til the end of time, Cub.


Saturday 7 March 2020

Remembering the Future.

Hello everyone.

We are now in March - and we are slowly approaching Mother's Day. Were Kinga still here, I have little doubt she would be thinking up some perfume recommendations right about now - and this blog would continue to be filled with her sage advice, passions, and her unique sparkle. That is the way things should be. Instead, we live in a world without her. A world where her footsteps exist - but she just doesn't any more. This space is now firmly devoted to establishing and preserving her legacy - drawing attention to those footsteps... And expressing grief for those she can no longer take.

I often think of the reality I currently exist in as an alternate timeline - in the main timeline she is still alive. That may sound like a strong case of denial, or a detachment from reality to some - and perhaps that is true on some level. I think this way, because of how strongly I mourn the future that was mapped out for us - the future that would likely exist were she still alive. I do recognise that the future is a fiction, really - we can't see it, or live in it. The best we can do is make predictions about it based on probability. The probability of the future I saw for us was quite high - we had realistic, achievable plans, with so much potential beyond that. The probability of her death... Well, that margin is so slim, it just doesn't register in a world filled with any logic and reason. The future in the main timeline is so, so real to me... The future in this reality... Well unthinkable things can happen to anyone, at any time, here. It is fog, and uncertainty.

Kinga with Cinnamon Roll. One of the very last pictures I have of her.

My mind slips into the main timeline, and daydreams about what we would be doing now, were she alive. When she died, that was easier to envisage - we had immediate plans, such as our 10 year anniversary trip to Cyprus. I was personally applying for teacher training - which, had everything gone well, I would be doing now. Kinga had been coaching me throughout the whole process... She was so charismatic - I had nothing on her. Kinga half wrote a post (much to my own heartbreak), before she died, called 'Goodbye 2018, Hello 2019!', where she listed her goals for the year she never got to see. She wanted to change her job (which, may have inadvertently saved her life), to exercise more regularly, to stick to a more regularly posting schedule... Normal, real plans. Outside of that, we had our own plans for the future. At 26... The future was full of endless possibilities. Possibilities, that were taken from her.

I mentioned that it is Mother's Day this month. It was this, that prompted me to write this post. That likely is an eyebrow raising statement - I understand that. I am a man, with a mother who is alive and well, without children of my own. Kinga was not a mother - besides being a hamster mum, of course (she would be shouting at me if I didn't acknowledge that, quite frankly). She was not pregnant. We weren't trying for children yet. To the average stranger, I would appear to have no tangible reason to talk about this day. However... One of the most certain plans we had - estimated at about two years from the point of her death, and certainly before we were 30, was to start a family.

Edinburgh, 2015. Really, really nice memories there.

Our children don't exist. Literally. They were a thought. A probability. A part of the fictional future I have no access to, but is so damn real to me. Their mother is gone. Frankly, the person whom she believed would be a good father to them is gone too. We hadn't gone beyond planning and talking about them... And yet, their loss burns as hard to me as Kinga's does. When I visit Kinga - as I do often, I think about them. We had names picked out - names that had taken us countless hours and years to actually agree on, no less. Sebastian for a boy. Scarlett for a girl. Names for people that can't exist. That, in this timeline, never did. People, who are no more real to the rest of the world, than another person's imaginary friend.

I mourn thoughts. I grieve for people who were never even conceived. I don't know their faces. I don't know who they would have become. I don't know anything about them. Hell, I don't know for certain that they could have even existed - life has a habit of throwing up additional roadblocks. I've lost the opportunity to meet them. We both lost the chance to find out... Because she is gone. When I lost her, my family became condemned to an eternity as an idea. An unwritten chapter of my life. They exist solely in my head. And yet, they are more real to me than almost any person I know.

This was in Poland, actually. Yeah...

I'm sure there are a few people who question why I chose to talk about this. I debated it myself, to tell you the truth. I have mentioned to a few people how I feel that more than one person is buried with Kinga... I always get puzzled reactions. Her grave is so much more than where her remains are buried. It is the grave of my family. The grave of her future. I want the world to know what it is missing. I want the world to feel her loss - feel my pain - and understand it. Perhaps then, a few people may think twice before they put other people in harms way, through their own selfish and reckless behaviour. The man who killed her did not just take her life, nor her future: he took away the lives of our children too. There are no bodies. No funerals. No eulogies. No-one left behind to speak their names. But they are gone all the same.

The more I talk about her, and spread her story, the more she is alive. So, I keep talking. Our children didn't exist - but if I talk about them too... Then perhaps they can find some form in words, that they were denied by life. I hope that the main timeline is a reality - and that they are that much closer to existing in that world. I hope that there, I am still trying to talk Kinga out of having Hello Kitty wallpaper in their bedrooms (regardless of gender) - even though I know deep down that that is a losing battle. I hope they inherit her beauty, and her fire. I hope she teaches them to not take any crap from people - whilst still acting with thought, dignity and compassion. I hope they live a life of honesty, true to themselves, and on their own scales of success, and do whatever makes them happy. Hell, were she alive, I would never have needed to worry. They could not have asked for a better role model, with Kinga as a mother.

I know as well, that many people in my situation - and there are so, so many of us - feel this way too. Many of us mourn the futures we thought we had - whatever that may have entailed. Many of us mourn children we never had, memories we never made, paths that are no longer open to us... The more I explore my own grief, the more I see the value in talking about it's complexities - in attempting to normalise these feelings, that are likely alien to those who are grief adjacent. Grief is hard enough, without living in fear of judgement for mind-altering feelings that come along with it.

Thank you to all who still read this page. The response to my last post here in particular has been overwhelming. This blog has actually been nominated for the Helen Bailey award through WAY - a charity, whom if you have read my past posts, know has been massive support to me since Kinga was killed. I have to say a massive thank you to whomever nominated me - and all those who voted too. Honestly, regardless of outcome, just being heard, being recognised, keeping her legacy going... These are things that mean more to me than anything else in this world. It has encouraged me to write more about my grief. If people can see themselves in her ripples... Then her legacy is also in helping people. This is still her page though, and I do intend to write a part two to her post highlights soon (I have started the process!).

When I began posting here, I was conflicted. This is her space. Her legacy. I posted to keep it alive. As I take a more active role in managing it however... I realise that it never died. This page still, nearly 15 months after her death, receives 5000 page views a month - and my own posts only account for about a quarter of that. I looked on her business e-mail (which I only recently changed) - and she was still receiving daily brand offers. People still look to her for advice. People are still drawn to her. This part of her legacy never even faded.

She is still so, so present, for so many... And that thought? That does manage to make me smile.


Sunday 5 January 2020

Kinga - A Year in Grief.

Tenerife 2018. This is the last dress she ever wore.

Hello everyone.

It is... Unthinkable... That it has been more than a full year since Kinga's life was taken from us. Time passes so randomly and illogically in grief. I somewhat recently wrote on my support group that it 'feels like I am an unwilling participant in time, sometimes. Like time is this unwavering sentinel, simply dragging me along by the leg, whilst I kick and scream - just moving further and further away from the time when she existed. I've been begging it to stop for most a year, but it keeps on chugging - relentless, unflinching.' The day she died feels just like yesterday - but part of me wonders if the nine and a half years we had together ever even happened at all. Some days, they just feel like a deeply elaborate dream.

I don't wish for this post to be about me - but I guess it is unavoidable that I will be talking about my grief here - grief is truly an expression of love, in reality. This has been the worst year I have ever lived - worse than anything I could have ever dreamed of living. No one thinks about - or wants to think about - anyone in their life dying - especially long before their time - but it happens. Perhaps we should consider these things. The me that exists now has a far greater understanding of the value of the time that I had with her, than the version of me that she knew.  We all get caught up in life - drama, money, crap - and we so easily lose sight of what is important. In the pursuit of moving forward in our lives - it is remarkably easy to forget to take stock and appreciate the things in our lives that we are actually living for.

I don't have enough pictures like this - pictures of every day life. This was in our old flat in Plymouth, 2011-2014

Legacy is a concept that has been a constant battle for me in this past year. Keeping her memory alive - giving her meaningless death some meaning - these things that have kept me going. Those who knew her don't need me to tell them how wonderful she could be in life - how undeserved and cruel her death was. She was a private person - it is true - something we both shared - but she wanted to make her mark on this world. She would have, too. Today actually marks the date where I have lived two years longer than she has - and my own marks on this world are far, far lesser than hers. She simply wouldn't have accepted any less than a bright, sparkly and glittery future. I often think that she would feel anger about her death, before she felt sadness - angry, that someone took her future, purely out of their own negligence and stupidity.

Nevertheless, legacy troubles me. She was 26 years, 3 months, and 29 days old - and had much, much more life to come - her greatest achievements were ahead of her. If the average person these days is living to around 80 - then she was robbed of  over two thirds of her life. This place is her most obvious and tangible legacy - and she lives in the memories of those who knew and loved her. Another thought occurred to me, more recently, however - that my own continued existence is her legacy too.

People will often tell the bereaved that their person 'lives on inside them' - but that has always felt like a platitude to me - a small, meaningless, learned phrase, designed purely to comfort, but devoid of real meaning. But Kinga was me. Is me. The lines between us remain invisible, really. Sure, we had opposite personalities - she was fire, I was ice - but we were each other's lives for a decade - from the ages of 16 and 17. We shaped each other. Learned from each other. Shared everything together. It is impossible to separate the parts of me that exist independent of her - because there is no aspect of my life that isn't intrinsically tied to her.

How she would want to be remembered - her makeup skills plain for all to see.

Legacy is also troubling because it implies moving forward - a concept that is beyond difficult to understand for many of the newly bereaved. The year mark felt like this huge moment - the end of this arduous journey. Reaching the mountaintop. I couldn't see that in reality... It was just another day. Nothing changed that day. She didn't magically reappear. My own journey didn't end - it carried on. I was at the place she was killed, at the time she died, standing in the pouring rain. I waited there (with her parents), until the time that I know she finally died - like some lost time traveler. A year too late. Nothing changed.

Moving forward is a concept that realistically I have begun to come to terms with however. Going back to what I said about how we were intrinsically tied together... Well, it made me realise that anyone who likes me, likes her. Because she is me. Anyone who loves, or may love me in the future, also loves her. Because she is me. I am her legacy, because I am a result of our relationship. The person I am - the person I may become - is because of her. Independent of that, I will also never stop talking about her. No matter what comes, she is alive for as long as I am alive - and hopefully long passed that. As Terry Pratchett would say, her ripples will flow on. I think above all else - this thought gives me the most comfort.

Portugal, 2017. I also don't have enough pictures of us smiling or pratting about like we usually did. 

Sometimes I feel like I understand my grief. Other times I think I am an idiot for thinking that even possible. To me, grief is just a neat word society has taught me to use, in order to describe the complete and utter decimation of our life - our future - everything I have come to know, or expected life to be. The word 'loss' does not even remotely begin to cover what I have lost. I may have found some comfort in knowing her legacy exists through me - but I will never, ever be okay with what happened to her. Thus, leads on to perhaps the most important part of her future legacy.

I still can't talk about the circumstances of her death. To say that I am aching to would be an understatement. I can say that the decision to charge the man that did this to her has not yet been made - over a year on, and 9 months after the conclusion of the investigation. I am a law graduate - I genuinely believed in the system - but so much of living through this has exposed deep, deep flaws within it. His licence has not been revoked. In fact, regardless of circumstance, this can't be taken until he is convicted. I guess the system doesn't value life and safety as much as we would all like to believe it does.

I guess this has the potential to be the most far reaching part of her legacy. It is not tied to her life - and it is not the part of her story I want to tell - but it is the part I want to change - when I am able to speak about it. I hope in exposing the flaws in the system - in exposing the events that lead to her death - there may be a few less people left where I am. I guess I have truly gained a spark of her fire after all.

Helligan, 2010. She was always so damn beautiful. 

Thank you all for reading. I want to keep writing here - as my brain allows me too. This place is the most tangible and real part of her legacy. Reading her words, seeing her videos, it triggers so many memories for me - small conversations, and tiny details. This place is an expression of herself - a self, that no longer has being. I would also like to take the chance to thank everyone who has supported me this year - especially the amazing friends I have made in WAY - Widowed and Young, a charity that has quite possibly saved my life, and has become like family to me. Frankly, anyone who has offered me a kindness this year - I owe you, and I thank you.

The biggest thanks I have to give though, is reserved to those who have heard Kinga's story, and speak her name. To those who help me keep her alive - whether you knew her, or not... I thank you, from the bottom of my heart. Words cannot express what that truly means.

Marrakesh, 2016. So far out of our comfort zone. Still smiling.
Well... There's little else to say, I think. Here's to the continuation of her life, and her story. In 2020, and beyond.

'Til the end of time, Cub. 'Til the end of bloody time.

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