Tag Archives: Grief Loss and Bereavement

Don’t Touch

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When I was pregnant (both times,) I very quickly tired of people coming up to touch my belly uninvited.  It was bad enough when my friends and family did this, but total strangers would do the same thing.  I worked in a public location and, since I’m a short person, I looked like a little cube walking around.  People would just come up to me and touch my belly and I had to fight an internal war to keep from going all Chuck Norris on them.  At one point, I even asked Brian to make me a cage of chicken wire to wear over my clothes to keep people away.  Well, a cage or a stun gun, but you know, stun guns are often frowned upon in public places.

Lately a very good friend of mine has been going through a rough time.  Everyone is asking her how she is doing, what she needs, and sending ” {{{hugs}}}!”  People will come up to her in her office or on the street and just lay themselves on her.  She has even mentioned that one person said, “How are you?” to which she answered, “Okay.”  He then said, “No really, how are you?”  “I’m okay.”  “NO REALLY, how are you in here?” and pointed to her heart. By that point, her heart was feeling, “Fuck OFF!”

This past year has been incredibly difficult for me, but the last few months have been particularly excruciating.  I won’t get into the hows or whys, but I will say that some folks have done some awful things to me and I have done some equally awful things and, at this point, I’m in a place that’s not full of unicorns shitting rainbows along the golden brick road.  People are constantly calling and texting and wondering what is going on and why I’ve been so distant and telling me all kinds of unhelpful things like, “Come to a yoga class,” “let go of their negativity,” “just put a period and move on,” or “what you need is to get away” amongst countless others.

I think my friend and I both need a chicken wire cage.

I can’t speak for her, but I can and will speak for me and say that I know that people are concerned and are motivated by love and a desire to help.  I get that.  I understand that their intentions are pure and good.  I also understand that their actions are not particularly helpful.  Asking questions like, “how was therapy,” or “how are you” are absolutely meant to be harmless and are voiced from a place of compassion and concern, but what it feels like to be on the other side of those questions is this: I’m going to strip you naked in Times Square, rub your skin all over with sandpaper or a cheese grater, and then throw salt water at you.  The unsolicited advice that almost immediately follows feels like, “You’re too stupid to know what to do, I know better (even though I have never ever experienced what you’re going through,) so listen to me because my life is perfect.”

When dealing with emotions as strong as grief, loss, depression, confusion, heartache, betrayal, loneliness, longing, hopelessness, worry, and doubt, I am already feeling so very exposed and so very raw.  To be randomly touched, hugged, or questioned feels jarring to the open, sensitive nerve endings of my soul.  Not only that, but I don’t always have the answers to the questions that are asked of me.  How am I?  Ummmm.  I’m  here.  I don’t know how I am.  What can I do to help?  I have no clue.  As far as the uninvited hugs, I often avoid them not because I don’t want or need comfort, but because I know that I have spent hours trying to get myself together and out in public and one touch or “awwwwwww, you poor thing,” will either result in me breaking down into a sobbing pile of goo, or will cause me to lash out and take no prisoners as I go postal.  And hearing about how I should handle the loss of my husband or the fall out from my brief and very beautiful (until it wasn’t)  love affair makes me want to dig a very deep hole with no clear understanding if I’m digging it for me or for the person who is talking to me.

Maybe we need chicken wire cages for our heads and our hearts, too.

Again, I want to be VERY clear: I know that these comments and questions and offers come from a place of pure love and a strong sense of compassion and the lovely part of humanity that desperately wants to help.  And for that, I am grateful.  I’m grateful that I have friends and family and even some strangers who care so much about me.  Please don’t misunderstand me on that point.  All I am saying is that when I’ve already been turned inside out and put in a cage for public display, please don’t poke me. I will tell you what I want you to know when I want you to know it.  I will come out of my shell when I’m ready.  I will open up when I feel safe and not so exposed.  Don’t avoid me, but also please don’t try to “touch my belly,” as it were.  It’s mine.  I’m protective of it because it’s the very core of who I am at this time.

Remember, the best things come from the inside out.

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Circle

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When I was 18, I fell in love with a guy who was 21.  We spent a wonderful summer together and it was brilliant.  Things happened that summer, however, that changed who we both were.  Towards the end of that “committed relationship,” he wrote me a letter as I was visiting my father out of state.  The end of the letter said, “If you ever wonder how I feel about you, listen to Edie.  She says it all.”  (sidebar: it’s been nearly 20 years since that summer and he and I are still friends.)

Ahhhh, the Circle.  Nothing’s good enough for anybody else, it seems.  We notice you don’t come around.

To say that my life has changed in the past year is a wild understatement.  EVERYTHING has changed.  Recently, my older brother came to visit and he was here for a couple of weeks.  He told me (and others) that he had to get to know his new sister.  I had to chew on that awhile.  Am I a new person?  Or is it possible that I am the same person I have always been, but *I* am  now visible again after all these years because, well, because “BrianandSarah” is no more?

I have discovered that I am either one of two things to almost everyone I know: I am either exactly the same as I have always been, or I am totally different.  The fact of the matter is that neither of those statements are true.  There was a time in my life where I only listened to punk music.  There was a time in my life where I only listened to country.  Okay, that’s a total lie – I have never ONLY listened to country, but certainly listened mainly to country (always classic stuff or underground stuff – never radio stuff.)   There was also a time in which I wouldn’t do anything if it wasn’t totally organic, natural, hippie-dippie stuff.  And, yes, there was a time when I disavowed television and all screen time.  All of those times were just that: times.  Times pass.

The truth of the matter is that, in the wee dark hours of the morning, I would occasionally find myself missing the gal who didn’t go fishing, who would have rather blasted death metal than listen to crickets, who took care of her business and, once that was taken care of, took a ride.  I have always wanted adventure and excitement and to live out loud.  Now that I’m doing it, however, I’m seeing that some folks don’t recognize me.   I get it.  I am just learning to recognize myself again.  It’s a process.  It’s a circle.  And, honestly, there was a part of me that didn’t come around anymore.  She’s starting to show up again.  She has to.  SHE HAS TO.  And she’d like to be welcomed back by someone other than herself.

I think this is the part of yoga that is so wonderful and so difficult.  When you’re on your mat, there is NO WHERE TO HIDE.  All of you comes up and slaps you right in the face.  You have to see it.  You have to acknowledge it.  You might be sweating because you’ve done 17 Surya Namaskar B’s in a row, but what you’re sweating out isn’t just salt water – it’s the salty truth.  We can either choose to notice our circle and spin around and around, or …. well, we’re going to spin whether we acknowledge it or not, but it’s our choice to take the ride with eyes open or eyes closed, and it’s our choice to step off the ride and not come around here anymore.

I’m still here.  I might be on a different arc of the circle than you’re used to seeing, but I promise you – it’s my circle, and I’m coming back around again.

 

The Truth

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I pride myself on being an honest person.  I will tell you the truth and I can’t stand anyone who doesn’t do the same.  Dishonesty is just absolutely unforgivable.  That said, there have been some things that I have kept to myself. It begs the question, “is omission dishonesty?”  I used to think not.  There are many things I have kept to myself, things I haven’t written about here or anywhere, because I felt I was protecting Brian or his friends or our family or … or myself.  I always felt this was the right thing to do and never questioned it until last night.  Last night, someone who is very dear to me mentioned that I have portrayed Brian and the situation one way here on this blog and in public and yet I present an entirely different picture to him in our private conversations.  I admit that I bristled at this at first.  I’m very sensitive about anyone saying anything negative about Brian or his life or his death, so I kind of freaked out.  Being the thinker that I am, however, what he said spun around in my head, twisting and turning, trying to find the right place to click in.  When it did click in, my stomach bottomed out and I realized that I’ve been helping no one by omitting the truth.  I’m not protecting anyone, but might in fact be hurting someone by keeping it under wraps.   There’s another part, too.  Everyone who knew Brian already knows what I’m going to say.  This isn’t a surprise to them.  It’s not a surprise to our children.  It’s  not a surprise to our friends.  It’s not a surprise to our family.  It’s certainly not a surprise to me.

Everything that I have written about Brian here and everywhere else is absolutely true.  He was hilarious, loving, gentle, kind, sweet, generous, talented, and supportive.  He was a hard worker, an idea man, an incredible father, husband, and friend.  Brian was something else, too.  Brian was an alcoholic.

I don’t talk about it too much because I have always thought it wasn’t my story to tell.  Brian’s addiction was his story, his issue, his bourdon to carry (interesting how close bourdon is to bourbon, eh?) While he was alive, I always thought it was his place to either tell people or, as the case most often was, show them.  Now that he’s dead, however, I can tell that part of the story because, as anyone who has ever been in love with an addict knows, the addiction doesn’t just affect the addict.  It affections EVERYONE involved with the addict, from family members to employers to friends to other people out on the road.

The big truth, the ugly truth, is that I had been reaching the end of my rope being married to an alcoholic for some time and the reason Brian was out camping alone the night he died was because I had had enough and asked him to leave.  My full intention – and the intention that he knew I had – was for him to leave, sober up, and come home again.  It had happened before and there were years of sobriety sprinkled in here and there.  I had hoped and expected the same would happen again.  No one could have predicted what happened.  The healing process and the recovery since his death has taken me down some seriously fucked up roads, but I have realized a few things:

I would have stayed with Brian until the end.  Whether that meant actually staying married to him or leaving and staying close by, hoping and waiting for his recovery.

While we had a very strong and enviable love, there were a lot of problems with the life together.  While we did a lot of fun things together, it was mostly all within a small scope of area and a small scope of activity.  I have realized that I have done more living since Brian died than I did while he was alive.  I became quite content to stay here in the same mindset and the same lifestyle and I stopped dreaming and living and growing and exploring.  Well, not totally stopped – I still did some pretty groovy things, but I know now how limited I felt.  No more.  As a dear friend of ours said to me, “He freed you so beautifully.”

There is a sensation of being continually slapped in the face when the person you have chosen to spend your life with and raise your children with chooses a bottle over you over and over and over again.   His addiction had him by the balls so tight, I’m surprised he could walk.  He didn’t want to hurt me, but he did, and he hated himself for that.  Vicious circle.  Brian only raised his voice to me 3 times in 14 years and never once raised a hand to me.  He wasn’t a mean drunk, he wasn’t an angry drunk, he wasn’t abusive, but he was emotionally unavailable, distant, selfish, self-absorbed, and felt he was immortal and invincible.  You can’t convince a brick wall that they are a field of grass.

I write all of this not to make Brian look bad or to badmouth him or to make anyone think differently about him.  He truly was incredible.  I am writing about it because, my omitting it, it discredits the truth.  My kids will read this blog someday and, while I want them to have primarily positive memories of their dad, they were here every day and are very much aware of the truth.  To omit it discredits their experience.  I write it because, as the wife of an alcoholic, I hid the truth for 14 years and, damn it, I’m fucking tired of hiding and covering and explaining and carrying the weight.  I write it because I am moving forward and doing new and exciting things and opening my heart to new people and new experiences and I cannot do that honestly while hiding or omitting one of the biggest truths of my life.  Everyone who saw him knew, but we all didn’t want to see. Everyone deserves the truth to come out, including Brian.  The weight has been burying us alive and now, hopefully, we can all breathe a little easier and live.   We are only as sick as our secrets. It’s time to heal.

 

 

Before any of you start telling me about al-anon, I already know.  I’ll thank you to not bring it up.

 

 

The Power of White

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When I was a kid in school, I was in special classes for “gifted” kids.  I always have hated that term.  Aren’t we all gifted?  Anyway, in these courses, I was given the opportunity to do incredible things.  I wrote two “books” before I was in Jr High School, attended court cases, took trips to botanical gardens, got out of regular classes to do hands on learning, and was able to meet some wonderful professionals.  When I was in 7th grade, I had an experienced that changed my life.  At the time, I had no idea how powerful it would be (who knows these things when they are 13?) but I have never forgotten it.  One spring Saturday, my “gifted” group and the similar groups from other schools piled into the auditorium and listened to an author speak about the writing process.  He spoke at length and answered questions and, honestly, I don’t remember very much except the one thing that has guided my life: “You must conquer the power of white.”

Before you go getting all steamed in your bloomers, this has nothing to do with race or color or anything other than writing.  You have to remember, I’m older than dirt.  When this event happened, people didn’t write on computers.  Most folks wrote on a word processor or even, gasp, on paper with a pencil or pen!  What the author was talking about was the terror, the complete and total block that comes when you sit down in front of a white sheet of paper and suddenly cannot think of a single word to write.  The whiteness, the purity, the blank sheet is too overwhelming and everything that you might think about writing starts to seem wildly inane and insignificant, so you sit there drooling on yourself like an idiot and get nothing done.  The white has won.

His suggestion? Get the paper dirty.  Scribble on it.  Spill something on it.  Smudge it.  Do anything – ANYTHING – to destroy the power of white.  When it’s not so blank, things start to happen.  It’s the same as waking up in the morning to a blanket of pure white thick fresh fallen snow.  You want to go out and play in it (okay, I never do, but I hear that most people want to,) and yet you don’t want to ruin the perfectness of it.  A perfectly frosted cake.  A pristinely made bed. A perfectly wonderful life, a perfectly profound grief.  They all can become all you see and the fear of changing it, even a tiny bit, is horrifying.  Adding humanity to it, adding life to it, adding (or subtracting)  ANYTHING to it risks fucking it up irreparably.

It’s been quite awhile since I have written and I couldn’t find out why I was struggling to get words onto the page.  I stated something along those lines on my FB status and got some insightful responses.  The one that struck me most profoundly, however, came in the form of a private message from a friend who suggested that maybe I am not sure what to write about now, how much of my own life to include in the story, is because I have been so very bold and open with my grief and my process and, now that it is taking on a different color, I’m feeling the need to protect it.  My life now has it’s own power of white.

Last time I wrote, I mentioned that I am now in a relationship with a wonderful man.  The feedback from that has been interesting, to say the least.  Most people who say anything at all to me about it are INCREDIBLY supportive and excited.  Many of my friends and family members have met him and it’s clear to them that this is a good thing.  It’s very clear to us that this is a good thing.  That said, there are several people out there (quite likely more than I know,) who are not so thrilled with this turn of events, who feel that it is disrespectful of Brian or of our marriage or whatever.  I realize that, for a long time, I was more terrified of what other people would say or think than how I would feel.  That, my dears, is utter bullshit.   Their feelings are their story.  My feelings are mine.  I’m the one who gets to scribble on my page so I can overcome the fear of writing a new story.  I took a breath, took a chance, and scribbled like mad and, guess what?  My story has a new plot, a wonderful, exciting, sincere, honest, compassionate plot that doesn’t dismiss my story with Brian, but has added onto it.  My story is still being written.  Had I not taken the chance, had I not scribbled, I’d still be dying daily while sitting on my couch.  I did that for months and months and months.  Brian wouldn’t have wanted that.  My kids didn’t want that.  *I* didn’t want that, but it was happening.  I messed up that perfectly blank sheet of grief and somehow, a story of life started to unfold.  I stopped dying on the couch and started, slowly, to live again.

I have been picking up additional yoga classes as the other teachers at Yoga Sol are vacationing.  Getting back into a more active teaching role has helped me scribble on my yoga page as well.  After Brian died, everything I did was colored by my loss.  It is absolutely impossible to avoid that.  Fortunately, it worked well for me and it made my teaching more … profound?  Intense? Real?  I don’t know what to call it, but for a long time it was even more of an extension of me as it has always been.  As I began to heal (and I’ll be healing for the rest of my life,) however, it started to feel like I was stuck.  Again, the power of white was blocking me.  I was too comfortable with the blanket of grief teaching and it became all I could see, even though it didn’t fit anymore.  One day, I did something I hadn’t done since Brian died: I ended the class with the singing bowl and a chant.  I scribbled on my class and, oh how the story started to pour out!  I have been doing yoga for more than half of my life and I have taken just about every kind of class you can imagine, but it was suddenly like I was a beginner again.  Beginner’s mind, yo.  Everything was new and wonderful and exciting and vibrant.  The grief hadn’t gone away, but suddenly there was the opportunity for much more than grief!  I think the same thing applies to all yoga students.  It might not be grief they are experiencing, it might just be complacency, or even incredible bliss, but if nothing ever changes, nothing ever changes.  I have had the pleasure of having new students in my class recently.  Yesterday, a lovely yogini arrived to my Flying Friday class and confessed that she had attempted to come the week prior, but got scared before she walked in and left without taking the class.  White white white white white.  Yesterday, she stayed, she took the class, scribbled al over her mat, and started to bloom into a million colors.

We can get blinded and paralyzed by extreme joy, extreme grief, extreme pain, extreme ambivalence.  It doesn’t matter what anyone thinks – it’s their story they are writing, not yours.  Only you can write your story, but you have to write it.  You have to take a chance, mess up the page, conquer the power of white, and get it out there. You never know how wonderful it will be unless you start letting it pour out onto your own page. Let it have colors.  Let it have adventure.  Let it have flavor and texture. Let it have music (I’m fond of the mandolin.) Let it be bold or timid, but let it be.  Don’t hide behind the power of white, get out there and start scribbling and be amazed at your own brilliance!

Perfect

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They sit in his man cave, the room that has been his for over 11 years.  Beer and bud flow smoothly between them and the music plays as they look at each other, but words are nil, until she speaks up.

“Goddamn it, what is this place?  Look at it!”

She mentions the clutter, calls it out piece by piece.

“I see 5 pair of boots here.  What is up with the broken radio controlled truck? Do you really need that broken down scooter?  It’s been here for 5 years!  Why do you have 11 curvy rum bottles?  What do you plan to do with the 3 broken blenders?  Do you really need 6 tackle boxes?

He doesn’t say a word.

Well, the first days are the hardest days.

She looks around again.  Takes it all in.

“Do you know that, at one swift glance, I see 3 very expensive hats in here? 8 outrageously priced fishing poles?  2 space heaters? $2000 worth of framing equipment that hasn’t been used in years?  An untouched table saw?”

Again, he says nothing.

What I want to know, is are you kind?

“Those paint cans have been here since we bought this house 11 years ago.  WHY are they still here?”

She looks up and sees the crates he has suspended from the ceiling.  She has no idea what in the world he has stored up there.

“Baby, honestly, you have 3 strobe lights in here.  We’ve never used them once.  I thought I told you to recycle those pots and pans?  Do you REALLY need 8 radio speakers?

You know all the rules by now and the fire from the ice.  Will you come with me?  Won’t you come with me? 

“The air cannon I get, baby, I really do.  But do you honestly need to keep all the parts you discarded after you built it?  WHY ARE YOUR DIRTY SOCKS STILL ON THE FLOOR?”

He’s silent, letting her rant away.

“I know, darling, that WD-40 is the answer to everything that duct tape is not, but do you really need 12 cans?   Why are there 11 plastic shot cups?  And did you REALLY dig those bottles of my nail polish out of the trash to paint your fishing lures?  REALLY?”

Their motto is, “Don’t tread on me.” 

“I see your drafting kit.  Those pens are 20+ years old.  Yes, I know they still work.  Yes, I know they matter, but can’t you put them in a drawer?  And what about the oil filters and bottles of antifreeze and the 3 weedeaters and SERIOUSLY???  You honestly NEED 3 boxes of steel wool?”

Again, he utters not a word.

Come with me or go alone…

“Sweetheart, I love you.  I respect that you have a need for everything, but truly? We live in tornado alley.  That work bench could kill an entire city.  42 open containers of nuts, bolts, screws, and nails, NOT TO MENTION the 5 open faced tool boxes and the 200lb steel Craftsman box.   Baby, this is a death trap!”

She looks at him.  She pleads with him.  She begs him to give her an answer.

Not a word does she hear.

Ain’t no time to hate.  Barely time to wait. 

She looks at him and she softens.  The love for him overwhelms her and suddenly things disappear.  She stands before him and slowly reaches out to touch him.

First is the box that holds the steel bottle of cheap vodka and water, the last thing to touch his lips.  And his phone, the last contact he had with her, now crushed, burned and ruined.

She kisses them both.

Whoa, what I want to know, is where does the time go?

She reaches down and puts her hands into him.  This part of him, in the second box, is in paint cans.  The remains of his clothes, the steel toes of his boots, the pockets of his insulated jeans.  Once upon a time, she used to put her hands in these same pockets to playfully grab his ass.

I can hear your voice. Oh, what I want to know, how does the song go?

She moves her hands down further.  There is his wallet. Three hundred and 2 ruined dollars.  Burned credit cards.  A singed fishing license.  A picture of her, burned so that only her eyes show.  His license to drive, leather seared onto the edges.  A stocking cap.  A pack of smokes.  A lighter.  2 quarters. 3 grocery store receipts.  An ashy paycheck.

“Oh, my love,” she says, ” I don’t give a shit about the clutter.  I love you endlessly, regardless of anything else.  As long as we’re together, we’re okay.”

Come on along or go alone, he’s come to take his children home.

And she slowly stands and takes off her clothes and opens the last box. She removes the heavy black parcel and opens it up once again.  And then, as the song ends, she zips up the body bag to her shoulders to lay with him one more time.

Come hear Uncle John’s band by the river side.  Got some things to talk about here beside the rising tide. 

The waves wash over her and carry her to a new shore. She loves him more than ever. She gets up.  Puts him back in his boxes, his new home, and turns the light off, leaving the clutter untouched.

It’s perfect.

Ball and Chain

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6 months ago, Brian left home and never came back.  6 months.  How is that even possible?  I can’t wrap my brain around it.

I used to listen to this song all the time and joke about how he was my ball and chain and I was his.  While we never truly felt like that (we loved each other tremendously,) we were a real married couple.  We argued, we disagreed, we got frustrated with each other, and, admittedly, sometimes we intentionally pushed each other’s buttons.  That said, I don’t think either of us ever dragged each other down.

As time has passed and it’s been half of a year since Brian left his body, I’m starting to see this song differently.  My amazingly wonderful husband finally ditched his ball and chain.  I’m still weighted down here on this earth, weighted down by insignificant things like dinner, bills, taxes, misunderstandings, illness, but Brian… Brian is completely and totally free.  He doesn’t have to take any more pain.  Someone took away his ball and chain and, while I’d do anything to have him back, I am finding moments of pure joy in knowing how completely free my beloved is now.

Fly free, MoonRunner.  No more ball and chain for you.

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The End

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If you have 17 minutes, it’s worth your time to watch that.

Brian finally came home yesterday.  Around 9:30am, I got a call from the lead investigator that he was ready to release the final two pieces of evidence to me.  I had been waiting for 5.5 months for the remains of his phone and the water bottle he was drinking from the night he died.  A friend of mine drove me to meet the investigator at 11:30 and, in a matter of a few short minutes, it was the end.  Two signatures and a handshake.  The end.

The metal water bottle is still 1/2 way full with the last thing he drank while still alive.  I was very tempted to open it up and drink from it, just to have one more moment of contact with his lips. And, frankly, it was a very tense moment and I really could have used the drink.  I didn’t do it.

I am rather conflicted in my feelings about this.  On one hand, I’m grateful that the state no longer has possession of anything of Brian’s.  For those of you who knew him, you know how much he would have hated having his personal belongings in the hands of any law enforcement. I’m also glad that this means that I won’t have to continually be anxious when my phone rings, I won’t have to worry about the police showing up at my door anymore, I won’t have to wonder what happened to his things.  On the other hand, this also means that they are done hunting, done searching, done investigating and I still have more questions than answers.  I will never have the answers.  I guess that’s just the way life is.  Apparently, death can be that way, too.

While none of this has been easy, it’s traumatic to have no answers.  It’s agonizing that I didn’t get to see him, I don’t know what he looked like.  I don’t know what his last words were.  I don’t know what happened to cause my husband’s death.  I know HOW he died, but I don’t know why or what started it.  I hoped and hoped and hoped that there would be answers and maybe someday there will be, but right now it’s not looking like it.  I wanted the investigators and the crime lab techs and the medical examiners to keep digging, keep searching, keep hunting until they found answers.  I guess I don’t know what I wanted them to find.  It’s another catch-22.  Knowing someone hurt him would be horrific, but knowing it was an accident leaves me no one to blame and no hope for justice.

In the end, no one wins.

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