Tag Archives: grief and loss

Love The Sinner, Hate the Sin

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Today is the second anniversary of my mother’s death. I’ve written extensively here and privately about my experiences in grief. I’ve written about her death two years ago being the final somatic death which followed so many other of her deaths I felt I had grieved over my recent lifetime.

Last night, when going over photos of her, the one below in particular, I wept silently while my husband slept beside me, oblivious and recuperating from a sinus infection.

This photo was taken about six years ago in my parents’ house in Canada. A place we used to joke about having in case there was another military draft. Now it feels like a good idea to hang on to in case Donald Trump becomes president.

Mimi and the boys, summer 2009.

Mimi and the boys, summer 2009.

I wept for many reasons. I feel now / today / this moment and felt during that moment that I weep because I will never have that sweet older lady in my childrens’ lives any more.

She wanted so very much to be present in their lives. She was, in her way. I got in the way. I see that now. I sort of robbed them of her sprite-like ways because I was so hurt by it, her lack of an anchor, as a child. I wanted to protect them from that, but I see now, that by just being their mother, I was protecting them from that. They weren’t going to be with her 24/7, as I was, yet I couldn’t really unplug from those memories, at least not then. I was aware of it too. What I mean by that is that I was aware that I was in the way and yet I wanted to be out of the way, and yet, I wouldn’t be out of the way. I was and am so hell-bent on providing for them a healthy life that I suppose in some ways I’m stifling an unanchored life…? that doesn’t make sense. I sense now that I’m becoming my own judge, jury and executioner. Breathe. 

Mom used to say, “Jesus said to ‘love the sinner, hate the sin’ or something like that…” and I’m being a little flip in my treatment of that memory, but she did often say something very similar to that, depending on the tenor of our conversation and her state of mind.

As I wept last night, my throat hardened and tightened and I knew that it was because I was and have been disallowing a truth for almost all my life: that I loved her and needed her so very much and that as much as I wanted to hate the physical incarnation of her addictions: her, I know rationally that doing so limits my exposure to her, even now in her death. So I thought and mostly felt some more (even though it was reeeeeally difficult to feel the feelings) and said to myself, “I do love you, and I always did and I guess I always will, even though I hated how things went down between us.” And my throat softened.

I always have to allow that reality, that caveat (that she was messed up too). I’m not one to paint a dead rose as one in bloom: shit was hard between us. We were each others’ teachers, of this I have no doubt. I am easily able to say now, that I am grateful for her being my mother and that she taught me the most important lesson of all: to get real with yourself, because she had such a hard time doing it herself.

I realize that Mom was an instrument of God for me and my brothers and that her mission was to teach us, in one way or another, about the dangers of addiction and alcoholism. And to live as an example, as harsh as it was (and it was harsh) so that we would be able to break a cycle. So that we would be able to live consciously and as deliberately as possible.

Mom was such that there was no patois of our dynamic, after all, she was an actor and an illustrator. As good as she was at stringing words together, Mom really seemed to fail at times in speaking and writing… it sometimes devolved into a bathos and her notes to me could cut like a backhanded compliment. “It was the booze talking…” I remember her saying one time. In vino, veritas, I would hiss back. In a way, she ended up unduly sacrificing herself for our sobriety. The tenor of our relationship was mostly mistrust, which really … sucked.

If my mom existed so that I could spare my sons an alcoholic mother and hopefully influence their own lifetimes in awareness of alcoholism and their genetic predilection, then her existence and my forgiveness of her is not for nothing. That’s the lesson I feel I’m steeped in right now. That’s where I can step into forgiveness. For me, right now, forgiveness has to be or at least look like a transaction.

I have actually begged for her to appear in my dreams. She does, sometimes.

The current book I’m reading, A Manual for Cleaning Women — Selected Stories by Lucia Berlin, is an emissary of sorts for me right now. In it, Berlin writes clearly about alcoholism, witnessing her mother’s and her grandfathers’ own travails and also her own. The shakes and delirium tremens, the self-loathing and mental anguish. Through her, I have a glimpse of my mother’s struggles and demons and I am leaning toward “forgive the drinker, hate the booze.” I suppose I could’ve used this book a few years ago. But it is what it is. Mom and I were as good as we were going to be around the time she died, we’d had several real adult and womanly conversations. Berlin has also made me a little braver in my own writing. Life is too short to have to fear what other people (through their own filters) think of anything I do.

When Mom aged, she softened, as so many of us do. Gone were the harsh and defensive edges of projected self-recrimination and doubt. At least around my kids, they were softened or completely worn away. She still had her self interest, poised above all others, but her kindnesses toward my children were absolutely sincere. In a way I was envious of them, their ability to be so at ease with each other. She had no worries about failing them and they had no fears of not living up to her expectations. It was like a little team of back-patters. I am happy that they all had those moments together.

I recall a day when she wanted to be with us, but logistics made it difficult (or maybe just I did) and so we all played Monopoly with her on the speakerphone. One of the kids would roll dice for her, the other would move her token (usually the thimble) and the other one would deal with her bank (that was usually my oldest son). She just liked being on the other line, hearing us all play together. I remember wishing she’d had an computer or iPad or something so that the boys could play online Scrabble and Pictionary with her; she would have loved it.

The day she died is different from today. Two years ago, it was Labor Day. Everyone in my family was with their own families, no one was alone to have to hear the news. I remember, clear as it happening right now, that when my father called that day, I was on my deck with my husband. I just knew. You know — how you just know? I just knew. Dad’s voice was unsure, but upbeat, like he was calling me to tell me that he’d cracked up my car but that everyone was ok… “Your mother has collapsed in the driveway. She’s in an ambulance now… the officer here wanted me to call you…”

….  ‘Officer…?’ …. 

We went over to their house as soon as we could. I’ll never forget it. The angle of the sun. The heat of the day. The wait in their front hall for an update. Then the update from the officer, “Mary didn’t survive…” and I thought he had the wrong person… “Mary? Who is Mary… ” … “Your mother, I’m sorry… she didn’t survive…”

Oh.

Then the drive to the hospital. And the phone calls and texts to brothers — where was my younger brother?? — and cousins and in-laws and close friends from the back seat of my own car as my husband drove and my father sat, granitic, in the front passenger seat. It was about 4:30pm at that point.

So tonight, I will have another root beer float, as I did that evening when I’d found out she’d died. She was on her way to get one that day. I got mine from the Baskin-Robbins down the street from the hospital. I remember for weeks after that, just telling people that my mother had died. I told my cleaning ladies. I told people I barely knew. I always got a hug for it. The freshness is still there, of that moment. I feel like that’s the greatest gift of being sober and in touch with your feelings: that joy and pain and all the others in between are right there, just beneath the surface teeming to leak out. We should let them every once in a while, it keeps us real. If your mom is still around, give her a hug for me. If she is not, think softly of her for yourself.

Thank you.

Grief: One Breath at a Time

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Today in yoga, when I got to have svasana, I meditated on compassion and the only word that came to me in response was “unfolding.”

Being on the web, with a blog, assures a certain vulnerability. My words are here for anyone to denigrate and yet I find myself buoyed by the kindnesses and trust of strangers.

Christmas is in a week and I miss the idea of wondering what my mother would give me as a gift. Would it be something I’d want? Would it be something she liked and she gave to me? Would it be something she’d give to everyone else or my sisters-in-law too?

I sit here, just a bit more than a year after her death and I feel emotions ranging from pure confusion about death to sadness that people, all of us, die; from deep guilt that I wasn’t a better daughter, to pure anger that she wasn’t a better mother; from a proud awareness that we are each others’ teachers to a sheepish allowance that we are each others’ pupils.

The human ego is such an odd, strange thing. It’s there to protect us from emotional harm, but for me, in the end all it does is delay the eventual pain when it protects too much. It elevates us, falsely, above and beyond our threshold of “value” so that we are uneven with that which hurts us. When we come down, to the reality that we are all connected, that we all breathe the same way, that we all eat with a mouth and chew with our teeth and fart and cry and poop and sneeze … it can be a lot to bear.

Yeah.

It’s a cold reality sometimes.

When I was a child, I held my parents to a godlike status. As I’ve aged, they did / are too and I see their humanity. I use the present tense with Mom, even today, because my perception of her humanity is ever emerging even though she has moved on.

I shared a dream, the only one, I had of Mom after she died with my father yesterday and it made me weep to share it. Not because she’s dead, but because it’s really a gorgeous message.

She was on a shoreline on a familiar Canadian beach on Lake Erie where we swam often. Her sylvan hair was in a chin-length bob. She was wearing a navy blue knit cashmere suit, her red cashmere sweater, a cashmere black, white, red and navy plaid scarf and these little blue leather loafers she loved but I hated for the same reason: because they were so shapeless. She was in her healthy early 70s. She was about one hundred feet from me, walking along the shore, just at the point where a receding wave leaves the sand still slick and wet and shiny. She stopped and looked over some tiny spiral shells on the shore. Her hands were clasped behind her back and her hair would sweep down over her face, I couldn’t see it perfectly, but it was her. The lake’s tiny waves were lapping at her shoes. She didn’t care. She bent over and inspected closer. Her fingers were glancing along the sand, turning over a little shell here, or a rounded, ancient pebble there. The sun had set behind me, behind the trees bunkering the white tent where a festive party was going on behind me, and I called out to her, “Mom! Mom! C’mon! You’re missing the party!” and she turned to me, and she said nothing. Her hair was clear off her face now. Stars were starting to show in the periwinkle sky. She beamed at me, this gorgeous wide smile she had. Her lips were red with our favorite lipstick she bought because I loved it so much. She swept up her arms as the wind swept up her scarf and her hair around her cheeks and she turned to the water. Her face looked up to the heavens and she looked back at me and shook her head “no” and instead lovingly and theatrically gesturing at all the glory of things I’d never understand in this lifetime as if to say, “No. You’re missing the party.”

I turned back to the party, to reference it, to say, “NO! It’s happening here! Mom!” and I turned back to her, and she was gone.

This is the Mom I never allowed. The one who bucked the system yet wore cashmere anyway. The one who I wanted fiercely to somehow morph into a rule-follower. The one who I wanted to tell me when to be home and to punish me when I wasn’t. The one who I needed to help me with my homework when I lied and said there wasn’t any. That one wasn’t there.

It’s hard to have so many conflicting emotions about the woman who brought me into this world. I loved her the only way I could, the way she let me. She used to say to me, “Maaaally, you’re conflicted. You’re ambivalent. You can’t ‘hate‘ me without loving me first.”

I hated it when she said that.

Snort.

Because even though I used to tell her she was full of crap, she was so right. I loved her like … a child loves its mother; with a fierce, fearful, perfect and abiding love. She could do no wrong when I was young. It wasn’t until I was much older, that I saw her humanity … and I hated it. It broke me apart; her fragility broke me apart. She lived on a different plane; where there were no rules and that all of them could be broken. I was brought here to learn that.

I was going to make it with or without her; I laugh at that now. She was instrumental in hardening me for this world I inhabit now. So at this moment, while I miss her, and I miss the idea of wondering whether I would feel rejected or loved by the Christmas gift she would give me, I realize that the gift she gave me, all along, is life. With all its ups and downs, my mom gave me life.

If your mom is around in your life still, and you are in communication with her, tell her thanks from me for giving us you. And if you’re not in communication with her, well … say something nice about yourself because she helped make you.

We do not live one day at a time; we live one breath at a time. This is the ‘unfolding.’ This is the message from svasana. When we are still, things change.

Thank you.

30 Days of Brené Brown — Day 23: #reflection #fairness #vulnerability #expectations

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Welcome to Day 23 of “30 Days of Brené Brown.”

Here is today’s quote:

Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity. If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path.
― Brené BrownDaring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead

This can’t be clearer or more true.

This vulnerability stuff is part of an exchange, simple as that.

Since I’ve come down from my tower, let down *some* of my armor and opened myself up to others, my life has changed for the better. I feel lighter. All that chain mail really got to my back. 

Absolutely there have been bumps, friction, pain and misunderstandings. We can’t have a two-way dialogue with one person. We can’t have a relationship with only one partner.

I have learned since opening up, that the world I inhabit: one of relevance, kindness, awareness, patience, respect and candor will definitely let me in, so long as I adhere to those codes. It’s a simple law: you step outside the code, you experience harsher realities. You step back inside the code, you experience temperance again. It’s an exchange: you get what you give.

That sounds so trendy, “you get what you give” and so smug. That’s not at all the intention. It’s just a heavy comment delivered a cavalierly, but that’s the beauty of it. We can hear it and think it bounces off us… but it doesn’t. It sounds too close to “You Don’t Always Get What You Want” and then it starts to stick. Then, if we’re paying any attention to that, we start to think about what that line means and then if we’re at all mindful of or participating with that internal discussion going on, we start to see that yes, we do get what we need even though we might hate the heck out of it.

That “hating,” that “yuck” to me is the pay dirt, the moment of allowance when we can look back on the perceived crap of our lives or the things we got that we didn’t want, and see a pattern. We see disappointment, we see hurt, or loss, or think about the moment the “thing” happened or rather, was presented to us, and if we can… if we can just go there for a moment, if we can see it for more than a sucker punch (which leaves us feeling like a victim, which never works) we will see that it opens a door to our greater life, the one we are supposed to live which is all about being real.

This being real might look like we need to complain. No. To me, that’s not really all of it. It’s part of it, because when we are real, we express our imperfect vulnerability: our true reaction to happened.

(c) ibehappy.me

(c) i.behappy.me

It’s like the post I wrote last Saturday, about nostalgia and how I found my mother’s notebook and the comment in her handwriting, block letters in fact, about me being “a bad kid.” (Please click here for that post as context helps.)

I was looking for something totally different. I was looking for comments about me in a loving way; about something that showed I was more than a one-dimensional figure (which is how I felt a lot of the time) in her life; that I was more than a foe of her lifestyle and a dependent “ingrate” (which is something I was termed as well) who stood in the way between her and her peace.

What I got was something TOTALLY different. I know Mom would do her best to explain the notes. I know I would’t accept it. Because she is most definitely NOT here, I have to do that for myself. I have to grow up. I have to allow her to be real if I am going to allow myself to be real. Even if her “real” does not align with my “real.” Who am I to say what is right or wrong? Y’dig? (I think I finally do.) 

How I reacted, because I’ve been a) in mourning for her and the death of a fantasy I’d held on to for years b) on this vulnerability and reality wagon for about nine years (yikes!) now was real. I could’ve shut down: I could’ve gotten cold, said “eff her” (which I did later on once I felt too vulnerable, I will admit that) and I could’ve just gone on by bootstrapping and taking off, but I didn’t. I looked at it, my head canted like a dog’s in fact, and I couldn’t really believe what I saw, yet I KNEW it was real and it was fair. I had to allow her to feel whatever she felt, if I am to allow myself to feel whatever I felt. There is no ONE WAY ONLY zone in relationship and vulnerability.

If I didn’t allow myself to feel that hurt and sadness, I would’ve stayed angry and righteous and totally disconnected from any manner of healing and I would’ve kept her as a one-dimensional figure in my life. I also don’t know if I’dve believed anything I read that was terribly loving either; when she wrote those things, she showed them to me… l laugh now in remembrance of it; she wanted to see that she was actively thinking I was not a bad kid.

Shades.

It’s all shades of our childlike parameters of “good and bad.” Degrees would’ve been nice to introduce to it all, but I know as often as I thought she was a Bad Mother, I know that was totally unfair too. I mean: here I am! I made it. She had something to do with that, and I remember as I became a mother myself, she saw me as more than a pain-in-the-ass gestapo. But that was because I had to let her go. Ya can’t mother your mother and your children.

So we need to allow this vulnerability.

How? Try this:

Next time you’re offended or hurt, mention it. Take a deep breath, feel your feelings, think about the experience and the context and say out loud to the person or interaction (it could be solitary: I’ve bumped my head with no one around and I even cut my scalp from the injury and I said out loud, “SHIT! That hurt. That really hurt!” and the tears came and I started to feel better — just from that release!), “My feelings are hurt. I know we’re all busy and running around, but I just want to say that I wish that happened differently.” Done. Then the accountability exchange can begin, which fosters connection.

To Brown’s earlier quote though, about caution when disclosing this stuff with certain people, be prepared to duck from the flying debris. Sometimes people just can’t be bothered to let you in. That’s on them. Lesson learned.

Possible result: You’re going to be mocked for expressing your emotions or taking a chance on the whisper of someone else’s humanity? “Go for it, Universe! Show me how stupid I am for thinking Bipsy had a heartbeat.” That’s what I say. It’s crass, but I think it gets the message through.

Caveat: I’ve done all this and still gotten booted. It’s ok though because what ends up happening is that the support I receive from someone else eclipses any regret I had about sharing how I felt in the first place. Some people aren’t ready. That’s not your problem.

It’s OK to tip-toe or teaspoon through this stuff; listen to your intuition.

Allowing vulnerability does open the door to GREATER love, creativity*, courage, empathy and all the other noble gifts Brown mentions. Expressing our vulnerability requires that we come from ourselves first instead of using “You” language.

A conversation that starts with “You dick” seldom goes well.

We’re spiritual human beings, we are made of stars. We are not freakin’ robots which feel nothing and have no expectations and live on zeros and ones. We have physical limits, pain, joy, fears, courage… we just need to feel safe expressing those things and in so doing, we’re letting others posses the same. It’s a win-win.

Once we do all that, we get what we need and then the exchange begins: We get what we give.

Thank you.

*heck yeah — i’ve made more goofy cartoons to go with these posts than ever. i’m letting it all hang out.

30 Days of Brené Brown — Day 22: #spirituality #connection #God #yoga #meditation #higherpower #compassion

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Welcome to Day 22 of “30 Days of Brené Brown.” We are almost in the final stretch here.

Here is today’s quote:

Spirituality is recognizing and celebrating that we are all inextricably connected to each other by a power greater than all of us, and that our connection to that power and to one another is grounded in love and compassion. Practicing spirituality brings a sense of perspective, meaning and purpose to our lives.
― Brené BrownThe Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are

This post wrote itself five days before it was written.

It was the last class of the year. It was packed. This room nestled amongst the trees and graced by several windows which overlooked the woods was our safe place. Is our safe place. Many of us have been coming to this class for several years to give ourselves the gift of yoga as taught by one of my most favorite people on Earth.

I was running late that morning, I had to drop off Thing 3 at school. His class was being taught “Family Life Education” (sex ed). The curriculum for the 4th grade was a bit more advanced than I wanted him to have to deal with at the tender age of 10 so his father and I decided to keep him home for the class. He still believes in St. Nick.

I peeked through the gap between the two swinging doors of our yoga room and saw that the women were chatting and so it wasn’t centering time yet. I snuck in, went to my corner and laid out my mat. Our teacher announced that the class was going to be slower. Delicious: a yin practice. “How incredibly lucky!” I felt. I love yin yoga: it’s so meditative and serene. The connection it promotes with the body and the breath and consciousness is so great and so needed this time of year, which can be so unbalancing.

The asanas ended early. We did our svasana. Early. I noticed that something was different but I’m good with change; you have to aim to be if you’re into yoga.

Then our teacher dropped the bomb: “I’d like to have everyone get in a circle.”

Gulp.

I was not feeling this. I had a hard night Tuesday — I’d just discovered a lovely picture of Mom and the boys from 2010 (have I already written about that?) and it threw me for a loop. I’d also exchanged a series of unfortunate emails with a friend who’d decided (without including me) that our friendship had run its course. I was on spongy surfaces, even though I understood her decision and I agreed it was likely for the best. It’s hard, as a yogini, we try not to judge, we try not to hold on, to practice non-attachment, but it’s hard to let go. Sometimes we want to say, “Are you sure?? Do you know what you’re doing?!” as if I am somehow greater than the peace this person achieves without me in her life.

So I grabbed my kundalini shawl (the one from the retreat):

that's me in the background.

that’s me in the background.

And I covered myself in it as though I were modeling for a statue of the Virgin Mary. I needed my cocoon. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to be in a space with the other women, it’s that I didn’t want to be in a space with the other women.

I just wasn’t there. I wanted to honor them by staying, but I didn’t know what we were in for.

“I have a bowl,” said my teacher. “It’s a meditation bowl. And I’d like us all to offer a word or a few words, time permitting, that expresses your feelings, wish or intention for the new year,” or something to that effect. If you’ve been following me this year, I have had a proFOUND year of personal growth and a massive loss. It’s staggering when I think about it.

To sum it up, here’s what I wrote to a friend about the experience (pardon the punctuation):

… as soon as my teacher explained the exercise, a word literally blew into my consciousness and would NOT go away or be replaced. it was unyielding, ironically. it was “release.” as the bowl advanced around the circle of an eventual 22 women, i was 16th, i became more and more emotional. my body started shaking. the bowl came to me. i removed my hands from beneath my shawl and held the bowl. i was sweaty yet totally chilled. the bowl, warm from the other women cradling it, was tarnished on the outside, gleaming sterling on the inside. i fell silent. i shuddered in tears and wept like a child at the feet of God. i literally could NOT speak. i felt like such an energy vacuum, such a fraud: this “writer” who can’t come up with something pithy for the end-of-year class. it was a lot of ego which was swiftly kicked to the curb by my feelings, or something. one person touched me briefly me and she pulled back; i was grateful. i was not in a place, i was not feeling worthy, to receive it.

It was profound. I didn’t bother trying to interpret it; try to MAKE it into something else, I just thought, “hmmm… this … nope, can’t do it…” and passed the bowl. God was in that bowl.

She wrote back, crazy excited for me. She’s super spiritual and very enthusiastic and completely in touch with her purpose in life, so I wrote later to her,

… why is all this happening to me? is it because i’m so full of shit? hah! no, really? is it that i don’t need to “try” to be strong anymore, because it’s pointless? was that word and its replacement a tactic to teach me? my thinking could not even touch the feeling.  i was thinking: mom release mom release mom release mom release… and i couldn’t say anything. internally i was going, ‘rrrrrrrrr rrrrrr rrrrrr rrrrrrrrrr nope.’ i shook my head. sniffled, tried again, ‘rrrrrr rrrrrrr rrrrrrrr-rrrrr rrrrRrrr.’ no.

The whole “experience” was no more 10-12 seconds, about the time others took to share their pearls.

I submitted, continued blubbering and passed the bowl to the next person, and I heard all their meditations while I desperately tried to regroup, but apparently my soul would have none of that. I just sat there, weeping, sniffling, feeling dopey but totally ok with it. I felt so safe. Once I stopped trying to stop crying, it stopped. It was crazy powerful. We have no control sometimes; especially when we think we do. It was like how I’d’ve liked to have felt around Mom if we’d ever let ourselves get that safe with each other. God was with me.

I felt like such a dork. I couldn’t talk and then I couldn’t stop crying and then when I did stop crying, I couldn’t stop talking. The energy coursing through me was like electricity. And those women! Oh! They are so wonderful. So strong. So loving and so compassionate.

I told one of them, “My word? Ironically, it was ‘release.'” And she hugged me tight and said, “YOU DID! YOU DID RELEASE! Don’t you see it?!” and I sniffled, “Guh. I guegg zoh.”

Brown is so right: it was because we were all connected in that room. Just like we’re all connected outside the room, the house, the car… wherever we are, we all are connected: me to you to her to him to her to them to her to Bipsy to Kevin Bacon.

That whole thing went down just as it should’ve. I still need time to process it.  Amazing but true: My tennis elbow pain vanished after that experience. I suspect that means I released part of my grief, or my mom, or myself from the shame I feel, or the fantasy / wish I held on to for so long. I couldn’t do it alone; I needed those women.

I’m unsure of what I was supposed to release. It wasn’t “my” word — well, it was, it just wasn’t one that I got to pick, or say… My soul was filled by that empty bowl.

Thank you.

ps — I hope you are enjoying this series and learning something new and good about yourself. If there’s anything I’ve learned about myself I can tell you this: every day is different and we need to be kinder to ourselves. This “living consciously” stuff is nearly impossible because our reptilian brains freak all the time at the slightest imposition. I think one must have to be absolutely isolated from the rest of humanity in a cave in the Himalayas to achieve it because that’s the only way I’d never be able to blame anyone else for my crap.