Children and funerals
August 14, 2007 11:57 AM   Subscribe

My husband's uncle was recently killed in a horrific car accident. The funeral is soon, and we have been debating on whether or not to bring our two-year old daughter to what will surely be an emotional event.

We live about 8 hours away, and I can leave our daughter with my parents for 3 days so we can travel to the funeral. However, my husband would like to stay longer and has suggested that we bring our daughter to the funeral. His family would certainly like to see her as well.

I feel uneasy about this - she is a sensitive, intuitive child and I believe that seeing people she knows so upset will affect her. I also do not wish to leave her with my parents for more than three days because it's imposing on them somewhat, and our daughter will be missing us. She has only been away from us overnight for one night on three separate occasions.

So, my question is this: Would a funeral be too traumatic of an event for a 2-year-old to attend? If she doesn't go, how can I defend my decision to his family?
posted by Ostara to Human Relations (48 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
You defend it by pointing out that she's two. She won't understand why everyone is upset, she'll only know that every adult around her is upset. She'll feel powerless and insecure if you bring her, and abandoned and confused if you leave her for more than three days.

If your husband would like to stay longer, can you arrange to stay at home with your daughter during the funeral, and meet your husband afterwards with your daughter so she gets to visit, but misses the service?
posted by headspace at 12:10 PM on August 14, 2007 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Would a funeral be too traumatic of an event for a 2-year-old to attend?

In my opinion, yes.

If she doesn't go, how can I defend my decision to his family?

Option A: "We decided a funeral would be a bit traumatic for a 2-year-old."

Option B: "I asked a bunch of people on the internet if they thought it was a good idea, and someone named The World Famous, whose opinion I trust implicitly, expressed the opinion that it would be a bit traumatic for a 2-year-old." If they don't accept that, you should get all indignant and repeat: "The. World. Famous."
posted by The World Famous at 12:10 PM on August 14, 2007 [17 favorites]

Would a funeral be too traumatic of an event for a 2-year-old to attend? Absolutely - yes. What purpose would be served by having her go, other than to appease relatives? Let her be a two year old for a while longer and learn about loss and grief later.

how can I defend my decision to his family? You don't need to - you are the parents. And it seems like a wise decision that doesn't require defending anyway.
posted by jpmack at 12:11 PM on August 14, 2007

My father died when my niece was not quite two years old. She was at the funeral, and despite everyone she knew being upset and emotional, it did not disturb her that much. She is now a perfectly normal 13-year-old.

Gauge accordingly.
posted by briank at 12:12 PM on August 14, 2007

Any possibility of bringing her on the trip so she can visit with relatives, but arranging for a babysitter during the funeral/wake so she doesn't have to attend which will likely be the most emotional and upsetting?
posted by jerseygirl at 12:15 PM on August 14, 2007 [6 favorites]

As far as it being traumatic - I don't know if it would be terribly traumatic for a wee one of that age. I do know that it would most likely be boring for her and that as her parents you would be expected to keep her adequately entertained and quiet during the proceedings. This means that you yourselves may miss out some of the service because you are attending to a two year-old.

How about taking her out of town with you - but finding a babysitter for her while you and hubby attend the services? There are babysitting services you could look into or take some recommendations from the family you will be visiting. That way you all can stay a little longer and she doesn't have to attend the actual funeral.
posted by Sassyfras at 12:17 PM on August 14, 2007

Maybe you can bring your daughter with you so that family can see her and you can stay longer, but get a babysitter in town to watch during the funeral? If you have family there, surely they'll have a recommendation.

I'm of the opinion that you shouldn't bring a child that young to a funeral, unless they were very, very close with the deceased. Even then, it might not be the right call. People will understand if she's not at the ceremony, and if they don't, that's their issue.
posted by AlisonM at 12:18 PM on August 14, 2007

Another idea - when a friend's child recently died, my husband went to the wake while I stayed home with the children. I, then, went to the funeral, while he stayed home with the children.
posted by Sassyfras at 12:19 PM on August 14, 2007

doh! sorry about not previewing, jerseygirl :)
posted by AlisonM at 12:19 PM on August 14, 2007

and sassyfras!
posted by AlisonM at 12:23 PM on August 14, 2007

I went to my grandfather's funeral when I was about that age and I remember none of it. I think this is pretty much a personal decision, defensible either way. Things to consider...

- unless people are going to be openly wailing the whole time, it may not be that upsetting. If your daughter is an adorable two year old, having something to focus on that is not the recently decesed in an "oh look you you're getitng so big" might be a welcome distraction
- are there lots of people there who haven't seen your daughter yet? they might enjoy that and you could do the whole "get a babysitter for the funeral and bring her to the wake" aspect
- is your daughter likely to be well-behaved? In some families this doesn't matter much and in some it's a big deal. This should probably be part of your planning process, thinking about this. To hear my mother tell it, I think me or my baby sister managed to pee all over her nice funeral outfit which she found amusing but might not be everyone's idea of a funny event.

In short, it's definitely your decision. Keep in mind that people are going to be unhappy about the recent death and so even if they seem to be giving you a hard time about whatever you decide, it's most likely just misplaced grief at this sudden tragedy, so I'd keep explanations short and very very simple.
posted by jessamyn at 12:23 PM on August 14, 2007 [3 favorites]

is it possible to bring the kid but not have the kid attend the actual funeral itself? when i was v young i was there when for a great grandmother's funeral, but me and the other small kids stayed with a sitter while everyone else attended
if there are other kids maybe an older one can act as a babysitter.
posted by alkupe at 12:33 PM on August 14, 2007

My vote is for not taking her to the funeral. Find a babysitter or keep her outside while your husband goes in, switch out so you can pay your respects, and take her on a day outing. I think that extremely young children (think: still in a carrier) qualify for funerals and after 7 or 8 years old is good, too. I think 2 years old is a bad idea: they're extremely curious, they have a habit of saying things very loudly and they sometimes throw tantrums. My suggestion is that you bring her to the repast so that she can visit with family after the funeral.

I actually went through this debate with my husband's family not one month ago when my grandfather died very unexpectedly. We decided not to bring our two children (five and two years old), and I think that was the right decision. As others have said, it is a personal decision.

on preview: also what alkupe said
posted by mitzyjalapeno at 12:46 PM on August 14, 2007 [1 favorite]

Speaking from experience, she'll be fine. Bring her. Death is a part of life. This will help her learn early why it makes people sad.
posted by chillmost at 12:57 PM on August 14, 2007

I don't think it would do her any lasting harm at all. Or any good. And she might prove disruptive. Take her on the trip but get a sitter for the funeral.
posted by LarryC at 1:08 PM on August 14, 2007

I think it can depend on the child. My eldest nephew is very sensitive and intuitive, and I have no doubt that a funeral in which everyone around him was upset would have been highly traumatic for him at that age. My middle and youngest nephews, however, would be less likely to be upset by the situation.

And yes, while death is most certainly a part of life, and while it's good for children to learn that adults can feel sad, etc., I personally think that there's more benefit, developmentally, to a 2-year-old being away from mom and dad for a weekend by spending time with grandma and grandpa than there is to trying to teach her an abstract concept about death and grief. If she was 4 or 5, it might be different, but 2 is really young to process an event like this meaningfully.
posted by scody at 1:16 PM on August 14, 2007

I think it depends on how close she was to him. My grandma died when I was four and my mother didn't take me to the funeral for, I'm assuming, the same reasons. Although I'm not sure how me-as-a-kid would have handled the funeral, I know that me-as-an-adult will always regret not getting to be there with my family.
posted by logic vs love at 1:17 PM on August 14, 2007 [1 favorite]

I don't think it would do her any lasting harm at all. Or any good. And she might prove disruptive. Take her on the trip but get a sitter for the funeral.

Ditto that. At the last funeral I went to a number of children of various ages were either taken or left with friends of the family depending upon their parents' judgement, which no one questioned (to my knowledge), but everyone was pleased to have a number of children around for the week that the family was gathering in town.
posted by Martin E. at 1:31 PM on August 14, 2007

Yes, bring the kid. This is a part of life and is an important ritual of family bonding.

Unless someone there is going to spiral out of control or the events are going to become incredibly lengthy and drawn out, this is not that big a deal.

We've brought our small child to funerals and his main emotions were boredom and some concern and curiosity here and there, but overall we're glad he got to see it.
posted by hodyoaten at 1:33 PM on August 14, 2007

Agreeing with take the child but get a sitter. Maybe the family has a close family friend or trusted neighbor that could babysit during the service? Someone from their school/church/clubs? Safe travels.
posted by pearlybob at 1:37 PM on August 14, 2007

If you can't arrange a sitter and bring the kid, and then elect to stand outside or apart at key intervals of the ceremony and various events, everyone will understand. In fact, no one will notice, as the attention will be focused on more immediate family members.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 1:38 PM on August 14, 2007

I've been to funerals with toddlers, and like jessamyn said, the cute kid is a nice distraction.
posted by chiababe at 1:46 PM on August 14, 2007

Personally, I don't think a funeral is traumatic to a 2-yr-old, but I'm not a pediatric psychologist.

I think what is almost infinitely more traumatic to young people is being sheltered from death and dying - both in practice, like visiting funerals and sick relatives in the hospital, and in theory, like avoiding it with cutesy kids stories that always have happy endings.

Death is just as natural a part of life as every other part, and I think many of us - myself included - are emotionally stunted specifically because we've been sheltered from that knowledge.

Plus, as someone else said above, I think many people will find a child there a welcome distraction!
posted by luriete at 2:02 PM on August 14, 2007

I wouldn't take my toddler daughter to a funeral. I don't believe it would harm her, but she is far too active and loud. If yours is one of the rare ones who can sit quietly for most of the time, take her. If she's one of the non-stop variety, then you may find it awkward to keep running after her.

Either way, they are going to be people attending who think you're doing the wrong thing.

The funeral arrangements may be a factor. Is there a church or other service where quiet is expected? As suggested above, you could just find a baby sitter or local wee-watch as needed.
posted by Chuckles McLaughy du Haha, the depressed clown at 2:18 PM on August 14, 2007

My grandmother died when I was only slightly older than your daughter, and I didn't go to the funeral. I think that was a fine decision on the part of my parents. Death is a natural part of life, yes, but I don't think she (or I, at that point) is at a point where she can understand what is happening. I attended plenty of funerals past the age of three and I am not emotionally stunted and I'm not afraid of death and dying.

If you, as her mother, think that she will pick up on and be upset by her family members' emotional distress, then maybe it's better not to make her go at this point. I don't think that having a cute kid there to distract the grownups is really a reason to put her through something that you think will be hard for her.
posted by Medieval Maven at 2:20 PM on August 14, 2007

Any possibility of bringing her on the trip so she can visit with relatives, but arranging for a babysitter during the funeral/wake so she doesn't have to attend which will likely be the most emotional and upsetting?

Another vote for this, which is what my parents opted for upon my grandfather's death, when I was 5 and my brother 2. Even at 5, I think it was the right choice, for me; I was old enough to understand that my grandfather had died, and to be sad -- but I would not have been emotionally equipped to see my mother and other immediate family members grieving.

None of us answering here can know your kid better than you, and if you feel she's intuitive enough to be upset at the funeral, then you shouldn't put her through it.

Anyone that challenges your decision while you're at the funeral should be mollified with, "She's too young to understand it, and we wanted to offer the rest of the family the opportunity to mourn in peace." Frame it in the notion that your primary concern was consideration for everyone else, by keeping a toddler out of a long, somber service with no place to play or talk or wiggle.
posted by pineapple at 2:25 PM on August 14, 2007

n-thing take the kid along. The kid's too young to be traumatised and will be a welcome relief for the attendees. Good luck.
posted by merocet at 2:31 PM on August 14, 2007

If she knew the uncle at all, for sure take her to the funeral. And no "Uncle X is sleeping" nonsense -- Uncle X is dead. Otherwise, bring her with but get a sitter, or have some other relative mind her, for the funeral service.

It would almost certainly be unpleasant to deal with, but I don't see anything wrong with a two-year-old being upset by a bunch of people who are themselves torn up. I mean, I don't see the issue.

If funerals or grieving people were too traumatic for two-year-olds to bear, the human race would have died out from suicidal depression long ago.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 2:41 PM on August 14, 2007

My daughter was two when my grandmother died. We took her to the funeral. Most people loved the fact that she was there, partly for reasons jessamyn said. She could not stay still the entire time, so my husband took her outside for a while. It was all good. I do not think it was upsetting for her at all. If you expect there to be lots of whaling and screaming, by all means hire a sitter or find another solution, but I don't see what's wrong with showing sadness. I do recommend to have a solution for when you do see that it is too much for your daughter. There should be someone who can take her outside if it is necessary.

I am totally surprised that people think a funeral is too traumatic for young children. The only reason I was aware of that people do not bring their children to funerals is that they are of the opinion that a little sound of a child during a funeral is totally inappropriate.
posted by davar at 3:10 PM on August 14, 2007

My first clear memory is of a funeral (my father's) that I attended at age 2.

I would leave her with a babysitter for anything graphic (viewing, graveside services) or extremely intense. I wouldn't expect people just being sad to be extremely intense, but I don't know your family.
posted by needs more cowbell at 3:13 PM on August 14, 2007

I am so sorry for your loss and your husband's.

When my oldest was that age and my grandmother died, I had no babysitter and so took him with me--and I wish I hadn't. He doesn't remember anything from the funeral, but of course he didn't understand what was going on and was utterly bored, and I ended up listening to the eulogy from outside the chapel, catering to him. Not his fault, he was just being two. But if I could have found someone to watch him, I would have done it, because funerals are mostly so that the suffering survivors can have some closure, and I don't know that a 2 year-old understands the finality of death (studies show that death to very young children is basically like the person just moved away, and they bounce back very quickly).

You shouldn't have to justify yourself to your family. They've had kids, and they should know that ultimately the parent knows what's best for the child.
posted by misha at 3:28 PM on August 14, 2007

She's too young to be bothered. She'd be fine. Except that she's two, so will make it even tougher and more stressful for the two of you. Don't bring her, not for her sake but for yours and the other attendees. It would be like brining a pet.
posted by monkeymadness at 3:41 PM on August 14, 2007

Best answer: Take her with you. I'm with those who have said that death is a part of life. So true. If your husband is very actively (and debilitatingly) upset by the death perhaps you and she can stand somewhere else and you can "narrate" the event for her - explaining why people are crying, why daddy is standing with his parents by the grave, etc. That way you can walk away and play with/distract her if necessary. It won't traumatize her if you explain everything honestly and accurately - uncle died, he's dead now, not "he's sleeping" or "he went away". She'll ask about it and you'll need to explain it again at least a few times in the following weeks.

Not that this is in any way as serious a death, but, as an illustrative example of a two year old dealing with death: our cat was attacked and killed by coyotes near our house and our daughter (2 years old at the time) saw the body, saw me crying, saw me bury our cat in the yard. We have another cat now but she very obviously thinks about our old cat and will sometimes say to other people, "My cat died. The coyotes got him" and suchlike. You may find yourself discussing your husband's uncle's death with her for a long time to come and I believe it will be a good thing, ultimately, for her to know about. My grandmother died last fall and my daughter saw me grieving - moping and sad, crying in the house. Sometimes now she says, "Nanny died, right Mama?" Yes. Nanny died. Why should you hide such an important process from your children? Grieving is natural and loss is inevitable. My daughter gets to watch us grieve, and then she sees us move on and keep living our lives. That's an important thing for children to witness.

Children are too often sheltered from family realities and civic life - how are 18 year olds suddenly supposed to spring fully formed into the world as functioning adults if we treat them as second class citizens their whole childhoods?
posted by Mrs Hilksom at 4:01 PM on August 14, 2007 [5 favorites]

Children are too often sheltered from family realities and civic life - how are 18 year olds suddenly supposed to spring fully formed into the world as functioning adults if we treat them as second class citizens their whole childhoods?

Precisely what I was going to note.
posted by signalnine at 4:16 PM on August 14, 2007

If she's very aware of the feelings of people around her, then yes, it's too traumatic. I took my son to funerals when he was still a a nursing infant and when he was a little younger than two, but I'd think long and hard about taking him at the age of six, and I definitely wouldn't have taken him to a funeral when he was about two and a half to four and a half. Different kids work differently, and you know your child best. If you think it might be traumatic, don't do it.

It may also depend on how funerals are in your husband's family. My family's "funerals" are generally wakes in the sense that it's a party in celebration of a life; it's not all sadness. My current husband's family is the same. My ex's family holds hushed affairs, quiet and sad.
posted by Cricket at 4:25 PM on August 14, 2007

In my opinion, a sensitive intuitive child is approximately as likely to be adversely affected by being excluded from an important event as by the intense emotions involved in being included.

Don't forget that along with grief there will be a lot of support & connection happening.

Also, an early event which establishes in a child's mind some reality about the car culture may be a vey good thing long term.
posted by lastobelus at 4:43 PM on August 14, 2007

I love when people bring kids to funerals. Gives me someone to play with during the service. I keep crayons and coloring books in my desk so kids have something to play with.

Go with your gut. You know your kid better than us. But, professionally speaking, there's nothing terribly traumatic in a modern funeral. Even when viewing the body. Kids have a remarkable way of seeing a dead person and saying, "Oh, I get it." Much better than weepy-ass teenage girls.

My vote (again, which doesn't particularly count) is to bring the kid. Everyone will want to see her and it will give you something to talk about with relatives who you have absolutely nothing else to talk about. And bring snacks for the funeral director.
posted by ColdChef at 5:04 PM on August 14, 2007

If I were in the same circumstance, my two-year-olds would attend; in part because death is a part of life and the younger they experience other people's grief the better they'll be able to integrate it into their worldview, and in part because having children at a funeral (assuming they're well behaved) is a nice unspoken reminder of the importance of family and that life goes on.
posted by davejay at 6:00 PM on August 14, 2007

take this as an opportunity to educate your child on the importance of ritual in a family setting, even though at the child's age, there won't be much interactive learning.

when my brother passed away, my cousin brought her one year old daughter with her, and it was wonderful. it was the first time i'd met her daughter, and it helped break tension when she gurgled or perhaps even blurted out something. when my mother died about a decade later, one of my close friends brought her daughter, who was only about three at the time. i actually went out of my way to thank my friend for bringing her daughter, as i knew that 1) my mother would have enjoyed knowing her daughter was there, and 2) the cute kid factor again helped to break up the pervasive sadness.

and while at two she wouldn't be cognizant of it at this level, but as a child i was routinely denied opportunities to go to funerals, specifically my grandmother's funeral when i was 11 and nearly thirty odd years later, i'm still bitter that i was not only not allowed to go, but that i was denied the only opportunity to connect with people who would have known my grandmother, and that i did not have an opportunity to mourn her in that time and place.
posted by kuppajava at 6:50 PM on August 14, 2007

We're about to go through this on Thursday. My grandmother passed away on Sunday, and we'll be bringing our 21 month old son to the service. My wife and I discussed the situation, and while it's mainly because of a lack of options, I don't think it will be traumatic in any way. If things get out of hand, or he get scared (which I don't foresee), then my wife or I will step out for a moment into the lobby.

My condolences to you and your family, best of luck.
posted by shinynewnick at 7:06 PM on August 14, 2007

I went to a lot of funerals as a kid. All it really did was give me a profound indifference to death. I'd say avoid bringing her if you can. Adults' grief will just be confusing to such a young child.
posted by tehloki at 7:25 PM on August 14, 2007

I just buried my mother last week and had to endure a two-year old whining through the first part of her eulogy until the mother finally took her out of the area. While I was certainly not furious, I was a bit annoyed. This was my mother. I had enough on my mind.

I understand that neither the child nor the mother meant to create a scene. I understand that some people think it's important to expose kids to the reality of death. And, like ColdChef, I can appreciate that the mere presence of children at a funeral can be a positive and life-affirming thing. But the needs of the immediate family must trump the needs of a child. It's pretty much that simple.

If you bring a small child, sit near the back and be ready to excuse yourself at the very first sign of trouble.
posted by RavinDave at 8:05 PM on August 14, 2007 [1 favorite]

There have been a lot of good answers on this thread.

When my great uncle died last year, I took my five year old son and two year old daughter to the viewing and funeral. The only reason I would not take your daughter is that at a funeral, she will require constant supervision. As RavinDave points out, love and respect for the deceased and family demand vigilant parenting. If that requires you, as the custodian of the child, to miss out on the ceremony you feel a part of or to stifle overpowering grief so that you can attend to your daughter, then yes, you should find a babysitter.

Also, two-year-olds get a bad rap for being bratty, but I've found mine to be also filled with compassion and kindness. Surrounded by sadness, a child might not merely be a pleasant distraction for the mourners. Your daughter may help get you through the day. There are fewer forms of love more pure than that shown by my daughter, when she wipes the tears away from her parents' faces when we're upset or feeling unwell.

Finally, if your family observes a religious tradition, your daughter's experience of religious ritual and behaving reverently may make it easier for her and you to get through the funeral. And, finally, if your religion speaks about death and what, if anything, follows, then that viewpoint should help her understand the naturalness of death, even in the face of this unexpected family tragedy (for which you have my condolences).
posted by hhc5 at 8:45 PM on August 14, 2007

hhc5 speaks truth. I also mourned the death of a great uncle, almost two years ago, with children in tow aged 2, 7, and 9.

The two-year-old, now four, remembers that her great-great uncle died, and that is all. My tears at the funeral did not scar her. I am happy that the event secured in her memory (for now, if not later) some idea of my much-loved uncle.

My uncle loved children, and many attended his funeral. I know he would have felt honored by their presence.

Not all funerals are the same, of course, and you need to take into consideration the feelings of the other adults in attendance. But as for your little girl--she will be fine. And taking her with you may give you opportunities in the near future to help her, and you, remember your husband's uncle.
posted by torticat at 10:21 PM on August 14, 2007

In fact, just to give an idea how two-year-olds process this kind of information:

Recently I was putting my daughter to bed. I sang to her "K-k-k-katie, beautiful katie..." and told her my uncle taught me that song when I was little. She asked which uncle, and I said Uncle Rudy.

She said, "So Uncle Rudy sang that song to you, and then he accidentally died?"

And leaving out about 33 intervening years, that was about right. I am glad that she has this understanding.
posted by torticat at 10:30 PM on August 14, 2007

I feel compelled to point out that the vast majority of these answers center on how it affects the child. That's nice, but frankly it's a secondary concern. It's a funeral -- not a field trip.
posted by RavinDave at 10:46 PM on August 14, 2007 [1 favorite]

Answering the question: Would a funeral be too traumatic of an event for a 2-year-old to attend? I've taken both my children at varying ages (funerals at ages 2ish, 4, & 8 so far), I would say take the kid. If you think the funeral would be too much, arrange for a babysitter (reliable teenage cousin or something?).

When my first daughter was two, we took some quiet activities along to keep her busy (felt board, a favored stuffed animal, some cheerios. This was a memorial followed by a graveside service. Out of everything, I'm sorry my daughter was looking the other direction when we went past for the "viewing". She's a sensitive one, but she really wanted to see, which I can understand. My first funeral was at 10 & I was terribly curious too. We moved on and by the time we arrived at the graveside & it was forgotten & on to the next new thing. She cried a little as they lowered the casket, but heck, lots of people were crying -- that was an appropriate response. And then it was on to the next new thing: the post-services reception where she was fawned upon & generally spoiled by family members.

I believe children belong at important family and community events (including weddings & funerals, though I would never impose my children where they were explicitly disinvited) -- but I position myself close to a discreet exit so that if we need to go wander halls or stand outside in the sun or watch from just outside the door, we can (or my husband can -- depending on whose family event we're attending).

The more recent one, just a simple graveside service (with a banjo!), the four year old skipped along the memorial stones, made tea in a whatsit for where one puts live flowers, and gave a lot of people something to smile about in what was otherwise kind of a sad moment in time. But then that funeral was definitely an expression of how my family rolls. The 8 year old was very mature & having been through it, knew what to expect & how to behave like the lovely young person she's becoming. So, I'm all for it. But yeah, that's how my family rolls. Your family may roll differently.
posted by susanbeeswax at 11:28 PM on August 14, 2007

As someone who recently attended her very first funeral at the age of 29, I'm tempted to say it's never too early. But I won't, because I think there's a big difference between being shielded from death (which I wasn't) and being shielded from funerals (which I was). She's 2, and whether you take her to the funeral or not should be a function of what you think you and your husband can best deal with on what will be a difficult and draining day.

As others have said, be up front with her about the reason for your sadness and grief. And definitely let her attend funerals when she's a little bit older. But if you think it would be less stressful for you and your husband to leave your toddler with someone else this time, don't let the answers here make you feel guilty for doing so. Do whatever will cause you the least amount of stress and anxiety.
posted by somanyamys at 7:04 AM on August 15, 2007

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