My Greatest Ambition- ‘The Most Important Lesson’ …Can You Help?

It is now October 2015.

Seven years ago this month my big sister, Sarah, lost her life and left behind two beautiful children. Losing her changed everything.

Personally, I struggled with this very much (“very much” being an understatement). There were so many aspects of the experience that were extremely hard to handle and totally threw me for six. Since then I have wanted to help support, protect, and comfort the kids my sister left behind, but I have been in no position to do so. As I type this I am living seven thousand miles away from them with no imminent hope of affording even a visit back home.

The Ambition:

In 2013 I started and finished writing a story. It all came in a wave of inspiration. I sobbed while I wrote it, I sob when I talk about it, I sob when I think about it. My greatest ambition is for this story to be illustrated, published, and both available for sale and distributed for free.

Let me explain:

When my sister was in the accident, she died at the scene but was resuscitated and on life support for ten days. Her children were taken to a separate hospital and were treated for minor injuries. They were two-and-a-half years old, and two months old, respectively. They were then cared for by friends for a few days until my sister’s partner was able to leave my sister’s side and take them home. Once this happened, all the children really knew was that their mother wasn’t there anymore.

At the hospital when we were all going through this ordeal, they didn’t give us any materials to help explain anything to the kids. I don’t even know if there is a program in existence that does this. So when I wrote the story, I had this in mind. How do you explain to young kids what has happened to their parent? Transcending the parent/child relationship, how do you explain loss to children?

Without wanting to delve into any religious or afterlife type of detail, the story that came into my head was one of conveying the understanding that our loved ones never really leave us if we keep their memories, words, and lessons alive.

The Story:

In the story, the main character is named after my niece, Ezri. Ezri bunny is a curious little bunny who loves to explore and ask questions. She gets a baby brother, Lucian (named after my nephew) and is so excited, but her excitement turns to disappointment when she realises he’s too young to play ‘pretend’ with her. She then decides to show him her favourite things.

As Ezri shows her baby brother her favourite things, she is keen to tell him all about them: The flowers, the lake, and the beautiful sunset. But she soon realises she doesn’t have all the knowledge to explain them the way she wants to. With Mama Bunny by her side, she asks questions about them and her mama gives her explanations she doesn’t fully understand…

Ezri was still curious. “But Mama, why does it make the sky so pretty before it goes away?”

Mama Bunny thought again about what to say. Then she spoke tenderly, “Ezri, my little love bug, it is teaching us a lesson. As the sun sets, it gives us a beautiful show that will never be repeated. But it won’t wait for us to come and see it, it will carry on as it does. We have to choose to see it if we really want to enjoy it, because if we don’t pay attention, we’ll miss it. But if we do pay attention, I mean really pay attention and take in all it has to show us, we will have a wonderful memory of that amazing display of light, to carry us through even the darkest of nights. The sunset will fade away, but our memory of it, the imprint it leaves in our hearts, is what will keep it alive in us. And that memory can never be taken away for as long as we live.”

…until the day Mama Bunny is suddenly not there anymore.

Ezri is confused, and goes to find her mama.

     Ezri went outside. “Maybe,” she thought, “I can find her.” She went to the meadow to see if Mama Bunny had got lost there picking flowers. She could see some of the flowers losing their petals as the wind blew. She found a fluffy white one she was sure had been yellow before. As she touched it, some of the white fluff sailed away in the breeze. It was so beautiful to watch, she blew on it and sent the rest of the fluff dancing on her breath. As she looked around, she noticed all the yellow flowers had turned white and fluffy. She ran and jumped through the meadow and watched all the bits of fluff dance around her. She stopped for a moment. “Mama?” she called.

But Mama Bunny wasn’t there.

Ezri thought about what her mama had told her about the flowers. The flowers were now going away, but she guessed the white fluff was on its way to making new flowers. “Goodbye,” she said to them, “see you again soon!”

As she visits each of her favourite places, looking for Mama Bunny, she gains a better understanding of her mama’s words. Beginnings and endings, peace and reflection, culminating in the ultimate understanding of her mama’s “Most Important Lesson.”

What I need:

Editing: I need help to make this a reality. I have all the words typed and edited to the best of my ability, but I need it to go to the next step.

Illustrations: I am artistic, but I am not an illustrator. I would like help in this area. Someone who knows how to illustrate and can understand my vision for this and where I want it to go.

My poor attempt:

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Publishing: I need a publisher to hear me and want to work with me.

Promotion: This project is designed to be available for sale for anyone who wants it. I also see it being included in a package distributed at hospitals and hospices (et cetera) and by Social Services as an illustrated story to read to the kids affected.

Others: I can see quotes from this and the corresponding artwork sold as merchandise of all sorts, with portions of the proceeds going to either a new or existing charity that focuses on comfort for children who have lost parents.

I can see a short cartoon made from this story available to view for free on YouTube.

I want to tour and read this story wherever it’s welcomed.

I don’t have anything in the way of money or resources to give. I am just me, not rich in the slightest.

Ideally part of completing this project would allow me to visit my home (America) for the first time in over five years, to see my niece and nephew and give them an illustrated, printed first copy of the book, and read it to them in person.

Feedback So Far:

Everyone who has read the story so far has loved it and has passionately told me I need to publish it. This, I feel, is my greatest purpose thus far. My gift to the world.

What’s Been Stopping Me:

Fear. Of applications, rejection, failure, you name it. I have had extreme artistic block when trying to do the illustrations myself, and have been unable to complete them.

I don’t know how publishing works. I am not an expert. I don’t feel I know how to do this alone.

Can you help?

Email me @: talkingthisandthatblog.gmail.com

Thank you, thank you, thank you, from the bottom of my heart.

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Please share this everywhere. Somehow, some way, the right person will see it and get in touch with me.


Copyright notice: All quotes and ideas expressed here are the sole intellectual property of Kirsten Young. Copying of any portion of the above without permission is strictly prohibited.

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Keep Going (My Conversation With the Un-Dead Part 2)

He said he’d left me a note. He was going to leave me his car. He thought the world would be better off without him and he would be doing at least a bit of good this way.

I told him I didn’t want his car. What am I going to do with that? Look at it every day and think of you? Think of how angry I am that you did this?

Because yeah, I was angry. For as much as he claimed he loved his mother he was about to do the unthinkable and I could see in my mind how she would react. She’s a good woman. She’s been hurt by so many people in her life. She doesn’t need it from her son, her last remaining child. Heck, I didn’t need it either. He shared a birthdate with my other friend whom I mentioned in My Conversation With the Un-Dead who did succeed in taking his life. Both of them had a special role in my life for a time. Both I cared about. I’m tired of grieving one thing or another.

I explained to him that the car wouldn’t be helpful to me at all, it would be like salt in the wounds. Either it would be a constant reminder of pain, or it would be a chore and a load of paperwork to get rid of it, which I hate. In my angst I said he could take his car and shove it, I’d rather see him alive and driving the thing himself.

It was late November. He didn’t want to live anymore, he said. He was mid-thirties, no wife, no kids, no real accomplishments. He missed his sister who he’d lost to a terminal illness. They used to spend loads of time together. Now his Christmases were empty reminders of how they used to have fun together, but she was gone and that part of life was over. His grief left him in depressive states frequently. My hunch is that he was also bipolar, given his manic, Hyena personality and reclusive, Mole personality.

He had tried to seek counselling, but the systems can be slow and he was still waiting for an appointment. Every day he woke up alone, went to work alone, came home alone, ate his dinner alone, went to bed alone. That’s difficult when spirits are high, even more so when they’re low. He was dissatisfied with the general status quo of his life.

It seems to me that this failed attempt is a pretty good opportunity.

“For what?”

To do a one-eighty and change all the things you hate.

One way to look at it is this: When the world around you has you tearing your hair out, crying your eyes out, feeling powerless and worthless, that is the moment you can put your big-kid boots on and say, I’M NOT HAVING THIS ANY LONGER. But rather than a destructive way, how about a transformative way?

Where I grew up we had a saying: “Either sh** or get off the pot.” To me, this means that if I’m going to sit there complaining about something, I’m wasting my time. Instead of sitting there, lamenting over this or that, I have to get up and do something about it, or it’s never going to change. And would I rather give happiness a go than death? Yes. It’s worth a shot if I can get there and finally begin to thrive.

Our sadness is a symptom of a problem. It intensifies the more we stare at it. The key is to shift the focus, and start working on the things you can change. If everything around you has you dissatisfied, maybe you’ve outgrown it. Start a list, and one by one change the things you can.

Don’t set up camp where you don’t want to live.

If your current state of mind is sad all the time, don’t set up camp there. Don’t say to yourself, “Well, this is it. This is where it ends.” Don’t unpack all your hopes and dreams and set them to permanently rest on the shelves of your current state of despair. Because it’s there that they will die. And in one way or another, so will parts of you.

Consider the AA prayer, regardless of your belief in a deity:

God,

Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

The courage to change the things I can,

And the wisdom to know the difference.

Amen.

Some things can’t be changed. He could never bring his sister back from the dead. (And I totally understand that, because I wish I could bring my sister back, too.) But he felt his existence held no value. So, I suggested he give it value. He was always saying he wanted to volunteer for the homeless. Why not start there?

Once, I set myself a challenge of losing a bunch of weight. But the more I stared at the scale and what it said to me, the less it moved in the direction I wanted. It kept going up instead. So I changed my approach. I realised I couldn’t focus on the weight I lost, because that’s not where I have control. The only real way to change my problem was to start doing some work. I learned that by doing the work, the numbers took care of themselves. I had to constantly remind myself “It’s not about the weight you lose, it’s about the work you do.”

Similarly, we don’t own magic wands where we can suddenly change everything. We have to take it one step at a time, one day at a time, one brick at a time, one word at a time, whatever. It takes time, but it’s always more worth it to try than to give up.

What is in your power? Do that. Do as much as you can every day, and in three months see if you feel the same as you do today. Then do it for three months longer. Then six months. Keep going until this day is a distant memory.

He didn’t like his job, either. I told him to look for another one. In threatening to write a book about him, I told him that if he didn’t at least try to fix the things he didn’t like first, I’d tell the world how he gave up before he even started trying. I’d say he was a quitter. A coward. Is that what you want the world to remember of you? The legacy you want to leave behind? No? Then do something about it.

I don’t mean to tell people considering suicide that they’re cowards and quitters. This one situation is not every situation and I’m not judging you, readers. But as I said here, I was grasping at straws with him. And I do know what it feels like to not want to keep going. But I also know there is a lot of value in picking yourself up, dusting yourself off, taking a big breath, and putting one foot in front of the other in the direction of a better life. You can learn a lot about yourself, amaze yourself, and find strength you didn’t know you had.

Keep going.

If you’re struggling, please remember that if you reach out, your call is likely to be answered. If nothing else, there are hotlines to help. In the UK, the Samaritans are there on the end of the line to be an ear (08457 90 90 90 fees apply). In the US, 1-800-273-TALK (8255) is the number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. “We are here for people struggling through any sort of situation – you do not have to be feeling suicidal to call. It’s free, confidential, and available 24/7/365.”

“Try to remember, that you can’t forget
Down with history, up with your head
For sweet tomorrow, she never fell from grace
We might still know sorrow but we got better days”

-Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes, Better Days

My Conversation With the Un-Dead

I didn’t even like him all that much. He was obnoxious. Purposely obnoxious. But there was something childish and endearing about him. He was obnoxious because he was always trying to be funny. He played the devil’s advocate just to wind people up. He wanted to be laughed at, laughed with if you prefer, because he was always giggling like a hyena. Except when he wasn’t.

Through knowing him I observed two distinct sides of him: The Hyena, and The Mole.

The Hyena was hyperactive to the point he was hard for me to take at times. It could be entertaining and we did have a lot of fun times, but then it would cross that line and it couldn’t be shut off on request. The Hyena wanted attention constantly. The Mole wanted next to none.

The Mole would hide in his bed for days, barely eating or interacting. Sometimes going through Facebook post binges of sharing nostalgic songs he thought described his depressive mood and inner self. It was hard to know whether he was trying to garner sympathy (being the attention-seeker I knew him to be) or simply be alone comforting himself while trying to hint that he needed someone to give him a form of a hug.

We all need hugs sometimes.

At one point my intuition would not leave me alone. Something was wrong. He wasn’t posting his heart on Facebook, he wasn’t calling for a cup of coffee, he had basically fallen off the face of the Earth. It had been over three days since I’d heard any echo of his existence.

I texted; no reply. I called about five times; no reply. I messaged a mutual friend asking if he’d been seen; no he hadn’t. I called again.

Finally I got a text back saying he wasn’t feeling well and didn’t want to talk. Upon pressing he said he would tell me something he hadn’t told anyone else: He’d just attempted suicide.

He’d tried to hang himself. With his makeshift noose screwed to his doorway, he gave it a go, but it gave out. He woke up passed out on the floor, bruises all around his neck. His voice was messed up. He felt ashamed of himself. Not for trying, but for failing. I invited him for coffee.

He came around, and we had a lengthy conversation. He didn’t appear to want to stop at this attempt. He was pretty sure he was going to try again. I asked him what was going through his head. What did he think would happen when his mother found out. What compelled him to do such a thing.

“It’s not about anyone else, it’s about me. My choice. My life.”

But what about your mum?

“I left a note for her. I told her it wasn’t her fault.”

But do you really think it’s going to be nice for her to have survived her children before her time? As a mother I can tell you that’s got to be the absolute worst thing in the world.

He looked pensive for a moment. “But it isn’t about her.”

But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t affect her. She’ll be sat at home minding her business after going to lunch and doing a bit of knitting and the police will come knocking on the door. Then who will comfort her? Your father? Is that what you really want?

“When Jenny died I was the one who had to go tell her.”

And what happened?

“She absolutely fell to pieces. That was the hardest thing I ever had to do. I never want to see her like that again.”

Right. So that was one child. It is so unnatural for a mother to survive their child. Now imagine that it wasn’t just one of your children but both. The grief doesn’t just double, it increases exponentially. That could kill her.

I realise this may not sound like the most sensitive way to go about this conversation. But at the time, he was basically saying his goodbyes to me. He was almost certainly going to try again. And possibly succeed. I was not only grasping at straws trying to talk some sense into him, but I realised I had a rare opportunity here.

Do you realise that this conversation I’m having with you now is the one that every single person wishes they could have with the person they’re grieving due to suicide? I’m now asking you all the questions the bereaved have no way of getting to ask.

So what about your friends? What do you think they would feel?

“It isn’t about them. It’s about me. I’m being selfish. I know that. But I can’t take this any longer.”

Don’t you realise how many lives you would affect? What about me? With all the s*** I’m going through, the last thing I need is to be grieving your ass right now.

I should note we had a special relationship. He was always taking the piss out of me. I saw nothing wrong in returning the favour.

“Well I left you a note, too.”

I don’t want your damn note, I want you to not break your poor mother’s heart. Don’t for one second underestimate how much this would destroy her. The least you could do is wait until she’s passed.

At some point I threatened to write a book about him. I told him that because I’ve got to ask all these questions, if he’s dead he can’t stop me. I’ll even use his real name and talk about all the twat things he’s confessed to me. He didn’t seem to like that. Too bad.

He knew it was a selfish decision. He wasn’t in denial about that. But he felt he had the right to make that decision and to a certain extent, he’s right. He can make whatever decision he wants. But timing is priceless. When you’re suddenly gone, it affects everyone who knows you. Whatever struggles people are facing, the passing of their friend or loved one adds to the pile. A lot of times it adds not only grief, but guilt.

Questions like, What could I have done differently to prevent this?

“Nothing. I chose to do this because I selfishly wanted to end it. It had nothing to do with you.”

Why didn’t you reach out for help?

“I didn’t want help. I’d given up.”

Were you mad at me?

“No, and I don’t want you to feel badly.”

But I will feel badly. I’ll feel terrible.

“That wasn’t my intention. I wasn’t thinking about that.”

In the end, I don’t believe he tried again. I told him that no matter what dynamic lies between himself and his parents, I promise they would rather take time out of their busy schedule to go and visit him in his hour of need than to lose him forever. From what I’ve seen, he has reached out to them since.

He and I are no longer friends. The Hyena personality could be really hurtful sometimes. I deal with a lot of personal issues of my own, and having him in my life was adding to a lot of issues that I couldn’t handle any longer. But I don’t wish ill on him, or anyone else. I sincerely hope he gets all the help he needs and begins to thrive at some point, which is the same I hope for myself and the rest of humanity.

However, I have learned one very important lesson through this. I will never take the passing of anyone personally. At the end of 2013 I lost someone to suicide who was at one point a very dear friend of mine. I felt awful. I felt as though I should have known, I should have spoken to him more often, I should have done this or done that. But I’ve realised I can’t hold myself responsible for anyone’s decisions. I have had to divorce myself from the mindset that I could have saved someone who was insistent on departing from this waking life.

If someone chooses to take their own life, that’s up to them. I am no stranger to these urges, but sometimes we have our reasons for either continuing to fight or giving up the fight. I get that. Life is hard. Lonely.

I don’t know if my conversation with him was the right thing to do, but I was there for him. I listened. I cared. I tried. I made myself available and proved to him that when I said “I give a s*** about you,” I meant it. From my experience, that seemed better than to ignore it, disregard his feelings, or shrug the whole thing off.

If you’re struggling, please remember that if you reach out, your call is likely to be answered. If nothing else, there are hotlines to help. In the UK, the Samaritans are there on the end of the line to be an ear (08457 90 90 90). In the US, 1-800-273-TALK (8255) is the number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. “We are here for people struggling through any sort of situation – you do not have to be feeling suicidal to call. It’s free, confidential, and available 24/7/365.”

If you have heard someone say they are thinking heavily about attempting suicide, they are not always bluffing. If in doubt and you have no other options, call the authorities. My un-dead friend insisted he didn’t want me to, but in hindsight I probably should have. At the time, I was scared of losing him as a friend for “betraying” him. Funny how our minds work in a crisis. But sometimes that’s the best thing we can do for them.

Read the rest of the story here.

Where I’m Going With This

This is the follow-up post promised here.

After The Accident, my niece and nephew were left behind suddenly, without their mother.

My niece, Ezri, was two-and-a-half years old, my nephew Lucian was two months old. Ezri had been seated in the centre of the backseat of the car at the time, and had escaped with merely a scratch on her foot. Lucian, however, was on the same side as my sister when the car was hit. Miraculously he was barely injured, with only a concussion and a bruised liver resulting from the impact. The car was so badly damaged they didn’t even know he was still in there, at first. If it weren’t for him suddenly crying, they wouldn’t have heard him and he would have been carried away, alive, with the wreckage.

These thoughts continuously haunt me. I cannot imagine what they must have seen or heard, or how they must have felt. But I love them to pieces, which is difficult because I’ve been an entire ocean away from them for the past five years. That’s beside the point.

The point is, it hurts me to think of how they felt after all this. How do you explain to a child that their parent isn’t coming back? How do you convey their love and legacy to the innocent? I know my family isn’t alone in this; there are children across the world who are struggling or about to struggle with this concept. Not even just kids, but people of all ages. Grief is a difficult thing.

So I wrote a story. Just something simple, about a family of bunnies with Ezri as the main character. In the story, Mama Bunny disappears and Ezri goes to find her after she sees her dad’s reaction when she asks where her mama is. I wrote it for her and Lucian, initially, but I think this is bigger than that.

When we were at the hospital, nobody gave us any materials to help talk to the kids. They just kind of leave you to it. My vision is that this book will be published with illustrations and distributed for free to families who are about to lose a parent of children. I want it to be available for purchase so that people everywhere can enjoy it and take a bit of comfort from it.

BUT I DON’T QUITE KNOW HOW TO ACCOMPLISH THIS.

This is where you come in, friends. I want to hear from people who would be able to offer advice or time and skills on editing a video so I can create a Kickstarter page to raise the funds to get this done. I need ideas. Artists. Programmers. I’m thinking maybe an app where the kids can flip the pages and play with Ezri Bunny. Or some animated illustrations.

I myself am an amateur artist but for some reason I have a mental block when it comes to doing artwork for this particular project. I’m thinking stuff like this:

Painting by Kirsten Young

Painting by Kirsten Young

I would like to post the story free for anyone to read, however I am afraid of copyright issues and the work being stolen. So maybe I could read the story on video to upload to YouTube. But I don’t know how to edit video.

If you or someone you know would like to help, please give a shout. I’d love to see this accomplished in 2015.

Thanks for reading.

The Accident (And How Money Changes Everything)

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This is a story I originally posted on a thread on Amanda Palmer’s Facebook page. If you don’t know who Amanda Palmer is, I’d encourage you to have a look. She is one of my favourite artists, who does things like this:

Amanda Palmer was sharing a fundraising page for a woman who was in a terrible car accident. They needed money for her recovery process. This struck a chord with me because I have a similar experience and something to say about it.

Here we go:

My sister was in an awful accident about six years ago. The twelfth of October, 2008 to be precise. I was expecting her to come to Montana from Utah that day. The weather reports were unusually bad in Montana and I’d urged her to wait another day. She’d insisted the roads were clear. She left around 2pm.

At 10pm her partner (whom I refer to as my brother-in-law), who’d not travelled with her, was on her cell phone calling me. I picked up the phone expecting to hear her voice.

“Kirsten.” says Jim. She must not have made it out of Utah.

“Uh… what are you doing on Sarah’s phone?” A feeling of deep dread fills my soul before he utters another word.

“There’s been an accident.” Her two young children were in the car with her. Where are they? They were doing fine in the hospital the next town over. Sarah had been life-flighted to Ogden Hospital.

As the nurse listed her injuries I kept waiting for the part where they would say, “But she’s going to be okay.” It didn’t come. Six broken vertebrae in her neck. Skull fracture. Broken pelvis. Lacerated spleen. And the list kept going… Ten days on machines and the only family reunion in her life later and it was over.

She was gone.

There are no words for the dread you feel, learning of a human injured so badly. It is a hard thing to witness their loved ones fall to pieces. I remember seeing Jim standing against the wall outside her hospital room, slowly sliding down with his head in his hands and sobbing. Sobbing. If there had been a guarantee of money available for support, the machines probably would have stayed on. She was a half a point above brain-dead on the neurosurgeon’s scale. The surgeon refused to say there was no hope, indeed there might be. The determining factor was that each day on the machines was so expensive and for this family that was already struggling, (she was making the trip for a job opportunity) whose insurance was about to run out, they could likely become homeless very soon. If she did survive, but was paralysed forever, they would be unable to afford what she would need.

So many arguments. So much pain. She was only twenty-two. My big sister.

I hold onto the comfort that two blind people were given the gift of sight from her eyes, and her bone marrow helped someone recover from something. Her skin helped burn victims heal.

But her children are motherless. And there’s always the “What if ____?”

Is money really what stood between my niece and nephew knowing their mother and not?

People shouldn’t have to make these decisions. Money during a time like this is all the difference.

The unspoken part of people recovering from injuries is the extensive damage that trickles through to their family and friends. Fissures in familial relationships, wounds which never heal. I saw some true colours through this ordeal I’d prefer to have not seen. Almost every aspect of it was a tragedy.

Am I to believe it was a blessing my sister didn’t survive because the social security claim might not have been successful anyway? Is the system really counting on us dying so they won’t have to pay out?

One of the most hurtful parts was when we were all gathered around to say our goodbyes, a lawyer called who was representing the people in the car behind Sarah’s who had t-boned her on the black ice. They had escaped with a collarbone injury and a broken leg, collectively.

They were suing.

I had to take the phone off Jim who was clearly troubled by this injury claim lawyer.

“Excuse me, you do realise Sarah’s not going to make it, right?” was my first response to his aggravating remarks.

“Uh, um, uhhhh… I’m so sorry. Have a nice day.”

Indeed.

Hers was the twenty-sixth accident that day on a five-mile stretch of road along Willard Bay. Where was the responsibility of Utah Highway, shutting the road down after the fifth slide-off, perhaps? Third roll-over? No? A sign of warning on their multi-million dollar digital display installations to SLOW DOWN, BLACK ICE?

They waited until there was a helicopter rescue necessary to act.

Twenty-six accidents, involving ten slide-offs, eight roll-overs, and several collisions.

By the way, her birthday would have been on the twelfth of this month. She would have been turning twenty-nine.

Now I know why injury-claim law practices are so lucrative; they’d rather we harass one another in times like this than take care of us in our hour of need, despite the taxes we pay.

Without helping one another, there is no hope.

By sharing this story I hope that it gives perspective on a subject that many don’t, or won’t, discuss.

I also share this story to provide a background on another subject close to my heart.

Post to follow expanding on that.

Take care, everyone, and if there’s bad snow or crazy weather around you and someone says to stay home, please think about staying home.