Funeral Decor For An Infant

by admin on May 11, 2016

I have a question for you and my fellow readers, please.

I’ve recently started working for a cemetery as an arrangement coordinator and, odd as it sounds, the job is incredible. Most of the people I meet with are making arrangements for elderly parents and grandparents and, while very sad, it’s an honour to be able to help them.
In most cases, the funeral home looks after the service and I handle everything specifically related to the actual cemetery (reserving and preparing the space, arranging for a grave marker, and supervising the burial/entombment). Sometimes however, families don’t want a service and, when someone has been cremated without a service, it’s my job to place the deceased’s ashes in their space before the grounds crew closes it.
So that’s the background/context for my situation.

Next week I have to handle my first infant burial. The parents are completely lost and don’t speak English so they’ve been relying on friends to translate. These parents hand picked their space and have put so much love and thought into the process and my heart just hurts for them. They’ve opted for cremation without a service and they want to place some toys in the grave with the little urn.

I want so badly to do something for them on top of just doing my job well. The table that the urn is placed on before it’s buried is a boring, white plastic. Would it be out of line for me to make a small baby blanket to either cover the table or line the grave with? I don’t want to make a big production but I want to do something special. Would this be seen as hijacking their grief or being intrusive? They’ve asked for my input on their marker so I think it might be ok but I absolutely do not want to overstep here. Any advice or other ideas anyone has would be greatly appreciated. 0511-16

{ 51 comments… read them below or add one }

Yellow Rose May 11, 2016 at 12:45 pm

If the table the urn will be sitting on is generic plastic, I don’t think the parents would know any different if you were to cover it with a nice cloth or blanket. I also do not think it would be hijacking their grief, they may even think it’s part of the normal service your organization provides. I’m sure whether you offer it to them to take home as a remembrance or to rest the urn and toys on would be accepted with gratitude. What a mitzvah! Bless you.

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ColoradoCouldy May 11, 2016 at 12:52 pm

I think a baby blanket on the table sounds like a beautiful gesture, and I commend you for being so caring.

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Margaret May 11, 2016 at 12:52 pm

I think a handmade blanket by you would be a wonderful touching gift.

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Waltzes with Cacti May 11, 2016 at 12:59 pm

I think that placing a baby blanket on the table smacks of overfamiliarity, since you don’t really know the parents. The baby blanket is the sort of thing you might do if you were a close friend or relation but coming from a stranger it just might strike the grieving parents as a cutsey gesture of phoney sentimentality. Truly, I appreciate the sympathy behind your impulse — you are clearly a sensitive, caring person — but my advice is to cover the table with something more restrained, maybe white linen or white damask.

You didn’t ask about this, so please forgive me for inserting my unsolicited two cents. Should you be the person who deposits the box of ashes in the grave? Because if I were the sorrowing parent, I would want to do it myself, and also have a clergyperson there.

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LizaJane May 11, 2016 at 8:49 pm

The OP says that placing the urn in the grave is her job, so yes, she’s the one who should be doung it. I’m sure if the parents wanted to, it would be considered, but the OP is obligated to make sure it happens, since that’s what’s being recorded on cemetery records.
She also says that the parents have chosen to have no service, so it seems to be their choice not to have clergy there.

Frankly, this post isn’t about how the service should be conducted or what any of us would choose. The parents have made their choices.

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Swamptribe May 11, 2016 at 1:00 pm

No, I don’t think there would be anything wrong with you providing a table cloth or blanket to cover the plastic table. Perhaps keep it something simple and plain. If they choose to anything further with it, leave that up to them.

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sara May 11, 2016 at 1:08 pm

I don’t see it as intrusive and i doubt the parents will too. i think they will be touched by your professionalism and dedication to their own care xx

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Kirsten May 11, 2016 at 1:13 pm

It’s great that you want to do the best you can for the poor parents, but you have to learn to leave your emotions behind at work, or you’ll find it so distressing you can’t do it for long. It’s something everyone working with people in difficult circumstances has to get used to. I still remember the first time I had to work with a dying person who was young, early 20s, and I found it very upsetting. I did everything I could to help him and his family and then I went back to my office and cried. I still think about him now and again, because he was the first person I had to deal with in those circumstances, but I’ve seen thousands of people since then and remember next to none of them.

Making a blanket would be a lovely gesture, but are you going to do that for every infant in the course of your work? My thoughts are that you could advise the parents they might want a blanket over the table, and then focus your compassion on ensuring you do the best job you can for them, as unobtrusively as possible. I think that in years to come, when they look back on the worst day of their lives, they’ll want to remember that everyone was kind and things went smoothly, and that’s what’s in your power to give.

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Heather May 12, 2016 at 6:59 am

Extremely well said. I agree with everything you’ve written.

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padua May 12, 2016 at 7:26 pm

i agree. maybe they don’t want attention drawn to the fact that they’ve lost a child. asking first is the best way to find out. and if they say ‘no’, let it go.

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Julia May 11, 2016 at 1:13 pm

If possible, I would ask them (especially the mother) if there is something they had for the baby or something they were going to give to the baby that is special. Many cultures have different versions of a hope chest, so perhaps a blanket or bonnet or something prepared for the baby? If they say no, I would leave the table as is.

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Vanessaga81 May 11, 2016 at 1:15 pm

I think that sounds lovely, personally.

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Betty May 11, 2016 at 1:25 pm

So sad. IMO, a plain baby blanket to soften the table would be nice. Avoid prints, but a plain solid pastel color would be appropriate. Maybe stick to yellow, green, or white unless you know that pink or blue would be ok with the family.

I would not add a blanket to line the grave: that seems way too personal without talking to the family about it first.

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LizaJane May 11, 2016 at 10:05 pm

This.

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GeeDub May 11, 2016 at 1:48 pm

Please don’t. It’s the parents’ place to decide what’s appropriate for their baby’s burial, not yours.

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Kay_L May 11, 2016 at 1:49 pm

I don’t think it would be hijacking their grief but I do think it would be very intrusive. Any “blanket” that you would provide would have no meaning because the child never had it/used it.

I think, in general, if the table is sparse that it might be nice to add a table cloth of some kind that you could use with all of your clients. But, baby themed? I wouldn’t.

Before my father was cremated, the staff at the funeral home made the assumption, based on my mother being Catholic, that my father was also. They also applied make-up to his face.

I can’t tell you how hurtful it was for me to go in to identify my father (which was legally required so that there were no mistakes) to find that he had foundation, blush and lipstick on his face and rosary beads entwined in his fingers. I’m sure someone had the best of intentions but it wasn’t their place to make those decisions.

While I admire your desire to go above and beyond, I think you should confine your involvement to suggestions that the parents and family can act upon rather than providing things yourself.

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Cleosia May 12, 2016 at 7:32 am

Putting a baby blanket under the ashes is a far cry from what was done for your father. That was intrusive.

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Becca May 12, 2016 at 1:55 pm

That now reminds me of how they made up my grandmother for her viewing. Her son was appalled that they put her glasses, in their case, in her hand. I’m not sure what was going on there, I just remember the ranting afterwards. He was mad at the makeup as well because Grandma didn’t wear much if any from my experience, so it was one of those “This isn’t my mother.” moments.

That aside, my other aunts and uncles, nor mom seemed phased so it could have just been an unhinged (hence the “My Grandmother’s Son”, he’s been disowned by me and my brother shortly afterwards) moment but I see how these things done without consulting the family can cause such an outburst, it’s probably the only time I’ve understood him tbh.

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Lyn May 16, 2016 at 1:17 pm

I don’t understand this at all. I’m Catholic; none of the males in my family that have passed away was wearing lipstick! ??????? We used a Catholic-run funeral home also. Never ever heard of this! Rosary in their hands, yes. foundation and blush to make the face more lifelike, yes. Lipstick? Crazy!

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ALM June 15, 2016 at 4:17 pm

Not to diminish your grief or anything, but I’m guessing the funeral home thought the sight of Dad in makeup was probably preferable to Dad with all natural death pallor. I don’t think Catholicism enters into that so much as trying to look ‘asleep’ and missing the mark. (Maybe it would look better under the funeral lighting?)

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Minerva May 11, 2016 at 2:02 pm

As long as _you_ don’t make a big production of it (Oh, look what I did and how nice I am!), I think it would be a lovely gesture. I just buried my mother and while I realize that is very different than a child, knowing that others cared about her and for her helped ease the hurt a bit.

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Cat May 11, 2016 at 2:09 pm

I think I’d research burial customs in their home country or religious faith and see if there is anything special that they do or avoid doing. The baby blanket is a lovely touch, but I’d check with someone first.
Grave markers sometimes surprise me. I saw one for a young child who is buried near my parent’s graves. The marker reads, “Forty pounds of mouth.” That must have held some special meaning for the parents, but it strikes me as odd every time I see it.

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Meegs May 11, 2016 at 2:37 pm

Oh man, that is so sad. I hope others have some advice for you because I just don’t know. My first thought, though, was to maybe check with the funeral director and get their input on this.
You seem like a lovely, kind and compassionate person.

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Cece May 11, 2016 at 3:30 pm

I used to volunteer at a funeral museum. Do you know, what is their culture, if the first language is not English? You could Google that+funeral, or funeral customs for children in that culture, and see if there is something subtle you could add, a particular flower or something.
Off the top of my head, I would say perhaps not a baby blanket, but a nice lacey cloth.

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Anon May 11, 2016 at 3:32 pm

What a sad situation. OP, it is so kind of you to want to do something for this grieving family. I actually think that doing your job to the best of your ability is the best gift you can give them. If you think the white plastic table is unbecoming, you could purchase an inexpensive tablecloth in a solid dark color to cover it with. You’d be adding to the solemnity of the proceedings, but without inserting your sympathy or efforts as something they have to respond to. Making a baby blanket feels like a big gesture for people you don’t know, whereas making the table look nice feels like part of the job.

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Amaleegh May 11, 2016 at 3:40 pm

Respectfully, I vote no. I’ve been to the funeral and burial service of a very young baby (less than 2 weeks old) and the idea of seeing a surprise baby blanket seems horrifying to me.

However, I think there is nothing wrong with offering the family the choice of what type of table covering beforehand. Perhaps you can suggest a couple of options: a normal tablecloth-like blanket and a baby type blanket, and allow the parents to choose (through their translating friends).

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crella May 11, 2016 at 6:50 pm

OP, I really admire your concern for these parents at this terribly difficult time in their lives. You seem like a really lovely person. I have to say, though, that my impression is that a baby blanket on the table might be too reminiscent of a baby shower. A nice table cloth might be a better option.

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stacey May 11, 2016 at 8:12 pm

It sounds like your idea is a good one but customs in these matters vary so much. If you are able to discreetly verify that faith and cultural factors don’t preclude your idea or make it seem inadvisable, then I think you should go ahead! In the absence of that information, however, you won’t know (and won’t be able to communicate sufficiently to verify due to the language barrier) whether your idea is more help or harm. Sometimes these impulses beg to be honored but it has to be done after ensuring that it won’t contradict any concerns the parents may have. (What if the idea of a remembrance or souvenir of this sort is not acceptable in their culture? I remember a friend telling me that in her culture flowers were for honoring the dead, not celebrating the living. Culture and context matter…)

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Tara May 11, 2016 at 9:15 pm

I say it would be a nice touch, only if you don’t tell them you went above and beyond for them. They shouldn’t have to feel they need to thank anyone when they’re grieving. I’m sure they would love the baby blanket if they think it’s standard to a baby burial.

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Marozia May 12, 2016 at 1:11 am

While it’s a lovely gesture on your part OP, I’d be inclined to leave well enough alone.

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Mojo May 12, 2016 at 1:59 am

A plain white cloth would be lovely to cover the table. Just check that white is a suitable colour for mourning a child in their culture. Don’t mention it came from you, it will just appear part of the service. Maybe suggest it to your boss for future occasions.

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MamaToreen May 13, 2016 at 8:20 am

I would suggest to your boss to get some table coverings in assorted colors to offer as a standard service. It’s a lovely touch, but can be a delicate subject

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Tena A May 30, 2016 at 6:22 pm

I think this is the best answer. I know I’m too late in regards to this particular service, but suggesting to the boss that some pastel (muted colors) blankets or table coverings for future child services would be the best way to go. Good answer!

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kategillian May 12, 2016 at 7:48 am

The responses here seemed pretty even between for and against. Therefore, I would suggest you do nothing, since there seems to be even a chance that you would be offensive or intrusive to them. Although of course that would not be your intention, you seem like a very caring person.

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ginger ale May 12, 2016 at 8:56 am

Isn’t this a question you should be asking your boss? I think that your idea is nice, but it may or may not be appropriate. In my religion, funeral and grave decorations are usually sparse. I would be upset if a funeral coordinator added something to my loved one’s funeral without consulting me.

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ginger ale May 12, 2016 at 9:51 am

To be more clear… I do think your idea is very nice, and I definitely would appreciate it if I were the parents. But I think it is important to do it in a way that is sensitive and collaborative, not just adding it as a “surprise” at the burial. Maybe you could present them with the blanket before the day of the burial and ask them whether they would like it on the table.

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NostalgicGal May 12, 2016 at 9:21 am

I have never done a funeral for a child or infant, yet. I think a plain damask or nice linen tablecloth for the table, maybe with a few pink or blue touches, would be the limit. Something that could be kept and reused if the situation happens again,

Unless you are very good friends with the family, a baby blanket may be going over the top. You are the professional helping them through this time, but. What you do should not overshadow the needs, wants, and feeling of the couple. It can be very hard to divorce yourself from the situation at times but you should step back for your sake and theirs.

It’s very thoughtful and proper that you want to do such a meaningful gesture, but. In this case step back a little. You can offer options to the family off other things, but maybe a plan of a simple understated table covering would be the best of all worlds.

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Gabriele May 12, 2016 at 9:51 am

Kirsten, I disagree with your suggestion that the LW should curtail her emotional involvements. Your experiences are yours, you don’t know what her strengths and weaknesses are and somehow I doubt that she would invest this much personal concern in most burials, rather that it’s an empathetic response to what she intuitively feels about the parents rather than a conscious choice to inject her ideas into their situation.
As far as placing the container, I think it would be easier on the parents to hold it before it is placed by a professional. They say their goodbyes before the deceased’s remains are covered up. The finality of burial, of experiencing the coldness of the resting place is not a memory I’d want of a departed loved one.
People rely on the professionalism of people such as the LW to create an orderly process. It creates a space where the bereaved do not have to ‘perform’, rather they can take refuge in their grief and mentally record the event so they can remember it all later, if they want.
I think the idea of the cloth is wonderful and a keepsake of the final farewell. Asking the friends would be good and I think they would appreeciate your offer, and that you did ask them. You might also discreetly tell them that the parents have your prayers (if you so pray)or thoughts for their comfort and sympathy for their loss.
It is at such times that small human gestures can mean so much, even those from strangers. Perhaps especially from strangers as it can make us feel less along. ‘Grief shared is grief halved’ the saying goes and I have found it to be very true.
Thank you for caring

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daphne May 12, 2016 at 12:00 pm

Before you do anything you need to get permission from your employer. A funeral director spending his/her own money on a customer’s service is possibly against company policy. As crass as it seems, funeral homes are in the business of making money, and your boss probably wouldn’t be happy if you thought of a way to “upsell” a service and instead of charging the customer, paid for it yourself. Your job could actually be in jeopardy for that I would think. 🙁

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Jackie May 12, 2016 at 12:48 pm

Since they have asked for some input on the grave marker, I think it would be a beautiful gesture to place a small blanket on the table. I agree with the poster who said a solid pastel color, unless you know if the baby is a boy or a girl. I would leave it up to the parents to put the blanket in the grave with the urn.

Take one of the translators aside and let them know the blanket is for the parents to do as they wish with the blanket after the ceremony.

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Manoomin May 12, 2016 at 5:51 pm

If the table the urn is placed on is plastic, I would think a simple tablecloth would be appropriate. That seems like an appropriate professional gesture from any place that is providing a table for a ceremony, especially one so serious.

Although I know the idea of a baby blanket is coming from a place of kindness, I do think it would be overstepping. Tokens like that seem too intimate to come from someone who only knows them in a professional capacity.

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Michelle Young May 13, 2016 at 1:29 pm

I think it would be OK to make the offer, but not OK to do it without first getting their approval. Use the translating friends to tell them of your sympathy (lead with the sympathy), and that you would like to offer (for free! – this is from you, personally, and not from your company) an additional something to the arrangement, as a show of your solidarity with them, during their time of grief.

Also, you might want to offer to be in attendance, when they place the urn in the ground. Service or no, having someone there to give moral support can be very powerful. Again, this would be an offer, and they may say no, and if they do, accept that graciously. Some people want to be surrounded by supportive people, during their grief, and others want to be alone, so let them choose.

Even without the common language, though, you can show your sympathy just with your expression, and your eyes. Be kind, and they will feel it.

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Harry May 13, 2016 at 9:40 pm

I will echo another previous poster.

“Please don’t. It’s the parents’ place to decide what’s appropriate for their baby’s burial, not yours.”

I can appreciate your care and concern, but this is completely overstepping your duties and obligations.

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anymouse May 15, 2016 at 2:13 pm

My opinion is to put something on the table to cover it. Maybe not a baby blanket but I liked the suggestion of a damask cloth or something else to make it look less…like a plastic table.

Also I’m assuming they don’t know the table isn’t going to be covered so it probably wouldn’t be intrusive to have some sort of tablecloth and not draw attention to it.

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Livvy17 May 16, 2016 at 9:55 am

Such a tragic situation – I can’t imagine what the parents are going through. Which is one of the reasons I side with the people who either recommend asking the parents, or going with something pretty, but n on-specific. When every nerve is raw, any unexpected surprise, no matter how well-intended, can be very difficult. Better to either go neutral, or ask, so they’re not surprised.

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Ulla May 16, 2016 at 10:06 am

I’d say that given how there are already both “yes” and “no” answers within these hundred or so replies, I would not risk it without asking. It’s clear based on the answers and while some would think it’s lovely gesture, some would feel it’s intrusive. And I think that in this situation, if there is potential to cause hurt, it’s better not to do it when there are neutral options available.

For example using normal table cloth would likely to be fine for anyone. It’s something I would except to be done to every funeral anyway, instead of using bare plastic tables (which usually are not that pretty or stylish). However, given that they have asked your input, I would say it’s fine to gently offer ideas or ask if they have something they’d like to have there. Or even ask if they would give you free hands if they are not up to it themselves. That way they have a say and clearer expectations. Surprises, even positively meant, might not be best idea in a funeral, any funeral.

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R May 16, 2016 at 12:31 pm

I have had to have my still born baby buried. One of the things that I remembered from the day of the funeral was the poor coordinator girl leaving her keys in a box that she gave me with the cards and thank you notes from the funeral home. When she sheepishly came by to get them she had some very kind things to say. She didn’t know us or our child, but her kindness is still remembered and appreciated. We also received baby blankets from people who had made them in anticipation. They are all treasured.

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Lula May 17, 2016 at 4:25 am

I would avoid anything baby-themed unless the parents provide it themselves. A simple tablecloth or runner that would be appropriate for a decedent of any age would be excellent, though. Nothing that draws attention away from the urn itself.

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Queen of Putrescence May 18, 2016 at 7:20 am

I would love to hear back from the OP as to how things went. The funeral must have taken place by now.

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Cathy May 18, 2016 at 1:23 pm

I lost a baby when he was just under 2 months old. We did not choose cremation but the stand the casket was on did have a child themed covering. I don’t remember what it was exactly, it was 10 years ago, but I did not think it strange at all, it was something I didn’t think about at the time. Looking back, in my opinion, it was compassionate and very thoughtful. I don’t know if the funeral director asked anyone in my family to put the cover there, they didn’t ask me but honestly I didn’t handle a lot of the arrangements, but I’m sure nobody would have said no.
So I say go for it, just don’t make a big deal out of it and I bet the parents won’t mind at all. Heck, they may not even notice.

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Stefanie Argudo Mackenzie May 22, 2016 at 4:39 pm

There are organizations who provide burial garments and items for infants. Perhaps see if you can find them through the local hospital or your own sources. Ask if they would mind contacting the parents and why. It would seem less obtrusive and personal coming from an organization set up to help with infant burial.

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