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Writing Bliss

"If they do not write the kind of books we want to read, we shall have to write them ourselves." -C.S. Lewis

Visual Writing

A few years ago, I started doing “visual exercises” where I took an image and created a scene with it.  I want to get back into doing that for two reasons:

  1. The last time I did these, one post inspired me to write my first fantasy novel, which I’m trying to finish this year.  Maybe doing some more will inspire me further.
  2. It serves as writing prompts, which keeps my creative juices flowing.

I love the image I’m going to use today.  The town reminds me of Bree from Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings films, but the hanging man reminds me of something you’d find in a Game of Thrones episode.  Let’s see where this image takes me today.

The Cursed Land

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Grayson did not want to be here.  This place was cursed, for sure.  Perhaps at one point in history this place was a thriving street market, complete with food carts and wagons from the outlying farms.  Today it was a ghost town; a dark, wet, depressing ghost town.  Every step he took led his boots through a sloshing mud puddle.  He looked up toward the castle on the sharp, jagged rocks staring down on the village.  The look of it made him shiver as he pulled his black cloak hood over his head.  He stepped out of the shadows and rounded the corner to be faced with a grim sight.  Straight ahead hanging high above the street was the body of a man, flayed, beaten, and already torn apart by the crows, and his arms and neck were wrapped in chains.  Grayson stopped dead in his tracks, stunned by the image.  He had never seen a dead man before.

“Oiright, lad!” A booming voice greeted him from the doorway of one of the village shops. “Lost your way, have you?”

Grayson pulled his collar up around his neck to hide the colors of his garments and pulled tighter on the hood.  Though no one would recognize his face here, he could not risk that they would guess he was from another kingdom.  He walked away quickly before the man could shout at him again, the hanging man swinging in his chains and the crows shouting at one another above.

As he ducked into another alley, he almost tripped over a rat scurrying away from the street.  No matter how hard he tried, he could not get the image of the hanging man out of his head.  The vivid sight, he was sure of it, would haunt his dreams for at least a few nights.  This was a much more dreary place than he originally thought.  The king more devious and dangerous.  Perhaps this meant the king was loosing his head and making rash decisions, like flaying his people and hanging them in the street.  Perhaps this was what he had wanted to do all along in Grayson’s kingdom, but was never given the opportunity.

Whatever the reason, Lord Grayson of Brendt House was here on a mission, and he could not cause himself to lose sight of that mission.  He was on a mission for his Queen, and she would have the answers she required of him, no matter what the cost.

Book Review: Greenglass House by Kate Milford

greenglasshouse

This book made it onto the Battle of the Books list for 2016-2017 in North Carolina and I absolutely loved the cover. Yes, I judged a book by its cover. This book was adorable and I loved it. The main character is an adopted boy and of course, I took a liking to him straight away for that. Milo is Chinese so every time people look at him with his family, they already know he’s different. I never had to deal with that, but I can certainly see how that could be conflicting for a young child. He is a relatively boring child, if I’m not being too harsh, but that all changes when he meets Meddy, the cook’s daughter, at the beginning of what he’s hoping will be an uneventful Christmas break. A bunch of random, mysterious guests arrive who all have connections to the inn that Milo’s parents run at Greenglass House. Meddy is an adventurous child and forces Milo to use his imagination in order to play with her. Together they discover secrets of the house and its guests, and they also put their nose to the ground to try and recover lost items that go missing from the guests. From the very beginning this book hooked me into the plot. It was almost like a kid’s version of Clue, trying to figure out who is who in the house, how they’re connected to it, who stole what from whom, and how to catch them.

The message in this story was very heart-warming as well. Adopted kids, even kids like me and Milo who were adopted as infants and never met their birth families, are always going to be curious about their biological families. But family is not defined by DNA. It is defined by love and that is the lesson that Milo learns. This book is on the middle school list but I recommend it to anyone who loves an adventure and imagination.

A Themed Book Club

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Have you ever been a part of a book club? Typically, everyone in the group reads the same book and then get together to discuss it. I find this boring. I mean, if I was a part of a group where every member enjoyed the same types of books as me, then I guess it would be that bad. Read The Hobbit this month, read Harry Potter the next month, then let’s read Game of Thrones. I could get used to that. Not only is that type of group incredibly hard to find, it is also very limiting. You’re limited to what interests you. That sounds strange coming from a person who insists that teachers should let students choose what they want to read and they might like reading better, but hear me out. You can choose to read what you like even in a genre that you would normally not read.

At the Iredell County Public Library this past January I started a new type of book club with a co-worker of mine and I AM LOVING IT! The College, Career, and Coffee Book Club is geared toward the younger generation of up and coming college students, career driven young adults, busy middle-aged working class, and of course, the coffee addicted. This isn’t your mom’s book club where you are forced to read “To Kill A Mockingbird” for the hundredth time (though you are not barred from reading it). Here, we choose a theme each month and you can read whatever you like pertaining to that theme.

January we started New Year New You. I encouraged people to read something that they normally would not read. I chose a biography of Anne Perry, the mystery writer and subject of the Peter Jackson film Heavenly Creatures, on a friend’s recommendation. I’ve never read Anne Perry before, nor have I seen the film. I picked up the book and read it anyways, and I found it very intriguing. Someone else read “Pretty Girls” by Karin Slaughter on my recommendation even though the person usually does not read suspense/thrillers. February was Love At First Bite month and we read vampire books. March was Page to Screen in honor of the Oscars, where we were also challenged to watch the film of the book we read and compare the two. In April we read Civil War books in honor of Confederate History Month and we discussed many controversial topics in addition to the books we read. For National Pet Month in May we read pet stories which is always a favorite. For this year’s Summer Reading theme of sports and healthy living, we are reading fitness, exercise, sport-related books for the month of June.

The CCC Book Club is something different and I welcome that! Libraries are constantly having to adapt to technology, changing trends, and evolving young generations. This has been a great way to bridge the gap between age groups and come up with something fun for adults. The best part is that by reading different books, there is no end to recommendations from people in the group. Everyone is reading something different! If you don’t already have a program like this at your local library, I highly recommend that you suggest it. This is one of the most fun groups I’ve been a part of and I’m so proud to say I helped create it.

Shifting Alliances in Reading

[WARNING: Game of Thrones SPOILERS are in this post, so only continue reading if you are caught up in the books and the show.]

This is a post relating specifically to Game of Thrones, but generally to any story long enough to expose its readers to multiple characters in various different lights. I have been thinking a great deal, in light of the unfolding of Season 6 of the HBO show and my re-reading of the first book, that my alliance as a reader has shifted a great many times. Obviously, there are two reasons for this:

  1. The story is long enough, presumably a series, that readers are exposed to several perspectives and a series of events that have changed their opinions of certain characters and
  2. The author is a good enough writer that readers are compelled to follow their lead from one opinion to the other.

Take for example, Jaime and Cersei Lannister (the former more so than the latter). Fans of the books and show will see this image

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and cringe with fear and writhe with anger because you know this is the scene that Jaime Lannister shoves his dagger through Jory Cassel’s eye, eliminating Ned Stark’s Captain of the Guard. This is after he pushes Bran Stark, a mere boy of 7, out of a window for discovering his secret affair with his twin sister, paralyzing the boy. Suffice it say, at this point in the show, you are NOT a fan of Jaime Lannister. If he met some ill fate worse than Jory’s, you would only welcome it. I know I said as much. In fact, come Season 2, this scene

jaimeseason2

is incredibly uplifting. He’s a prisoner! Of Robb Stark’s! This story is going exactly how I wanted it to! It gets only better when he loses a hand in subsequent episodes from some outlaws. From your perspective as a reader and a viewer, things are going swimmingly and you are happy with where Jaime ends up at the end of Season 2.

Now think of this. If you’re watching Season 6, this sight

jaimeseason6

is glorious! Jaime riding to the defense of Queen Margery. If nothing else, he is standing against religious radicalism and a government ruled by a nut-job who doesn’t wear shoes and thinks justice is stripping people naked and parading them through the street like cattle to be spit upon and have feces flung at them.

Wait. What just happened? We were just talking about how happy we were to see Jaime in chains and without a hand and now we are applauding his triumphant entry on the screen? We’re treating him as a hero?? This is where perspective comes in.

Just for fun, and a less dramatic example, let’s look at Cersei. Here she is in Season 1,

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insisting that a direwolf pay for the “suffering” of her son. Nevermind that the wolf who ends up headless had NOTHING to do with the incident in question. As an animal lover, I wanted to chop HER head off. Following this, and other unfortunate incidents involving this sour queen, I welcomed this scene,

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especially after the Red Wedding. Joffrey dying at his own wedding with Cersei there to cradle him in his final moments…just beautiful. Best part of the show up to that point. I’m serious, the emotions that George R.R. Martin is able to invoke in this series is striking. So much hate, FOR FICTIONAL CHARACTERS! Anyway, by the time we get to this scene,

cerseiWalkOfAtonement

I’ve softened toward her a bit. A BIT! Calm down, I didn’t say I liked her. Cersei’s transformation is not nearly as clean as Jaime’s, and even his is still shaky at times. But let’s face it, this scene

cerseimyrcella

is slightly pitiful. A fallen queen with no power who has just been humiliated in front of the whole city is now barred from attending her own daughter’s funeral, the second child she has had to bury?? Come on, we’re not that heartless. On some level we feel for her. Yes her children were the bastards of incest, but Myrcella was an innocent victim in the game of thrones.

The point of this long post is to say that as we progress through this series, our opinions and emotions change. In the books, it may be in part due to the fact that Jaime and Cersei begin receiving their own POV chapters starting in books three and four, respectively. POV has a lot to do with how we view a character. The narrator is that character and you are inside their mind, not simply seeing events unfold through someone else’s eyes. Granted, if Bran’s fall had been told through the perspective of either twin, I still think we’d want them dead, but wouldn’t we see the scene differently? We’d see a different motive.

As a writer, I am challenged by this. Even if I don’t write a chapter from the perspective of all my characters, I am at least interested in writing a backstory or maybe even a chapter for my own benefit. Slip into the mind of all your characters, so that when they are featured in your book, you understand them, even if your audience does not. It’s up to you whether or not you reveal those perspectives, but it seems to have worked for George R.R. Martin. I look forward to seeing what else this series had in store…..Well, maybe not…

Crafting Books

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If you’re like me, you love books. You love reading and some of you enjoy writing as well. The thought of ripping a book apart probably breaks your heart. You couldn’t do it could you? Cutting the spine from the innards of the books. Tearing the spine apart. Cutting pages from a book??? It’s a truly horrifying thought.

Let me put it to you this way. You have boxes of old and used books at work. There is not space left for them so your boss tells you to tear the spine and covers off, then recycle the interior. What?? Surely you’re not going to lose your job over books. The next best thing you can do, is salvage what you can of these books. Save the spines, save the covers, clip out images and passages from the interior, and repurpose them. This is exactly what I did.

Using Pinterest and other creative sources of inspiration, I created a line of upcycled crafts that I sell on my Etsy shop and I invite you to take a look here. I offer eReader cases for Kindle and Nook (7″, 8″, and 9″ sizes are available). I also upcycle bottle caps and have created fun collections of bottle cap magnets. I also make floral wreaths and some other crafts. I offer custom designs so if you see anything you like and would like is personalized, feel free to message me.

Thanks for having a look and happy shopping!

Book Review: This House is Haunted by John Boyne

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The full synopsis for this book can be found here, but the gist of the story is a woman, after losing her father and last remaining family member, moves to the country become governess at the mysterious Gaudlin Hall where a “presence” resides. This book was written by the same author who wrote The Boy in the Striped Pajamas.

This was a fun book. I love creepy and “things that go bump in the night”-type stories. This was a classic ghost story if ever I read one. I love the setting (1867 England) which just adds to the aura of gloom to the story; Charles Dickens at the height of his writing career, the prelude years of Jack the Ripper and Sherlock Holmes. This story reminded me a great deal of the movie “The Others” starring Nicole Kidman. You remember it? The mother and children living in a wealthy estate in post-war England, the haunted mansion and the creepy caretakers? Yeah, this was very reminiscent of that and I loved it! I think the narrator occasionally slipped into modern terminology and that was disorienting at times, but for the most part this writing was right on queue for an edge-of-your-seat ghost story. I recommend it for anyone who liked the Dickens’ ghost stories, or for that matter “The Others” and that type of story.

The Controversy of Challenged Books

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The American Library Association released yesterday it’s list of Top Ten Most Challenged Books of 2015 in its annual report which can be found here. The report is released every year during National Library Week and I found it extremely enlightening. It confirms what I have been saying for years: People absolutely despise, yet thrive on, anything that causes controversy. Let’s examine the list. The only book I have read any part of on this list is the Holy Bible, but even from the titles and cover art I can assume why the other books on this list have been challenged by parents and patrons across the country. Some I agree with, others not so much, but the beauty of this country is that all ten of these books have a right to be on the shelf, and every patron has the right to pick up, or pass up, each title.

The majority of parents who challenged these titles are undoubtedly concerned that their child or teenager will pick up a book that contradicts what they have been teaching them all their life, and that just maybe they might form an opinion on their own that differs from that upbringing. Take, for example, the Bible. It made the list. I’m not sure why, but it did. I don’t care how you feel about the Bible, whether or not you believe it’s content or divine authorship, it is a significant religious and historical document that is relevant to human history. Would you say the same about other such documents? Apparently, people have. According to the report, 33% of respondents do no believe their children should have access to the Koran at school, and another 29% believe the same of the Torah and the Talmud. On one hand, I believe that schools should either have all of these materials, or none. Do not pick and choose what is available to students. That is socialism if ever I saw it. Choosing what books are available to public in general is a move Hitler made, and following in those footsteps is generally frowned upon. From a religious standpoint (and I mean any religion), shouldn’t you know what other religions believe? What better way to defend your own faith, than understanding how others believe? Young minds in particular are more able to grasp concepts like this because their own beliefs are still being molded. They can experience the learning of other religions and cultures and ask questions while their brains are still processing this information. Not to mention, I think we all can agree that when you ban a book, or even question it, kids are bound to seek it out. It’s human nature to seek out the prohibited out of sheer curiosity. This happens in the fifth Harry Potter book when Umbridge bans The Quibbler after Harry’s interview…oh wait. Harry Potter is also on the banned books list. Nevermind.

I do have a problem, however, with some of the official reasons why people have challenged these titles. Going back even to last year’s report (which can be found here, certain books are labeled “unsuitable for age group.” Um, where exactly are they finding these books? Barnes & Noble classifies The Kite Runner, Saga, The Perks of Being A Wallflower, The Bluest Eye, and A Stolen Life (2014 Challenged books) as ADULT fiction and nonfiction. They should not be on any children’s shelf. If kids are having access to them, they are either required reading by a school, or a library is placing them in those categories. I have also found that, of this year’s list, Fifty Shades of Grey, Habibi, and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time are also all classified as adult fiction (Habibi can be found in Graphic Novels). Having worked at the bookstore for several years, I know that The Curious Incident is repeatedly placed on the summer reading table because school’s have assigned it to students. If parents have a problem with this book, the complaint should be lodged against the school for requiring it, or at least question why a particular library houses the book in the Young Adult area. All of the above mentioned books are being challenged because they are unsuitable for the age group to which they are placed, but no one bothers to question why they are listed as available to these age groups. We just complain and demand they be taken off the shelves altogether. I can promise you that no bookstore or library anywhere is placing Fifty Shades in a YA section. Yes, the writing is poor (I found that challenge hilarious), and as a writer, I’m offended that this is considered publishable yet my type of writing is not, but people have the right to read smut if that’s what they prefer. Many people would say, “Hey! Why pay for Fifty Shades when porn is free online!” but to each his (or in this case, her) own.

As for what may be the most controversial part of these books, the topic of homosexual and transgender titles, let’s face it, these topics are here to stay. No matter how you may feel, whether you support the LGBTQ community, condemn it, are confused by it, or are repulsed by it, you cannot deny that it isn’t going anywhere. It is a trend. That phrase alone may be offensive to someone, and I apologize because I don’t mean it offensively. Whatever is being covered by news media or talked about among celebrities or on talk shows, is a trend, simply put. With the revelation of the new Caitlin Jenner came the conversation of transitioning adults. With the announcement that Brad and Angelina’s daughter Shiloh is now going by the name John, a conversation was opened about transitioning kids. If you live in North Carolina, the debate in Charlotte over restrooms has sparked a firestorm of controversy. The topic is not going away and with the trend comes published works of those who wish to profit on the perfect timing. Again, those titles have a right to be in the library and whether they are in schools or not, kids and teens who seek out such material will always find it. You can also look at it this way: there are plenty of stories about teen drug abuse (Ellen Hopkins’ Crank and books in the style of Go Ask Alice) and sex (Sarah Ockler’s Twenty Boy Summer, Huntley Fitzpatrick’s The Boy Next Door, and even Stephanie Myer’s Twilight series). Are we supposed to shield our kids to the point where they cannot even recognize subject matter like this when approached by it in the real world? Are they not going to be exposed to the same material in movies and TV shows? Again, they are going to come into contact with it at one point or another, and parents, if doing their job right, will teach their kids how to react to these situations. Kids will make their own decisions based on that, but even the bad decisions are not at the fault of a book or a movie.

I’m not saying there are not books out there (or even on this list) that I wish hadn’t been published. I am simply saying that the practice of banning books is nothing short of ridiculous when you consider the First Amendment upon which our country was principally founded. The authors and publishers have a right to put them out there, and you as a patron have the right to not pick it up.

 

Book Review: Room by Emma Donaghue

Brie-Larson

Plato’s analogy of “The Cave” asks the important question: if we are only ever exposed to one type of life, can there be anything else? If a man is born within the walls of a cave, knows no light, no sound beyond the echo of his own voice on the cave walls, no human beside himself, can there ever truly be an outside world? The child’s riddle of if a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear, does it still make a sound takes on a new meaning under Plato’s analogy. Just because our perceived version of reality may be warped, that doesn’t mean the real thing isn’t out there somewhere, waiting for us to discover it.

Enter Jack, a vibrant 5-year-old boy whose entire existence consists of Room, a 10 x 10 enclosed, windowless room where he lives with his mother (who is unnamed for the entirety of the book). While at first this book could be disorienting because it is narrated completely from start to finish in the voice of a child, this book held an extremely powerful message. We’re all familiar with the kidnapping case of the girls in Cleveland, one of which was forced to give birth to her captor’s baby while being held prisoner. This is the situation for the mother in Emma Donaghue’s story. Kidnapped at 19, the young woman is held captive for 7 years and during that time she gives birth to Jack, who tells this story only as a 5-year-old can.

The TV is a world of fantasy, roads and streets, people, animals, places that aren’t real, just in TV. The real world is Room. The only people who exist are Jack and Ma and Old Nick. He listens each night that Old Nick comes into the room and counts the squeaks of the bed. Of course as adult readers, we know what’s going on in that room and it makes our skin crawl. We know that it happens all over the world every day, and it makes us sick. But Jack has no idea. His mother has done her job and shields him from the evils of the world as best she can.

Then, after the Great Escape, Jack is forced to accept the real world and sees, for the first time in his life, the fantasy world of TV come to life. It is hard to accept that it is all real. He keeps asking if they can go back to Room, and that alone makes me want to scream! No you can’t go back to that room you silly kid! You have no idea what that room did to your mother, what it’s still doing to her! You can never fully understand until you are much older. But of course, you can’t scream that at a 5-year-old. The only thing a mother, or anyone, can do is to let him grow in the world. Shape him the best you can, and hope that one day, you’ll have done enough and raised him right for him to understand everything you did for him you did out of love. Hopefully along the way, you can learn to forgive yourself for what you kept from him and hope that he will love you no matter what the real world throws at him.

This was an incredibly powerful and moving story. It made me sick and angry, but it is a testament to a mother’s love and the resilience of human nature.

Book Review: Still Alice by Lisa Genova

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I want to open this review by saying that I read this for my book club because our March theme will be “Page to Screen.”  My challenge to participants was to read a book that has been made into a movie, then watch the movie.  Compare, contrast, and just make general observations.  I wanted to watch this movie when it was nominated for a few Academy Awards last year, and I have every intention of watching it.  My review today is strictly on the book.

This book, as most people know, is about a woman who, just after turning 50, is diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s Disease.  Alice Howland is a professor at Harvard University; clearly she is incredibly smart.  Her brain is wired to think far beyond the scope of most people.  This makes her diagnosis all the more tragic.

Before I get into the body of the story, I must mention that I listened to this book on audio, and was initially excited that it was narrated by the author.  I was slightly disappointed because Lisa Genova is an author, not an actor, and her reading was not that lively.  Her writing, however, was exquisite.  Her artful way with words really made the read pleasant.  I loved the idea of weather’s “flirtation with winter,” and the description of the cafe that had been “serving the chronically caffeinated long since before the invasion of Starbucks.”  More importantly, Genova was able to convey deeper emotions and true understanding of the mind of someone suffering such a debilitating disease.  When Alice first goes to the doctor, before they know what’s wrong with her, the doctor refers her to get an MRI.  A bran scan, Alice thinks, implies that they are concerned it may be cancer.  She refers to the potential tumor as a “predator,” and what better way to refer to any disease, really.  Diseases are predators, preying on the human body and making them weak.  It is a tragic reality.  The author touches the topic of cancer again later, after Alice has been struggling with the Alzheimer’s for a while.  Alice blatantly wishes she had cancer.  Cancer is something you can fight, with radiation and chemotherapy.  People rally around you when you have cancer, and they support you.  People with Alzheimer’s just get sympathy, pity, and there’s nothing to fight.  It just slowly takes away your consciousness.  This is a terrible and terrifying thought.

There are also three very impactful scenes I’d like to discuss.  They’re not necessarily spoiler scenes, but if you plan to read the book or watch the movie and don’t want to know what happens at all, you may want to stop reading here.  The first scene takes place at the grave site where Alice’s father is buried.  She knows she has the disease at this point but she hasn’t told her husband, John, yet.  Alice breaks down.  She is crying so hard that John goes to comfort her.  She does not mourn her father, who was a life long drunk and responsible for the car accident that killed her mother and sister years before.  It is  literally the toll that the burden of knowing she has Alzheimer’s Disease has placed on her shoulders.  I’m driving in the car when I’m listening to this and I’m yelling at the CD, “Tell John!  Right now is your chance, just tell your husband!”  A simple request, it may seem like, but Alice has always been independent and her husband is not only her partner in life, but also her intellectual equal.  This refusal to tell John is a matter of pride, but not in the way one would expect.  She fears losing his respect.

There is another scene where John and Alice are sitting together in the doctor’s office and they’re discussing the genetic mutation that has caused Alice’s disease, for which she has tested positive.  She asks if there is a chance that her kids will have the same mutation.  This is a heavy topic of conversation.  Should her adult children get themselves tested?  What about her oldest daughter who is trying to get pregnant, will this affect Alice’s grandchildren?

The last scene, and in my opinion the most powerful, was when Alice holds her twin grandchildren just after their birth.  Her daughter, Anna, tested positive for the genetic mutation, which means at some point in her life, Anna will suffer her mother’s fate.  The doctor’s were able, however, to remove the mutation from the cells which were implanted in Anna during in vitro treatments.  Alice holds her granddaughter, recognizes that it is her grandchild, then asks, “Will they get this disease like me?” Her daughter tells her they will not.  That is the most amazing moment in the whole book.  Living long enough to see one’s grandchildren is a tremendous blessing, but living with Alzheimer’s and not knowing if you’ll recognize them is scary.  Alice knows the child is her grandchild and can be at peace knowing they will never suffer like she did.

I absolutely loved this book, and I know it’s still early, but I’m pretty sure this book will be making my Top 5 at the end of the year.  This book had a powerful message that is relevant to all ages and every generation.  It raises awareness of a brutal disease with no cure.  This disease takes away what many cancer patients, even if they lose their fight with the disease, have still maintained until the end; peace of mind.

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