A life in the fourth dimension

Fourth_dimensionAs one whom his mother comforteth, so will I comfort you. 
— Isaiah 66:13

The following essay, Dad’s Messenger, turned blog post, I wrote shortly after my dad’s death. I chose this particular piece because it illustrates life in what I, and many of my cohorts, refer to as “the fourth dimension.”

In the fourth dimension, among other things, we live on pure faith. Moreover, I am sharing Dad’s Messenger with WTF readers as a dose of comfort, especially for those who have lost loved ones.

Note: Living in the fourth dimension, however, does have its challenges, and I will expound on that idea later in the week.

Meanwhile, I hope you enjoy Dad’s Messenger. I hope it brings you the faith you need for living through challenging times.

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Dad’s Messenger

During the last days of his life, I wearily entered the hospital’s crowded elevator on my way to visit my 86-year-old father in the intensive care unit.  A dark-haired man dressed in a white-striped and blue cotton shirt, black pants and loafers met my eyes and smiled. I wedged myself next to him in the only empty corner of the elevator. My eyes focused on the numbers over the door as they alternately glowed red: L-1-2-3. Abuzz with noontime traffic swarming in and out, we traveled to the speed of molasses. Exhausted from the effect of my father’s deteriorating health, which had escalated over the prior month, the last thing I wanted was to engage in small talk.

“I’m visiting my mother. She’s in the ICU,” the man who had met my eyes stated.

“My dad is in ICU,” I blurted, irritated at his intrusiveness.

“My mother is in the final stages of cancer,” he whispered with puppy-dog eyes.

Suddenly, my empathy overrode my desire for privacy. “Yeah, it’s not easy,” I said letting down my guard. “I’ve been in and out of the hospital since my dad was diagnosed with emphysema four years ago. They say, it won’t be long…he won’t go home.”

“My mom was diagnosed with cancer eleven months ago,” the man elaborated as we exited the elevator. For a moment, we stood there. “She was doing great, up until a week ago.  That’s when she took a turn.”

“I’m sorry,” I said and meant it.

We parted, going to opposite ends of the ICU facility. After walking past the sound of the familiar beeping of IVs, I sat quietly in front of my dad’s bed. Although in a coma, his body still resembled a NFL linebacker’s physique. The rhythmic movement of his chest put me in a trance.

His booming voice, thick with accent, rang in my mind. ‘Get out of here!  There is nothing for you to do. Go on with your life.’ Since my youth, I regarded him as a Ukrainian-born stallion; strong, sometimes ornery, but always keeping a watchful eye on his herd. My father never dwindled from his priorities and approached life with an overdose of common sense. He was not one for saccharine behavior. Instead of a sentimental “I love you,” he opted to say things like “Stay out of trouble,” spoken in true John Wayne vernacular. Both our characters defined the elements of conflict in fiction: The dreamer living under the rule of the pragmatic father.

As the afternoon wore on, I finally arose from the over-sized vinyl chair. “I love you, pops,” I said the three words to him that were so foreign to his own repertoire.

I had accepted his stoicism many years ago, because I realized that if we were in a lifeboat and one of us were to die, instinctively he would have given his life for me—as he would have for my two brothers.  Despite a decade of turbulence, in the end, forgiveness had sealed our relationship. In the process, I had learned to love him unconditionally.

Roaming back outside the unit, to my surprise, I ran into the dark-haired man at the same spot where we had last seen one other. We exchanged smiles.

“No change,” he said as we rode down an empty elevator.  I nodded my head in return.  As we silently exited the elevator, he walked a couple of steps behind me.  In the parking lot, we met up again.

“You know, this is where the maternity ward was when I was born,” the man said.

“What?”

“Yeah, right where we are standing.  I was born here 40 years ago,” he explained.

Upon hearing this statement, I froze. “You were born here, 40 years ago?  So was I! That’s so weird…don’t tell me…August…”

“…August 22nd.”

“Wow!  What are the odds of that? We were roommates, and now here we are,” I interjected.

“That’s right, oh, by the way, your dad…”

“Yeah?”

“Loves you very much! He’s proud of you, too.”

Suddenly, unexpectedly, my throat burned and tears fell. Regaining composure, I looked up to ask him how he knew this. However, without a trace, the man had vanished. Wiping the last few tears, I pictured our bassinets so many years ago in this identical spot. Then I studied the hospital’s facade and knew it had all come full circle, everything had been mended without a rift left to darn.

“Thanks, dad, for the message, which I already knew since you ingrained the truth,

not with words but with actions, on my heart so long ago.”

As I walked towards my car, the tar beneath my feet gleamed with a glint of sparkly quartz that could have been angel dust.   gold_dust

Stay tuned!…until next time…walk by faith not by sight!

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Memorial Day …. Remembering those who spare themselves from remembering.

“The Lord is near to those who are discouraged; he saves those who have lost all hope.” –Psalm 34:18

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My brother Mike was a highly decorated Vietnam Vet. Among his medals, his highest honor was the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart with “V” for acts of valor and heroism.

From the start, God had generously gifted my brother with brilliance and qualities that made bystanders stop and stare. Unfortunately, he had experienced a rough home life. In his teenage years, solace arrived in form of alcohol that turned its thieving head, stole his free will and enslaved him for the rest of his life.

After graduating high school, he signed up for the military, hoping to escape. Little did he realize that he left the home of hell only to saunter into a corridor of despair that lead to a door of destruction and death. Serving two tours of combat, with a six-month stint at Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, D.C., in between.

When he left home to Vietnam, Mike was broken in half. Upon his return home, he was a shattered man. My brother, who bore the soul of a gentle giant, with nine fingers on two hands–one lost in battle–lived a life of soul sickness and hurt, a walking PTSD statistic. Faith alluded him as if it was someone else’s shadow.

“What is the meaning of life?” I asked my older brother on numerous occasions.

His answer, short and sweet. “Survival.”

His answer flat, his macabre (Is that all there is?) slant on life apparent.

I know he believed in God, but did Mike have faith in a greater good? I do not have the answer to that question. I do know, however, between the war in Vietnam and the war he lived through in civilian life, his wounds ran deep.

Fortunately, in his later years Mike found peace in nature. In a tiny cabin alone in the woods, he found predictability in his sunflowers and vegetable gardens.

Shorty after Mike experienced a stroke, I looked into his eyes, and saw what felt like the opposite of infinite. Through my prayers and tears, that was all there was.  A few days later, at 55 years old, he finally met the peace that alluded him his entire life.

On memorial Day I especially feel his presence. I visualize him again the last time I saw him 15 years ago. Standing with his dog tall and proud like the tree behind him. I picture myself waving good-bye to him as I had on that last day, saying how I loved him, wanting so desperately to twist the emptiness out of him like a sponge and in its place sop up abundance. Goodness. Joy. Peace. Instead, I met his empty but forgiving eyes and accepted him as his own man with his own faith; knowing you cannot present faith to someone like a medal. Fortunately, if you love with faith, you will discover endurance even in the bone dry pieces of the heart.

Stay tuned!…until next time…walk by faith not by sight!

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I met a vet

“God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.” Revelation 21:4poppy-field

I met a vet. I met Frank two days ago at a business function, 18 days before Memorial Day. We were two strangers dressed in business suits. Business topics connected us until the divine spark in our hearts led us to a more personal level. I learned Frank had a 10-year army career; three combat tours. After his discharge from the military, he then entered the corporate ranks until he decided to live his true passion and work as a counselor assisting small businesses procure new contracts. In his spare time, he is founder of a non-profit that helps black-owned business enterprises grow.

Frank’s career background, including a master’s degree under his belt, is impressive but it is not what I carried home with me after day’s end. What inspired me and imprinted my heart most was a photograph he showed me. The year: 1991. Two 19-year-old army soldiers happily nested in a jeep. I couldn’t see the photo on his phone clearly, but I espied a pair of military dog tags on the white guy, Frank’s best bud in the army. In fact, they were so apparent to me, a proud sister of two army veterans, I could hear their ting in my mind.

“It’s my birthday today. That’s the day he was killed. Every year on my birthday, I send this picture of us to everybody I know,” Frank explained.

For over two decades, Frank celebrates his birthday by celebrating his friend’s memory. Not his friend’s death, mind you, but his life.

In-Flanders-Fields

“We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.”

Season after season, Frank’s ritual has ensured that his friend is not forgotten and accents his short life with meaning

Even though I only spoke to Frank for less than a half hour on his birthday, what impressed me most was his loyalty. His courage. Most of all his faith. Despite experiencing trial and anguish in his young life, Frank’s pilgrimage is gallant and glorified. I am certain, he has felt shattered a million times over, stumbled and fell, but always managed to pick up and re-bandage the pieces of his heart if only to bring promise and hope of a new day to others.Poppy-1jzy3h8

And what of his friend? His friend is alive, always young, brimming, too, with a promise and hope that tings from heaven. He is relishing in every glorious breath Frank has taken in all the years that have passed since the early 90s; all along whispering to Frank: “Soldier on.”

Stay tuned!…until next time…walk by faith not by sight!

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Divinely divorced

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” — James 1:2-4

 

keeping-the-peaceAs April winds down and May arrives, my memories of my once beloved filter into my daily life. I remember our wedding day in May 26 years ago. Many of our family and friends who were at my wedding are no longer with us and have passed on. Visualizing their faces, they mirror mine and my groom’s filled with the hope and promise of tomorrow. I see my parents dancing contently as if age will never push through and steal their healthy, vibrant lives. I am young and naive, too, and have total faith that the years will be carefree and blessed. Sometimes where we end up isn’t where we thought we’d go.

“I did it all right, and it ended up so wrong.”

Those words echoed in my mind everywhere I went when the once impossible became the reality. Divorce was not part of my plan, but it knifed through my life like an assailant in the dark of night.

Twenty-one years of life had been pulled from off my core and tossed away like wilted pieces of lettuce. And so it was in the material world, but in the spiritual world the cornerstone of my heart that was rejected was being chiseled in a splendid masterpiece in His masterful hands.

Seven years later, many times falldivorce-is-not-the-end-150x150ing but trying desperately to hold onto the faith, I have finally come to feel “mature and complete, not lacking anything.

My cup is so full, that I can turn back around and remember my wedding day and feel a bounty of gratitude over the experience of such a lovely day full of promise and faith. It was our time to live in the moment, and we did it thirstily and squeezed every last drop. Now when I need a lift, I can drink from the memories that are a blessing and not a curse through faithful eyes that look up only at Him in preparation to climb the mountains yet to come.

Stay tuned!…until next time…walk by faith not by sight!

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Easter is upon us!

Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it. — Proverbs 22:6

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Growing up, I crushed Parent’s Open House announcements behind hedges in the backyard. I dared never misbehave at school. I dreaded the thought of my mother pleading on my behalf for any wrongdoing on my part in front of the principal. As far as I was concerned, school was off-limits to my mom. I never had to worry about my dad because he was busy working and rarely around.

The one time I missed the bus, and my mom drove me to school, my mother drove no more than 20 miles an hour, stopping at nearly every corner and pecking her head out of her tattered babushka like a scared rooster.

Luck would have it, Jimmy, my classmate, was late that day too. Being driven to school by his parents, his family’s car snaked behind us on the trek school. After the car ride when I encountered him outside the school, his face was red, roaring from laughter.

“Could you ever go any slower?”

Then when he spotted my mother, he asked, still falling over in laughter, “Who is that?”

I shooed her away dressed in her loose-fitting, androgynous to form, clothes that made her look flat and peasant-like and exactly what she was: A cleaning woman.
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And so it was, I spent my life shooing my mother, with her foreign tongue and history of mental illness sometimes harboring on cruelty, and erratic behavior. My full-time job in life became outrunning a litany of memories that flicked in front of me, beginning with her padding her shoes with wads of paper towels and ending with the occasions that she spit on me in the name of good luck. On the same token, she was never comfortable in her own skin either and folded herself into her house; her life spent hibernating in all seasons.

In my mid-20s, my life changed and so did my friends who viewed my mother’s idiosyncrasies as interesting, even alluring. And that is when I gradually rediscovered her and saw her as someone so entirely different from me that she became a type of novelty in my eyes. And as my behavior changed, so did hers. The time I spent with a soft, trusting mother grew much longer than the time I spent with a harsh judgmental tyrant. I looked forward to our trips running errands and grocery shopping.

As the years passed, her decline was like the moon in the sky during the day. It was not obvious, but always there. Now I know, it was a long good-bye. A few years prior to her passing, her four-time-a-day telephone calls to me turned less and less until she rarely called.

Mom’s roar, too, turned into a slight meow that out of the blue began asking for forgiveness.

“Forgive Me!”

A calm, affirmative voice, one she lacked during her younger years, still chimes in my memory over a year after her passing. The woman I spent my youth shooing away creeps up on me when I least expect it. In a quick glance at the mirror, I lose sight of me and see only her. A slight movement and I live in her body as if it was a preserved shell fitted for me. I have accepted this fate without emotion, like an envelope that I am taking to the mailbox.

In my journey as the grieving daughter, although I cannot see her, God has given me the grace to be her in a way that makes me stand proud. In a way that reaffirms my faith in life—and in dying. Sometimes it is only at the end that a serendipitous dawn breaks with the gratitude and plentitude of resurrection.

Stay tuned!…until next time…walk by faith not by sight!

 

“All there is is love!”

Love conquers all

Love conquers all

Do everything in love. ~1 Corinthians 16:14 

A bush of gray messy hair. Dusty work boots. Though he had a small frame, my friend John had a linebacker’s shoulders and a voice that could make an angel’s words sound mean.  A tough bird living a tough life, for many years he was a chronic alcoholic and as unapproachable as a rat in a gutter.

Fortunately, he did find recovery from the disease of alcoholism for nearly forty years. Don’t get me wrong, John did not travel the easy street of sober life. Demons always engaged him in battle, one in particular, an uncontrollable rage issue, threw him behind bars during his mid-sobriety.

Nonetheless, whether he was up or down, his all-around mantra was “All there is is love!”

I’ve had my own demons over these last 31 years. Though uncontrollable rage, fortunately, has not been one of them, at least not for the last 21 years, anger and resentment is another story. I have a collection of easy-to-reach injustices in the form of people, places and things. In fact, they are attractive and invade my mind dressed in fine jewelry and inflate my ego and puff me up to feel like I am PROactive and righteous; but the truth is, no matter how powerful they feel, anger and resentment undermine our lives and throw us in the chamber of darkness, cloud our vision and defeat our primary purpose(s) in life. To become stuck in destructive emotion is to kill motion. Without motion, there is no life.

Therein lay the legacy that John left me. If you are running out of faith, try Love first. Love is the pill that the pharmaceutical companies can’t compete with. Whenever I feel upset, I hear John’s words, “All there is is love!” The minute I hear those words, I breathe, feel at ease, accept. My blood pressure deflates along with my ego, and the road ahead is clear and manageable; not easy, mind you, but in the right frame of mind, gratitude unfolds its magical carpet.

Don’t get me wrong, don’t expect the uneven terrain to disappear; instead, a happy surrender means a cease fire to an unnecessary fight and only then can we allow our vision to move from the uneven terrain and, instead, shift our focus on the new flower shoots along the path.

Stay tuned!…until next time…walk by faith not by sight!

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touched by an angel

What a wonderful world

 

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Jeremiah 29:11 

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A number of months ago, one of my dearest friends called my cell phone and left a message on the voicemail. The catch was, she forgot to hang up.

I see trees of green, red roses too
I see them bloom for me and you
And I think to myself, what a wonderful world
I see skies of blue and clouds of white
The bright blessed day, the dark sacred night
And I think to myself, what a wonderful world
The colours of the rainbow, so pretty in the sky
Are also on the faces of people going by
I see friends shakin’ hands, sayin’ “How do you do?”
They’re really saying “I love you”
I hear babies cryin’, I watch them grow
They’ll 
learn much more than I’ll ever know
And I think to myself, what a wonderful world
Yes, I think to myself, what a wonderful world
Oh yeahanimatedRainbow

You would think my friend was an opera singer in her car, booming those words alongside Louis Armstrong. My tears were not only a response to her astonishing vocal abilities but to the fact that, she, a mother who lost her son at 18, only to become a widow shortly thereafter, was the epitome of what a wonderful world it truly is as long as we can find that tiny hint of sanctuary within ourselves that we can build when we make faith the cornerstone. Again and again, I listened to my friend on the voicemail, humbled.

In the face of injustice, who am I to question “why?”  Instead, I need to raise my eyes above the sins of the world, the Calvary of the journey, and fixate on God’s masterful creation of mountain tops, skis of blue, clouds of white, and all the things I may not be aware of, but are freely and generously the constant framework of my ever-changing world.

Stay tuned!…until next time…faith forward!

Mind Confusion: Good for you?

dance_school-1280x1024 (2)Body confusion sounds bad but is good. As my yoga coach explained, when your exercise routine becomes routine, your muscles get bored and slack off. You can schedule the same exercise routine every week, but after awhile it becomes old hat, and your body does not benefit from the workout. In other words, you have to challenge—shuffle things around; in essence, confuse the body to keep it at its best. Challenges and new moves keep you in healthy grooves!

In this same vein, if the body slacks off, wouldn’t the mind do this also? Not to minimize the impact of a life crisis, but one thing it does do is shake you up and orbit you to unfamiliar places that may feel foreign and scary at the beginning, but later as the journey unfolds, recharges the imagination and ignites the creative problem-solving juices.

For instance, before our family’s personal crisis in 2010, I could have continued to hide under some fifty extra pounds of weight and allow myself to fade into the buttermilk color walls of my house, vaporizing behind my then husband’s emotional tailspins.

Instead, nearly four years later, “mind confusion” has kicked me into over drive. Tons of new challenges undertaken…daunting jobs, grubby courtrooms, and a longtime friend who threw me under the bus just when I was about to get my bearings! With the challenges, new joys have also unfolded…dating again since 1989, the last time I had a date; neighborhood kids who come to the door with shovels during a blizzard and a late-life love who surprises me with a kiss that transplanted me back to feel sixteen again when my high school’s gym class cheered me on as I did a tap dance atop the trampoline.

Thanks to the element of surprise, total mind confusion, I not only shed the pounds, okay, some of them, but I have also had a love affair—with my femininity, my individuality, my sometimes tragic, miserable, highly interesting, amazing life, and I learned that courage doesn’t come to me naturally, but that I have to have faith and work at it…not face danger and freak out and bolt, but face danger, freak out and stare it down—a little bit longer at each new perilous zone.

In the end, I still have “the bad” confusion in my life and I struggle as a single mom. It remains an everyday challenge to be stable and balanced, especially when the mortgage due date draws closer, every month, and my mind becomes a 24-hour melee in which I must battle it out with beasts that can and will flex their muscles to frightening proportions. Then there are those days when my body joints tell me I have been squeezed out of so much youth.

Through it all, I have learned to get my shine on and dance through life as if my experience on this earth has been a skip through a meadow of wildflowers and not a plunge into an abominable pit of hot coals, employing grace and dignity at all times when tears mar the vision, but faith carries me forward through the downpour.

“Goodnight, sweet prince”

famous quotes about death, (1)“Goodnight, sweet prince.”

At 4 a.m., the last night that our ailing cat Cliff spent in our house, the feeble, lethargic cat, rallied and howled beneath my son Marshall’s bed. In his 16-plus years, he never did this before. My son knew it was his finale. Gently he lifted Cliff up next to him in bed and before their final slumber together, Marshall bid him farewell, whispering, “Goodnight, sweet prince.”

Cliff died later that day, and peace and contentment shrouded Marshall. This was nothing short of a miracle. Over these past years, more times than not, my son, wounded from his best friend’s premature death and his father’s abandonment, would echo things like “I can never live without Cliff.” “I’d kill myself if anything ever happened to Cliff.”

In awe of God’s grace, I recognized the poignancy of my son’s suffering; how the ultimate design, jagged, unraveling, wildly unpredictable, is so beautifully  executed, detailed to a fault, in the Weaver’s hands.

Stay tuned!…until next time…faith forward!

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Cliff Lytwyn Maxwell ~ July 4, 1997 ~ January 28, 2014

Stay tuned!…until next time….Faith forward!

Farewell, sweet prince

In his hand is the life of every living thing and the breath of all mankind ~ JOB 12:10

silverliningPutting our cat “down”; euthanizing; whatever the word used, it’s an excruciatingly painful time for me and my kids today. Cliff, the brave cat who once saved me from a pack of angry raccoons, has only a few more hours of life before I have to, in essence, take what is left of his life and make that dreaded trip to our vet.

For most of my earlier life, avoiding pain at all costs, I never had to do this to any of my pets. Someone else always did the dirty work. Crouton, our beloved poodle, spared us the anguish by passing peacefully just a few months prior in October.

Now I sit here writing, looking at Cliff take his final breaths. I am nothing less than grateful for this long good-bye. My daughter who made the trip to the vet with me about five weeks ago during a false alarm when Cliff first took a turn for the worst is lucky in a way—being away at school.

My son, a true hero during Crouton’s passing, is working at the moment, and unless things change, I’m taking this on alone; sparing my son. Since 2010, loss has been a constant state of affairs at our house, and the main reason I started this blog. Both my children were abandoned by their father, largely due to his mental breakdown in 2010. Months later, in January of 2011, Rob, my son’s best friend and a good friend of my daughter’s, was tragically killed. Last year we lost Maureen, my dear friend’s sister and a special person in our lives. In the interim, Cliff has been a great comfort to us all, like a large, floppy pillow to sink our sobbing selves into. Now, he has melted down to an emaciated skeleton. A breathing ghost who has not eaten or gone to the bathroom in over a week.

“You’re my father now!”

I remember my son cooing those words repeatedly in a soothing manner as he spoke to Cliff in those awful months when the wound from his father’s act of abandonment was raw.

“You and Rob were my best friends!”

These are my son’s words to Cliff recently, echoing down the hallway as we have journeyed through these painful, tearful times that remind our family yet again that nothing lasts forever.

Last week, after I shared Cliff’s story, a colleague blurted, “Move on!” Her words were forceful. When she said them, I thought about a life drawn on a chalkboard and suddenly—erased—fast, clean, efficient until the next messy job I suppose. Sure, death is “messy” when it creeps into a life. It’s unplanned. Downright rude, really. Exhausting and way too emotional. Of course, as relatively sane people that we hope we are, we must move on. However, when death rears its messy head, the manner in which we move on is different.

In the ocean of life, death is like a surfboard of pain and grief that we receive at any given moment. We grip it while trying to steer gallantly forward through the tide of the days that loop our lives. Sure, we lose our balance. We fall off the board. But always somehow climb back on and try to maneuver the damn thing, because, come on, it is ours. We alone take claim to the surfboards of pain that we are dealt, and the ocean’s arms are gentlest when we do not resist her mightiness and, yes, go with the flow—forward, the best we can, as hard as it may be.stairway_heaven

I close my eyes, and imagine a vibrant, young Cliff running and bouncing through a springtime meadow. Underneath me, I anchor myself in the ocean of life; balance on my surfboard as I drift farther from him, and he disappears in the fresh grasses.

Faith is my strength, my solace, the wings beneath my surfboard, flying me forward, onward, in the direction of that great meadow where I will one day reunite with Cliff, Crouton and all those fellow surfers that have imprinted my heart, and we will ride heaven’s waves in an everlasting celebration.

Rest in peace, our most very perfect cat.

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Cliff Lytwyn Maxwell ~ July 4, 1997 ~ January 28, 2014

Crouton Lytwyn Maxwell ~ November 12, 2001 ~ October 17, 2013

Friends in paradise forever

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Until next time….Faith forward!