There Are Many Ways To Say Goodbye


I wrote this June of last year, reposting to honor my father and November/Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness month.

Facing a parent with dementia…

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, 1 in 8 older Americans has Alzheimer’s disease. The incidence and prevalence of this disease is on the rise. As we age, many of us will face this disease with our parents. This piece was written to raise awareness and in tribute to my father.

Until I received a very strange phone call two summers ago, I didn’t realize how many ways there are to say goodbye.

My father was on the line and he wanted to know if I was sitting down because he had great news.

“I just inherited a million dollars,” he exclaimed.

I don’t come from the type of family that bequeaths a million dollars. When he told me his fortune was from a childhood friend he hadn’t spoken to in 70 years my concern rather than his bank account increased.

I soon learned that it is futile to disagree with someone who is suffering from dementia. At 87 years old, my father survived World War II, widowhood with two small girls to raise and most of his old age sans too many bruises all to become master of a strange universe. It was sudden and difficult to come to terms with.

Dead relatives have resurfaced and have invited themselves to Thanksgiving dinner. All kinds of celebrities have become distant relations and I’ve even found myself with a new brother. More heartbreaking is my father’s insistence that my mother, who passed away 38 years ago, is still alive and spends most of her time at the Waldorf Astoria waiting for us. He often queries if we have seen her and becomes upset if we haven’t. Though in his own way, he ponders why he hasn’t seen her.

He was someone who loved to travel and he now travels between two different worlds -  the world that seems to agree with the order of things and the one inhabited by the past lacking order or control. The characters who surface in this new world range from those who’ve left big gaping holes like crater in our hearts to others who just flitted by.

The old world barely exists and the new world doesn’t. After the initial shock and denial, I decide to participate in both worlds not understanding either. Meanwhile in my own world, I’m missing a piece. I have a wonderful story to relay and I think my father would be a great audience and then I pause and remember that it would be too arduous to explain. From a wonderful conversationalist he has become taciturn.

I wonder about loss. Is this a legitimate loss? If it feels real, it must be. If that’s so, his premise is not that far off. I pine for our laughs and for his wry and sardonic quips. His generosity always outpaced what he had but he loved to offer help.

Alternatively, he is at times more satisfied than he’s ever been. The pre-dementia father could be unhappy.

We all have many sides to our personality. Forever changed irrevocably my father is here and gone. Now we travel together, he revels in the past while I yearn for it.

photo credit: <a href=””>Josep Ma. Rosell</a> via <a href=””>photopin</a> <a href=””>cc</a>


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A Midlife View Of The ‘Mommy’ Problem

get-attachment-10.aspxThanks to Heather Havrilesky’s, New York Times article “Our Mommy Problem,” I’ve been jolted to posit my opinion not as an expert or psychologist but as a mother and writer. I’m also at an age where I’ve “been there done that,” having a daughter in college and a high school junior.

Havrilesky states: “Motherhood is no longer viewed as simply a relationship with your children…Motherhood has been elevated…to the realm of lifestyle, an all-encompassing identity with demands and expectations that eclipse everything else in a woman’s life.”

There is a “Mommy” problem out there perpetuated by the media, stereotypes, politics, fear – and worse by women themselves. We are living in a world, where women are given instructions at every fork in the road. Some of my favorite Mommy anthems

  • Having It All- No one can have it all at one time.
  • Lean In- I liked the book (my review) but we shouldn’t be the only ones leaning in (hear that corporate America, government policies).
  • Perfection Affliction – Just don’t go there!

Then there are the types of mom you need to morph into:

  • Tiger Mom – May work for some, but when I’ve decided to act like one, I was ashamed of my hypocrisy, because my extracurricular activities consisted of the 4:30 movie. I also sensed my relationship with my children erode. Guess what? Some children are ambitious and driven from day one, they are going to stand at the podium delivering the Valedictorian speech. The remainder will find, thought it may not be on your timetable, something they are passionate about.
  • Helicopter Mom - Been guilty of this too. If you want to destroy any chance of your child growing up and moving away and having a modicum of dignity – stop hovering. All of these actions undermine a child’s self-esteem. I’ve moved away from asking too many questions from my college aged daughter. I still believe in keeping my eyes and ears open but I don’t audit the minutia.
  • Motherhood As A Sport – I’m not blaming or shaming, but I’ve seen the role of mother taken too far. These moms are involved in every aspect of their child’s lives and they compete at every level. They know if someone is giving their child a hard time and they will speak to that child. They are known to stamp their feet at sporting events and even root against their child’s teammates. Is this the kind of behavior you want your child to emulate?
  • Outdo Martha Stewart Mom – I made pumpkin shaped sandwiches for my daughter’s nursery school class. It was cute but I stressed myself out. Becoming a stay-at-home mom, I took the gusto I had for my career and turned out snacks and crafts because I thought that is what I was supposed to do.

The best mother you can be is your authentic self; children can spot a phony from a mile away. Show your children who you are, what you love, what inspires you and they will learn to embrace who they are. You also owe it to yourself to not abandon your dreams. The best piece of advice I’ve read, and the one that made the most sense to me, about facing an empty nest is to handle this stage in life with aplomb, even if you have to fake it for a while. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t be sad but this is a prime time to show your kids how to handle change. Isn’t the point of parenting to raise children who can handle bumps in the road?

Old Photos Speak To Us

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11893904336_af124ae82a_m4863414036_d2bd59b7c5_m4949106634_25ec7b83f5_mSome of my mothers’ photographs on Flicker have been viewed 5,000 to 8,000 times. The only explanation is that old photos speak to each of us in different ways – whether we admire an era gone by or think of our own loved ones old photographs take us back to wonderful places.

I was thinking about what to write about this week when an old photo of my mother popped up on my Facebook wall. Much to her surprise, my cousin stumbled upon this photo in a Facebook group she follows: Manhattan Before 1990. Rheannone Rocha who blogs at New York City Vintage advised that this photo was one of her most popular posts. She found the photo on Flicker, where my mom, who never saw a computer, has gained a significant fan base thanks to my brother the keeper of photos and memories.

I can’t begin to explain what these photos mean to me, as I search for clues about myself I simultaneously feel she was someone I never knew, since she died so young, and the person who has had the most profound influence on my life. She was strikingly beautiful, resourceful, talented and creative. She made all of the clothes she wore in the photographs. We really aren’t sure who took these photographs, but believe it may have been my grandfather, the master tailor, who taught his girls how to sew. He was an immigrant who came to America with very little and no mastery of the English language. Although a pragmatic man he somehow saw the value in taking photographs.

The documenting of our lives is in a sense an attempt at preserving memories, dreams and our own immortality. Modern day technology allows us to constantly snap away from selfies to everyday events. The need, desire and value of photographing our lives are as pervasive as ever and the ability to share our lives through these images has expanded in ways unimaginable prior to the advent of the internet. Just take a look at Flicker to see the myriad of groups where every day people share their images. My brother is one of them; he’s also a very good photographer starting with a dark room when he was just a teenager. He serves as the family preservationist and catalogs the photos on his Flicker account. At first the photos were posted for family members but surprisingly they have attracted a following and the most viewed photos are of my mother. As a gifted seamstress, her photos often showcase a new outfit. The photos are emblematic of fashion in the 1940s. Prior to 1945, a utilitarian, although chic, look dominated the fashion scene. After the end of WWII, Hollywood’s Golden Age stars influenced fashions. My mother’s fashions are truly a study of the elegance of this time period.

According to my brother, “For a girl who never left the Bronx, her photos have gone everywhere: background for a PBS film, British Craft Magazine, logo for a Dutch Vintage Jewelry Store, YouTube music videos, Mother’s Day ad campaigns, and even the image for an urban renewal project in Covington, Georgia, and countless blogs. Sometimes I get letters from people who tell me they saw her; they recognized the dress. Dressmakers have copied her clothes and ask me for permission/advice. There is something special about these photographs from the 1940′s — an enthusiasm for life that seems to slowly disappear in the late 50′s and 60′s. Her photos are by far my most popular, especially in terms of referrers. I find them on lots of blogs; often in very funny juxtapositions, my mom and Marilyn Monroe, for instance. I often wonder what she would have thought of my publication of her photos. Our lives back then were lived on such a small stage: the kitchen, the living room, the backyard, the parish church and the neighborhood. That was it. Sometimes on weekends the one telephone, upstairs in my grandfather’s house, would ring, but he was rarely in the house to answer it. Always out in the garden. No one else dared touch it. So much for the whole wide world.”

Breast Cancer: Cure Is Long Overdue


My cousin Joann, walking in a 5K seven months after finishing treatment.

We Need To Keep Fighting The Fight

I just couldn’t let October slip away without paying homage to Breast Cancer Awareness Month. None of us should take for granted the advocacy spurred by medical professionals and ordinary citizens. There are very few of us whose lives have not been affected by this insidious disease and though detection and treatments have improved there is still no cure. My mother died of breast cancer in 1975, when the medical industry was just waking up to the fact that mammography screening could save lives.

My experience with breast cancer illustrates how far we’ve advanced and how pivotal awareness is. When my mother was diagnosed in 1973, my family considered it a death sentence. She died within two years and was treated with I’m sure deadly doses of radiation. I recall seeing deep purple bruises running down her back as though she’d been beaten with a strap. I was nine years old and living under a shroud of silence. I had no idea what cancer was and did not discover my mother had cancer until years later. It may be hard to comprehend but cancer was not a household word in the 70s and secrecy was a coping mechanism. There was minimal support for patients and families, no 5K fundraisers with women sprinting across finish lines and an entire month dedicated to awareness was unheard of. I’m not minimizing the suffering of those after my mother, alternatively I’m praising awareness and the significant strides that have been made to help patients and families – but it’s still not enough.


My mother early 1950s.

My mother’s diagnosis followed the trajectory of the disease in the United States, it wasn’t until the late 70s that breast cancer came out of the closet thanks to pioneers such as Dr. Philip Strax, galvanized by the loss of his young wife he was a tireless advocate for mammography screening. Though not perfect, this screening has saved lives but more work is necessary for detecting breast cancer in younger women.

Through the support of family and friends, I honored my mother one year by walking in the Susan G. Komen “Race For The Cure” raising $5,000. Yet, none of us should remain complacent. A beautiful friend of mine passed away at 40 years old, suffering from breast cancer for 10 years, and will miss out on the beautiful gift of watching her children grow up. Though awareness, research and fundraising has taken us far, her fate was as tragic as my mother’s.

Though the mortality rate has declined, according to the American Cancer Society statistics for 2014:

  • About 1 in 8 (12%) women in the US will develop invasive breast cancer during their lifetime.
  • About 232,670 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed in women.
  • About 62,570 new cases of carcinoma in situ (CIS) will be diagnosed (CIS is non-invasive and is the earliest form of breast cancer).
  • About 40,000 women will die from breast cancer.

I am grateful to new technologies, having undergone two biopsies myself and fortunately received good news but I worry about my daughter and little girls everywhere. How many more years do we have to wait for a cure? I can only imagine what my mother would think, nearly 40 years later and still no cure.

Last week I saw a photo of my cousin, my mother’s godchild, who has three young children and is battling breast cancer walking in a 5K race. She looked radiant and vibrant and coincidentally happened to be born on the same day as my mother, 35 years apart. As beautiful as the photo was, it was a sobering reminder that we are still fighting the fight.

Friends: The Axis Of Comfort

small__4939925977Find Your People

I just read a wonderful article by author and pediatrician, Dr. Meg Meeker about the importance of finding your tribe at midlife. She noted the benefits of keeping in touch, though she recognized that it is often difficult due to familial obligations. The article prompted me to think about my own experiences:

For as long as I can remember I craved the companionship of a like-mind, someone who would listen to my stories and theories about the world. As a twin, I thought I had a ready-made candidate. However, despite the title, we are as different as night and day. Though I love her dearly, we identified early on that she’s a doer and I was a thinker.

So began my quest to fill my life with friends who embraced words, enjoyed sharing notes and were prone to deep analysis. I found a forever friend in grammar school. Our story started with the case of the star-crossed school bag. We attended a strict Catholic grammar school where homogeneity ruled even down to our schoolbag. One day, among the sea of navy blue bags, my sister took the wrong bag home. Once the mishap was identified we drove to my classmate’s house for the switch, this transaction fated our friendship. We couldn’t stop laughing about our schoolbag caper and it wasn’t long before we were circling the playground fashioning stories and sharing popcorn. Adolescence was ushered in with seemingly endless calls, arms tethered by a chord, to discuss the same topic over and over mostly involving boys. Though I don’t see her as much as I would like, we will always be the stuff that friendship is made of.

Sailing through life, I’ve found friends to weather the storms of college, starting a career, boyfriends, engagements, weddings,  having and raising children. Looking back, I’m still in touch with many of these friends, though geography often dictates a closer relationship, I find that even a quick phone call can add a jump to my step. Friendship is a necessary ingredient for a happy life and there are certainly ebbs and flows.

During the middle years, between the pull of elder care and eclipse of growing children friendship for me is a soft escape. It is necessary, pivotal and the axis of comfort during all the looming goodbyes circling overhead. The launching of our offspring, the decline of our parents, can leave gaping holes. So we need to continue with our people, someone who can listen to the difference between twin and twin Xl sheets for departing college offspring and enjoy commentary from the dementia ward. Love it when my dad, who suffers from dementia, asks, “Are you having a bad hair day?” When faced with a world in motion, where change is simultaneously embraced and feared friendship is a panacea for our blues. There’s  nothing like a “we are in it together” chat, hearty laugh or sympathetic ear. The road ahead may be uncertain but just knowing your people are there for you can make all the difference.

photo credit: <a href=”“>amanda.venner</a> via <a href=”“>photopin</a> <a href=”“>cc</a>

Our Voice Is Being Heard!

small__12192161504Over 9K Views Tells Me Someone Is Listening!

Last night, and the number keeps rising, I received more views (almost double) on my blog than I have in the year and a half since its inception. My son advised, “That is not exactly going viral” but certainly for my blog it is! Thus far, the post has been viewed over 9K times, received over 2K FB Likes and over 200 shares on Facebook’s Help Find Hannah Graham page, in less than 24 hours.

There is a small part of me that is excited but there is a part of me that mourns. Why? The article I wrote in September about Hannah Graham struck a chord. I had been keeping up with the case and my heart sunk when I heard the news. Yet, I’m proud that our collective voices are being heard. When I think about the “1 in 5” college rape statistic, I think about my daughter and all the young girls starting out ready to conquer the world. We need to raise the alarm and tell our girls to stay together and always keep their eyes open.

I’m not a “Kardashian” and this may be the most fame I ever receive and I hope that maybe our collective rage may be the whisper in one of our daughter’s ears. For those that commit these acts, I have no words. I think they are someone’s son, brother, friend, husband, boyfriend. Is humanity lost? We have a responsibility to aim our message at boys and men as well.

I received many heartfelt comments regarding how to keep our daughter’s safe to how the alleged seemed to slip through the cracks. Here are two comments I wanted to share:

Julie: “The media, the economy, testosterone driven entertainment, video games, alcohol, drugs, mental health, a bad start in life.” – One more to add, perhaps part of the media, is pornography. It desensitizes men to the reality of women as people.”

Justine: Hannah is all of us. I walk with her when I walk alone at night. I walk with these women who’ve disappeared. They’re everywhere, they’re all of us.

I’m haunted by these stories and hope that our collective voice is heard. I thank everyone for reading and hope that in sharing our concern, our stories and reactions Hannah’s voice will not be silenced – it would be comforting to know that in some small way we haven’t failed her.

photo credit: <a href=”

I’m Not My Daughter’s Friend

get-attachment-9.aspxLeaders Stand Alone

I was having dinner with my daughter, who just turned 18, the other evening and she shared that a new college friend of hers tells her mother everything. I wasn’t sure how to decipher this exclamation. Was this negative or positive? Upon further explanation, I unearthed the gist of the comment. She wasn’t enamored with the idea of a “tell all” with me. I’m not so naive that I believed she shares or needs to share all the particulars of her life. Yet, there was s little part of me that was thinking, “hey thanks a lot” and “what are you hiding!” Just like one of those lovely comments, we’ve all been recipients of, stating how great you look that prompts you to think, “how awful did I look before?”

I speared my sushi, sipped my miso soup and nurtured my wounds. Her comeback, sensing this was probably not the best topic for our first reunion since she left for college two months ago, was to state, “Oh it’s just about boys she likes and things like that.” So I began to pepper her with questions of my own which were as welcome as the flu. A few more exchanges about moms that look so young and we were off to an exceedingly positive start. That’s where I began to see the light, or it may have been the wasabi, either way I decided I don’t want to be friends with my daughter. I want to be her mom.

It wasn’t like I shared all my comings and goings with anyone when I was 18 but it was more than that. I believe we had already made great strides in taking the next steps to independence, her going off to college for me to start lobbying for a starring role in her life. We are very close and although she’s now 18 and growing up, I’m not interested in being her friend. I’m certainly not stating that this is the right way or that forging more of a friendship is wrong, just my gut feeling about how we will proceed during the college years. I do not want nor do I need to know everything. I feel confident that I’ve armed her with the skills she needs to make the right choices and I’m smart enough to know she will likely make mistakes but those same skills will help her get back on track.

Motherhood isn’t easy, just ask any great leader. It’s vital to stand by your troops but not necessarily with them. Henry Kissinger once said, “A leader does not deserve the name unless he is willing occasionally to stand alone.”

Oh, and the remarks about moms that look so young well that one I’m not letting go!

9 Lessons For Visiting College Offspring

small_4974012671-1A Metamorphosis

The college application process, the decision, the drop off – I found resources for these milestone events but what about the first visit, two months later, where you want to squeeze your child to death, pinch their cheeks and go back to the good old days? Well, the guidebook has prematurely ended and you are now mining this one on your own. The first visit to my daughter was precipitated by a virus that turned into a bacterial infection and maybe mono. The sojourn turned out to be an eye opening experience, so I thought I would share what I’ve “learned and lost along the way” now that I’ve been to the other side and persevered:

  1. You Are Not Their World Anymore – You pulled out all the stops and halted your obligations for this emergency visit. Don’t expect the offspring to do the same, there’s class (even when you are sick, most professors don’t allow more than three absences), projects, lectures and prefigured lunch plans to tend to. Though some time can be carved out, be warned you will not have your offspring’s undivided attention.
  2. You do not belong in a dorm! - Does a cat belong in a fish tank? Can a squirrel live under the sea? That’s Sandy on SpongeBob – that’s TV. Get out fast! Yes, you will want to see the room you shopped for and set up, scary prelude here, but be warned if your offspring wasn’t tidy at home don’t expect a metamorphosis. No worries that bug is not your offspring (Kafka reference) it is just a bug.
  3. Don’t do laundry! - I considered it since I had the time and she had class. It’s so wrong but felt so right – until I was shooed away and advised that she will take care of it on the weekend.
  4. Refer back to point number 2 - You don’t belong there!
  5. Don’t Overstay Your Dorm Welcome – It’s nice to meet friends and they seemed happy to meet me but I didn’t overstay my welcome, its plain awkward and let’s face it there is no, and I mean no place you will feel older so refer to point number 2 again!
  6. Acceptance is OK - Okay, she was sick and full disclosure, I washed her flatware and dishes, threw out trash and helped make her bed (she is wearing a brace since an easel fell on her hand) but that is where I stopped. I left with the feeling that laundry may not get done and that the bed may not be changed for a while and I was okay with that – refer to point number 2 again!
  7. Get Back To Civilization – I’m being honest here; it felt good to get out of there and back to my hotel so I may just skip the dorm next visit.
  8. The Denouement – your offspring will likely hug you maybe kiss you, depending upon the virus situation, and walk away. That’s right walk away, you’re not in Kansas anymore, I mean nursery school where you were “oh so needed.” Your baby has carved out a life and will walk away and so will you. Cue, for some tears.
  9. Final Metamorphosis – And it’s okay, refer to point number 2 you were a visitor and soon the light bulb will go off: offspring has left the nest and it’s okay. Now the metamorphosis is on you.

photo credit: <a href=”“>Robert Burdock</a> via <a href=”“>photopin</a> <a href=”“>cc</a>



Be Unapologetic!

small_4441155157It’s hard to write about being “unapologetic” when uttering “sorry” is a close second to guilt to me. Like many women, I think everything is my job or my fault. The reasons behind this are myriad, but sorry I won’t elaborate because I’m sure you are a woman if you are reading this, so you get it. So, it was remarkably refreshing that, at a conference last week run by two amazing women Carol Fishman Cohen and Vivian Steir Rabin (look them up) who launched a movement on relaunching after a career break, stated that “if you want to get back out there, be unapologetic, that’s your past and this is what you are intent on doing now.” This gets better, human resources personnel from Morgan Stanley and Bloomberg concurred with this strategy and the moral of the story: taking a career break isn’t the road to professional suicide it once was.

This message has been percolating in my mind because I just sent my daughter off to college and my son will follow in two years. Though I’ve primarily been a stay-at-home mom (SAHM), I have worked as a freelance writer for the past five years on my own terms and setting my own pace. There is a little voice that’s now asking “what’s next” and “how would it look if I carried on like this?” Why should I care what others think? I’m conditioned.

In America women, are the most scrutinized, dissected, judged group, and that’s a movement that has to end. Worse yet, women judge each other – for the type of snacks doled out to our kids, staying at home, going to work, the type of work we do, our clothes, our hair and let’s not even start with our bodies.

There is a smorgasbord of articles popping up on the intent pondering what SAHMs with children in school “do all day?” I hear traces of this in conversations I’ve had over the recent weeks. I’d just like to go on record as stating that raising a family is one of the most devalued professions in the modern world. I too wondered, when I first moved to the suburbs, what exactly moms did all day as I ran to make a train. When I found out, it wasn’t pretty. I learned I could calm down an angry client but a crying baby was another story. A newfound admiration was formed.

Whether you are a SAHM were a SAHM, didn’t have the opportunity to be a SAHM our collective ire should be propelled against our country – which in my opinion is one of the most unsupportive for parents in terms of workplace flexibility, subsidized childcare and maternity leave – part of the reason many women opt out.

It’s your life and if you are content with your choices create a quirky little one liner, “a la Ann Landers,” to use when someone hurls one of those questions at you.  If you’ve always been a working mom, or a SAHM or a SAHM with a newfound mission to relaunch a career, volunteer, tend to your garden or help raise your grandchildren – it’s your life.

There are no fixed rules, that our paths must be linear. I say be unapologetic about your choices and here’s a dose of Nora Ephron on the ubiquitous topic of “having it all” to send you off with a smile (unapologetically): “…surprises are good for you. And don’t be frightened: You can always change your mind. I know: I’ve had four careers and three husbands.”

photo credit: <a href=”“>Camdiluv ?</a> via <a href=”“>photopin</a> <a href=”“>cc</a>



The Middle Years

small_2142478943Time To Wear A Tutu

I was sitting in a light filled room, on assignment for an article I was working on, gazing at a dozen ballet students as they moved to the music and listened to their teacher’s direction. Not sure if it was the music, the light, the energy or watching these young girls that stirred my intense desire to put on a tutu and challenge myself. I could see some of the girls struggling with their positions. Ballet is hard and even at that age I was as flexible as an iron pipe and still am. Yet, I’ve always loved to dance, although most of my dance moves were developed in discos, just moving put a smile on my face. I thought maybe I would enroll in a class. Why not?

As I watched the girls experience the highs and lows of their exercises, the intensity, frustration, pain and pride, my mind wandered off to the possibilities of my own life at my age. Part of a generation that did not automatically get “signed up” for an array of classes, I always reveled in most of the classes my children took, especially anything creative. I want to engage in new endeavors before it’s too late.

I’m no fool. I know where I stand, sandwiched between my growing more independent children and aging parents – in my case in-laws and one parent. I also know what it’s like to never reach these years, my mother dying at 45. As I think about my mother’s untimely death and watch my father’s descent into dementia and in-laws ailing health, my despair has turned to desire. I can feel it intermittently, during assignments for my work as a writer but also during college tours or watching my son read a classic I haven’t found my way to yet.

Perhaps I’m naive but I don’t feel the middle years should be anything but exploratory, our offspring are moving on and so should we. These are our years, as the demands of childhood wane, to do the “things we’ve always wanted to do” even if it means delegating to handle elder care or liberating yourself from laundry. We all know the laundry isn’t going anywhere.

I want to paint, dance, love great literature and write forever. What do you want to do?


photo credit: <a href=”“>cybertoad</a> via <a href=”“>photopin</a> <a href=”“>cc</a>


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