Author Archive: Sammy

Our Special Family Day

For better understanding you may want to read About This Blog first.

Aaron’s memorial was on a Tuesday, the following Sunday happened to be Mother’s Day. Since all our family was together for the first time in years we decided to get together and celebrate mum’s day in a local park for a BBQ.

The weather was perfect and we had a 100% attendance. The mood was light and cheery, a big weight had been taken off all our shoulders as the memorial and burial weighed heavily on our hearts.

It was nice to be outdoors in the sunshine, the little ones feeding the ducks by the pond. Plenty of food and drink and more happy faces and laughing than what I expected. It had been so long since I have witnessed all my children together of all ages the eldest being about thirty-six and the youngest eleven. The grandchildren mingling with their aunts and uncles some of who were the same age gave me a feeling of joy and pride I hadn’t experienced for such a long time. It was a great day.

A regular occurrence at our past family gatherings was full on sport or games. Touch football, cricket, baseball, soccer, capture the flag etc,with all getting involved. This day was no different.

I was right in the thick of it pushing, shoving, yelping, hollering, shouting, cheering. I usually had  to relinquish my competitive sportsman like in your face hands on participation for the referees whistle keeping the peace and making sure that  everyone went home in one piece. An overly competitive family thanks to me.

The only wave of sadness came on me when everyone was running around laughing, yelling, arguing,  teasing, pushing and high fives going every which way.

This is where Aaron thrived. In the middle of all the action. Actually he was the one who instigated getting us all out of our lounge chairs and on the playing field no matter where we were or how many we had. He usually started most arguments too.

I was never so proud of my family watching from the sidelines each one touched by Aaron’s death in their own special way but putting aside their grief to just have fun. Soon we would all return to our respective homes and have to deal more personally on the events of the week.

But not this day. This day was special.

As the “games” and pent-up energy was released on the playing fields and as the sun was about to set, Before packing up one of my girls suggested to everyone, “why don’t we make this our annual family day. We don’t get together like this too often any more, most of us have our own families now and Christmas is no longer our family get together. Why don’t we make this time each year our Special Family Day, Aaron’s day.”

Hence the beginning our yearly get together. It has become our special day. We get together, we eat, we drink we play games. We talk, we catch up, we hug and laugh together. We shed a tear or two, maybe more but very rarely mention Aaron. We don’t have too. We know why we get together each year. We’re family and Aaron is here with us each time we get together because he lives in our hearts forever.

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You Can’t Fix Dead

 For better understanding you may want to read About This Blog first.

Its two in the morning Rhonda’s phone beeps, a text has been sent. She turns on the light, grabs her glasses and reads the message half asleep. One of the kids asking if she was doing anything. If not could she pick him up from the city as he has no other way home.

My dear wife  works twelve-hour days and to say she is tired at night when she crawls into bed is an understatement. Without missing a beat she texts back, “tell me where you are, I’m on my way.”  She jumps out of bed gets dressed, grabs her bag and heads for the door in her pajamas.

Me with my eyes closed can picture her every move. This scene has played itself out a hundred times.

“May I remind you” I say, my eyes still glued shut, “that before he went out you  told him he needs to find his own way home. You don’t have to do this”. .

“Yes I do” she says.

“Why?”

“Because I can, because I’m a mother, because  that’s what I do.”

“Ok, you win, drive safe…..”.

Rhonda takes pride in being a mother, she loves it and she relishes the daily mundane challenges each child presents.

Broken arms, severe burns, heartbreak, bullying at school, low grades, health issues, sibling wars, police matters, teenagers, the list goes on.

Rhonda is right in the midst of it at all times, always ready to  fix any problem big or small. She may not have all the answers but you can be sure she will go about finding someone who does.

One morning while having a cup of coffee together,(not many days after Aaron’s death), we were caught up in our own thoughts enjoying one of those special moments without having to speak. We were still in the “what on God’s good earth just happened to us” state of confusion.

We were understandably having a hard time accepting  Aaron was no longer with us, that he would never show up unannounced anymore, that we would never see him again at a family gathering was difficult coming to terms with.

Breaking our silence Rhonda blurted out, “you can’t fix dead”.

She looked over at me to see if I had heard what she said, I did and I looked at her for an explanation.

She said, “you know, I have this philosophy in life that as long as there is a pulse,there is life and where there is life there is hope. When we have hope I have the belief that if there is a problem or one of our kids needs fixing it can be done. But you can’t fix dead. Aaron can’t be fixed anymore.”

We went back to sipping our coffee giving more attention to our own thoughts.

From time to time when we hear of a suicide our hearts go out to the survivors, the loved ones left behind. We understand the unwanted journey that each one must travel. We would look at each other and sigh, sometimes one of us would say, ” “you can’t fix dead”.

Now it impresses us even more that we can and should try even harder to fix those who still have a pulse.

The Blame Game

For better understanding you may want to read About This Blog first.

When Rhonda called from the police station with the news about Aaron’s death I wasn’t surprised. A father’s intuition.

When I hung up the phone I gave it a few minutes to sink in.  I wanted to start making phone calls to the kids and break the news but first things first.

I went to the front door, opened it, stuck my head out and looked up toward the heavens. It was dark by this time and no one around to witness my outburst.

I screamed at God, then gave Jesus a what for. What I said is not printable and I wouldn’t want to repeat it even if it was.

I didn’t want to fall victim to His come back so I quickly ducked back inside for safety. Yeah, right, like running in the house would protect me anyway.

My outburst lasted no more than a fraction of a second. I was so ashamed of myself but I just felt I needed someone to be mad at and more importantly, blame.

I was mad at God for letting it happen, for not stopping Aaron and for just being so inconsiderate of how it was going to affect me and my family.

Hate is a strong word but it is the only one to describe my feelings toward God at this time.

But sanity prevailed. I needed to pick on someone my own size or better yet another human.

That little outburst at least got the anger part out of my system for the time being. It was replaced by a myriad of emotions from heartache, confusion, guilt and sadness.

Anger would have its chance to surface again but not now.

Somehow I made it through the next week, the funeral, family and friends and going back to work.

Anger was always close at hand, just simmering wanting to find a way to the surface. I felt more and more compelled to find someone I could hold responsible for this tragedy in my life to feed my anger.

It was time to play the blame game.

God got a free pass for obvious reasons, although there are still a few questions I’d like to ask Him but that will have to wait for another time.

I started with the prime suspect, me.

I would look in the bathroom mirror and stare.

“It’s all your fault” I said.

I needed to be more convincing.

“IT’S ALL YOUR FAULT”,I screamed my head so as not to draw attention.

One more time I thought just to get the point across.

“ITS ALL YOUR FAULT”  emphasizing each word as I said it.

With the finger firmly pointed in my direction it was time to tell me why it is my fault. Blame has to have a good reason.

  •   You’re a  lousy father. (yeah good one)
  •   God is punishing you for your secret sins (no argument there)
  •   If you weren’t so caught up in your own world you could have done something to stop it. (ouch, below the belt)

I beat the crap out of myself on a regular basis.

But I wasn’t going to take all the blame, no sir. I was going to share the misery around a bit.

My dear wife was on my radar.  She not only had to fight her own personal demons and battles but she also had no choice but to fight with me on mine.

If I was willing to take the blame because I was a bad father then she had to fess up to her part in the crime.

Over the course of  time, I would  bring up how I felt we as parents failed Aaron. We had to come clean and acknowledge what lousy parents we have been.

It would start off as a normal discussion about a seemingly innocuous topic. When she wasn’t seeing it I upped the volume until I was in a screaming match. Blame with anger, it never fails to get a rise.

It always ended in my dear sweet wife crying but God bless her, she never gave in. She knew she was a good mum to her kids and did the best she knew how. She thought if that wasn’t good enough then so be it but she wasn’t going to take the blame for Aaron’s death.

After many rounds in the ring I threw in the white towel of surrender. She was right, I was wrong.

I turned my attention to the one person who I could make the blame stick. Aaron himself.

I got so mad at him on so many occasions I thought my head was going to explode. After all he was the one who did it to himself.

I have his picture, a small three by five in a nice little frame sitting next to my computer. Over the years we have had many conversations. One way I might add as he never spoke back. Not yet anyway.

There were times I was so upset at him I would put his picture face down, like sending him to his room for being naughty. If I was really mad at him I put his photo in the bedside table drawer. I wouldn’t let him out until I forgave him.

I even remember telling him one day in the midst of one of my blame sessions.

“When I get to heaven young man I’m going to give your the biggest hug you could ever imagine, then I’m going to kick your ass”.

The good news is; I don’t get mad at God anymore. He forgave me. I don’t get mad at my dear wife anymore, I forgave myself. I don’t get mad at Aaron any more. I forgave him.

And I don’t get mad at myself anymore because I stopped playing the blame game. Not that I don’t want to from time to time, but now I know its not good for me.

The Worst Day Of My Life

For better understanding you may want to read About This Blog first.

At the time of Aaron’s death I was working as a mail contractor for Australia Post picking up mail from the post offices and delivering them to the mail center for sorting.

My last run of the day started at the southern tip of the city. On any given day of the week this time of day starts a build up of traffic as commuters rush home.

Friday afternoons are worse as everyone seems to be knocking off early to get a jump on traffic.

But this was a Tuesday so something was wrong. Road works? Traffic accident?

While loading my van  with the day’s mail at my first Post Office stop,  I was approached by one of the staff,

“if your travelling south you will have a hard time getting anywhere”  she said.

“No, I’m going north, why is that”? I queried

“Some idiot decided to walk in front of a truck and kill himself. You would think that if he was going to off himself he could have done it some other way so as not to inconvenience others. ”

Normally I would have come back with a snide remark or a smirk and nod of the head in agreement,I would say something that  put us on the same page.  Suicide was not high on my list of showing any understanding or compassion.

But I had a really bad feeling. I thought it might have been Aaron. My heart sunk and my stomach turned into knots.

I gave a weak reply and got out of there as quick as I could.

Rhonda had been in contact with Aaron on a daily basis for the past week as he had been meeting with her about certain things in his life. So when she couldn’t get a hold of him that day my worry gene took over.

I was concerned all day but not frantic. Lisa ( his older sister, he worked in her cafe) told Rhonda she spoke to him in the morning and he was in good spirits, he just moved into a new apartment and seemed to be OK.

Winding back to the mail center was like a death march. It seemed like an eternity trying to get home that evening.

The house was quiet and all seemed normal. I took a deep breath as I started to relax.

Rhonda was still at work.

Before I could settle in Rhonda phoned.

“Hi, I’m at the police station. Are you sitting down? I’ve got some bad news.”

Why do people ask that, is it just something that we get from cop shows on TV? Does sitting down better prepare you for bad news, are they afraid you may faint and hit your head?

“Aaron is dead, he was hit by a truck and died instantly”.

My worst fear has just become a reality.

And no I wasn’t sitting down.

Rhonda told me the police contacted her at work. They got her number from Aaron’s phone. They asked her to come into the police station. It was a few minutes walk from her work.

“The police are bringing me home as they don’t want me driving, I’ll see you soon. I love you” she said

I was waiting for her on the front lawn.

When the police car drove up and dropped Rhonda off, she thanked them as they drove away.

We hugged, held hands, looked into each others eyes without word. I took a deep breath as  walked toward the house.

This was the beginning of the worst day of my life.

In Denial?

For better understanding you may want to read About This Blog first.

When we received Aaron’s death certificate  it read “cause of death undetermined” meaning the coroner had not completed his findings on the cause of death. More than a month later I got a call from the coroner who wanted to fill me in of  what he knew and to ask a few questions so he could complete his report.

He told me that there was no alcohol or drugs in Aaron’s system and then proceeded to ask some questions about his mental health and lifestyle etc. My answers were guarded, I think because I have a tendency to distrust strangers about my personal life and that of my family. It’s not that I was trying to evade his questions although I must confess I wasn’t making it easy for him to get a straight answer out of me.

He then asked if there was anyone else in the family who he could speak to that could shed some light on Aaron’s background. I directed him to my eldest daughter Lisa, who was most involved with Aaron at the time as he working in her cafe.

The next day Lisa calls and mentions her conversation with the coroner and how he felt that I was “in denial”. OK, fair enough but denial over what?

I knew that Aaron died. I knew that he walked in front of a speeding truck.  I knew he would never be coming home. I knew he took his own life, I knew he would never be at another Christmas dinner or family function. So what was I in denial about?

It’s not like I was going to bed at night, reaching over and kissing my wife goodnight then say, “let’s get some sleep, I want to get up early so I can put the coffee on for Aaron when he comes home.”

No, I knew exactly what was going on.

There was obviously so many things I was confused about and didn’t understand but being in denial was not one of those things.

In saying that I must give the coroner the benefit of the doubt because delving into my memory bank  I must confess he may have a case for “denial”,

The only person who knew about my loss  from my work place as a mail contractor was my immediate boss. I never said a word to any of my work colleagues about my son’s death. I didn’t want any undue attention, I didn’t want any one to feel awkward around me. I am a very private person and I wanted to keep it that way.

The Christmas before April 2008 our dear kids all pitched in and gave my wife and myself Air Tickets and organized accommodation so we could go back to my home town in the United States for a holiday. I hadn’t been back for nearly forty years so it was a very special gift. We already had our tickets booked for June 2008. Two months after Aaron’s death.

We had considered postponing the trip as we knew we would still be quit raw emotionally. We were encouraged to continue with our plans as apparently it would be good for us to get away.

I asked Rhonda before we left for the states if it would be okay if we could not mention that Aaron took his own life.

My sister is my only living close relative along with her two grown married children. We spent most of our time with her. Of course she knew of the tragedy as it happened but I never told her that he intentionally walked in front of a truck.

Why? Because I was ashamed that one of my kids would do what I thought was an unthinkable selfish act. My pride got in the way and I refused at the time to allow myself to talk about it. I was confused and ashamed. Not in denial. I knew exactly what I was doing by not revealing the whole truth.

Was I confused? Absolutely.

Were there unanswered questions. You bet.

Was it a touchy subject for me? No doubt.

Was I in Denial? Not a chance.

But, and just maybe there could have been one small incident that could be interpreted and possibly sway the pendulum toward self-denial.

The week I went back to work after the funeral I was sitting in my van preparing to make a delivery at a shopping center. My eyes lifted just as a young man passed by.  I didn’t see his face but from behind he looked and walked like Aaron.

I was miffed, could that be him?  I had to see his face. I don’t know what I was thinking. Getting out of my van I followed the poor guy and I was off for my first ever stalking adventure. My short legs were having a hard time keeping up with this guy so I had to put on the after burners to get far enough in front of him to see his face.

Out of breath and far enough in front I did a stop and turn all in one motion like I was lost. I got a good look at this guy who looked nothing like my son. I felt pretty silly but not foolish enough to think if even for a moment that maybe, just maybe I was in a bad dream or worse, someone was playing a bad joke on me.

I will confess that for that brief moment and only the one time I may have been, just maybe “in-denial”.

The Funeral

For better understanding you may want to read About This Blog first.

I’m the organizer between Rhonda and myself so I took the reins in getting the ball in motion for all the work needed to be done to lay Aaron to rest.

My daughter Heidi helped me with the funeral preparations, Jesse put together a video memorial of Aaron to be shown at the service and our dear friend Rose helped put together the after party at our home.

And with family and friends arriving from interstate and overseas it turned out to be a welcome distraction. I had plenty to keep me busy so as not to miss Aaron too much. It turned out I would have plenty of time for that later.

I had only been to one funeral in my life. My grandfather died when I was seventeen. He was dying of lung cancer for many painful months before he died. It was more of a relief to everyone although his suffering was unbearable to some especially my mother. I don’t remember much of that day so I wasn’t sure what to expect from this one.

All the men in our family wore black  at the funeral.I’m not sure if that was a conscious decision or just worked out that way. It turned out that black was a good way to describe the mood.

“Lots of grief” ,a friend posted on her Facebook page who was at the funeral. I don’t disagree.

I didn’t know what to expect at the funeral service. Our immediate family gathered before any guests arrived, so the immediate family could view his body that was lying in a room set off to the side of the front stage podium. I watched as his siblings along with his mum made their way to see, touch and say their goodbyes and have one final look at their brother and son.

I stayed in my seat in the front row of the podium where the service would be held. I wasn’t about to budge. I didn’t go to the morgue the night we were called in to identify Aaron’s body. I left that to Rhonda and two of my boys, Jonathan and Daniel who for their own reasons were eager to go.

To see my boy lying on a cold slab in a sterile room or lying in a casket fully dressed was not on my to-do list. I wanted to remember Aaron alive.

One of my girls came and sat next to me and encouraged me to go and see his body that it would do me good.

For what ever reasons she thought I needed to view his body and what good it would do for me I knew she meant well. I wanted to rebel like a two-year old who was being made to eat his broccoli.

To keep things civil I reluctantly dragged myself over with the others and stood before my son. I looked,I touched his hand, I said I love you and left to take up my position in the front row once again.

It was painless and took no more than ten seconds.

Yes I admit, he looked peaceful and he looked as though he went to sleep and never woke up. They did a good job. But when I touched his hand, it was cold and lifeless. I pulled my hand away quick smart lest I catch something I didn’t want.

The funeral service was a family affair.

Heidi took on the role as MC.

My youngest daughter started proceedings by reading a poem.

We allowed anyone who wanted to unburden their hearts or talk about their relationship with Aaron access to the podium. I smiled, cried, laughed and was touched by all who spoke.

The highlight was the video memorial of Aaron’s life. It touched us and helped us to understand regardless of how his life ended he will always be remembered as our loving  son, brother, uncle and friend in life as well as death.

The prayer duties were given to Aaron’s brother Brian.

After the service we laughed and cried with our guests before the casket was brought out to be taken to the cemetery for burial.

Watching the faces of Aaron’s brothers who were carrying out his casket brought me great pride. The survivors of a brothers bad decision.

These were now my heroes, those that would continue their lives with one less sibling at their side.

I was never so proud of these boys as I was at this moment. I would love and cherish them in a different way from here on out.

As we piled in our cars to follow the Hearst to the cemetery to lay Aaron to rest I had a sense of relief that we made it over the first hurdle.

It turned out to be one of the easier ones.

I Mean No Disrespect

For better understanding you may want to read About This Blog first.

Dear Reader,

Thank you for stopping by and having a peek at my site.

If you have read any of my posts you may express some concern over any humor I may put into my writings on such a sensitive topic as suicide. And if you are one who has lost a child or loved one to suicide or any other means I know it is an emotional and heart-rending experience.

I want to take the opportunity to say this, if you find my humor distasteful or offensive, I apologize.  I mean no disrespect.

I could very well be writing from a different vantage point in my healing process as yourself. I have had over six years to get to a place where I am able to talk about my experiences of my son’s suicide openly and hopefully as honestly as possible.

Adding humor to my posts makes it easier to write from my heart. Hopefully it makes the subject matter more palatable.

I know how hard it is to come to terms with such tragedy. I know the stigma associated with the way our son has died. I know the pain, the grief, the heartache, the anger, the confusion and all the other emotions that well up inside. Its like having our own personal tsunami building up and crashing on the shores of our hearts day after day.

It may seem like it will never end and I am not sure it does completely but I can say this. Time heals. I don’t think there is any other way.

It’s going to bed at night with a heavy heart and waking up in the morning prepared to fight the battle just one more day. You get through that “one more day” and you prepare for the next. You wonder if it will ever cease.

The good news is, there is relief.  I promise you, as long as you are willing to put one foot in front of the other, one day at a time and not give up you will be a survivor of your child’s death.

I know this because I am a survivor.

Bless you,

Sammy

No Do Overs

For better understanding you may want to read About This Blog first.

The last time I saw Aaron we had a disagreement. It wasn’t an argument, no one getting angry just a normal garden variety unresolved difference of opinion that sent each of us on our separate ways feeling uneasy. I watched Aaron walk away and I couldn’t help but feel he left somewhat discouraged. I know I was.

I never spoke to him again and one week later he took his life.

I don’t believe for one moment that this little misunderstanding between us had anything to do with him committing suicide. I have no doubts about that.

I tried my hardest to recreate that day over and over again trying to convince myself that the conversation we had ended differently. Unfortunately it doesn’t work that way.

In the days, weeks and months that followed that last memory and conversation with Aaron has haunted me. I just wanted to make things right, to know in my heart that me and Aaron were good, no bad feelings between us. But there are no do overs in life where there is death.

Growing up, Aaron and I had the normal father son relationship that you find in large families. He was one of the clan, no special attention (except as a baby) and not much personal one on one time. When he was  of age and  left home he spent a lot of time overseas, so much of our contact was via letter writing.

When he returned from living overseas, being away quite a few years, I had to get to know a completely different man. He was wanting to start his life over, settle down and look toward a career.

Considering his options he expressed his desire to study law and become a defense lawyer or  a policeman. Now thats an oxymoron if there ever was one.

We did have one thing in common that was special to both of us. We loved sports, playing it and following it.

Aaron took everything very seriously and was quite intense so I knew how to get under his skin. When watching or talking sport I always took the opposing side. I loved seeing him getting riled up. On one occasion when we were watching the Rugby World cup he was such a patriotic fan, Go Aussies.

I said to him, “you know, Australia is my second favorite team in this world cup.

“Who’s the first” he asked.

“All the other teams” I told him.

He was fuming. He called me unpatriotic.

We also knew when to stop if we were barracking for different teams. An unwritten rule we had, nothing said after winning or losing. We could each walk away with some pride and no hard feelings. That was important to both of us. If we crossed the line, a simple hug and an “I love you” was suffice to make things right.

Revisiting that  last conversation and meeting with Aaron I know I could never take it  back or do anything to make it right. Eventually it did  become a turning point in how I began to view each “last” conversation with all of my children.

If there  any misunderstandings, bad feelings, harsh words, negative body language or anything that caused tension at the end of any exchange with any of my children no matter how old or how far away they lived, I made every effort to make it a priority to get things right, ASAP.

I would usually call, text or email my apologies, say I was sorry for how we ended our last encounter and try to move on. I’m so thankful my kids understand me and are always quick to forgive. Even if it wasn’t my fault. Ha

Of course this parenting technique is probably not the best example to follow but it has worked for me.

It’s not a permanent solution but I am completely happy with band-aid tactics until I am comfortable with knowing that not every disagreement and argument is going to lead to someone going over the edge.

But it does leave me with a peaceful feeling knowing me and my kids are good.

 

From The Heart

On April 29, 2008 my son Aaron walked against the traffic on the main highway leading out of town. Head bent down texting a friend, “it’s over”, he then walked in front of a truck and was killed instantly. Aaron was 28 years old, I was 59.

Six & a half years later I am starting this blog writing about my personal experiences as a father who lost a son. It’s not about  Aaron and what he did and why he did it. I can’t speak for him. It’s not about his mother or brothers and sisters whose loss was in no way any less traumatic for them as it was for me. I can’t speak for them nor do I  feel I have the right to.

But I do intend to be as honest about his suicide and its effect on my life.

I write in hope that I might be able to connect with others who may have had the same experience or who knows someone who did. I believe we are put on this earth to help each other in some way make sense of the truth in our lives whatever that may be.

At the same all these memories and experiences are like pieces to a puzzle. As I write, I hope each piece will find its way into the bigger picture.

I had to decide whether to write a private journal that I might someday turn into a book or a blog that I can immediately share my experiences with others who could use some solidarity and companionship through someone who has been subject to the same grief, heartbreak, anger, compassion, understanding and unconditional love because of the loss of a well-beloved child.

They say time is a great healer and for me this has been true. I tested my emotional metal by watching a video clip that a family friend put together for us to play at Aaron’s funeral. He used a song from one of Aaron’s favorite bands along with photos from birth to a grown man.  In the six and a half years that followed I tried to watch it again one time about a year after his death. I got no further than the first few photos before I had to turn it off.

When I decided to write this blog I wanted to see how strong I have grown since that fateful day by watching this video clip once again. The turmoil that erupted inside was no less violent than the day he died, but I made it to the end. I had come a very long way.

When I was twenty two I was camping in the mountains of New Jersey for an extended period of time. I was going through the DIM (do it myself phase in my life) I had this massive hunting knife that made Crocodile Dundee’s double-edged look like a pen knife.

I was making my own bread at the time. This particular loaf was hard as a rock. I tried to slice a piece and my knife bounced off the bread into my index finger. It cut deep and hurt like the dickens.When my finger sewed itself up the cut must have damaged a nerve because  whenever I touched it I felt a sharp pain. For many years that followed the pain from this cut was still quite evident and constant.

Eventually the pain subsided but the small  scar remains to this day which reminds me of the mishap forty-four years ago.

The pain from Aaron’s death is still very painful  when I allow myself to touch it. It is getting easier as each day or month passes but the scar I know will remain forever.

Everyone has their own way of mourning the death of a loved one. Everyone has their own healing process.

If I can help make that process easier for others by sharing my story then this blog will be worth its weight in gold.

Thanks for visiting,

Sammy