Russia’s ‘loneliest woman’

by WCE

Helicopter rescue for Russia’s ‘loneliest woman’ who shuns modern civilisation

When I read this article about a woman who was born in Siberia after her family fled Stalinist persecution in 1936 and who recently requested medical assistance, I thought about how lonely her life is and how much trade benefits humanity. I especially thought about language (when discovered, her language was stilted from not having talked to other people) and metals (their cooking pots had disintegrated, making cooking difficult). I was happy that the governor has given her a satellite phone and regular gifts of food and clothing to make her life less difficult in her old age.

This article appeared at about the same time that bklurker posted about how speech signifies class, and how speech changes over time. I’ve read that distinct accents have emerged in North and South Korea since 1953. What does this article make you think about?

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69 thoughts on “Russia’s ‘loneliest woman’

  1. If you don’t know any different, there’s no drive to change, right? I don’t find it odd, necessarily that the family stayed there for all those years since they were together. She clearly has survival skills. Interesting but I would not say sad. And, is she truly lonely?

  2. She may not be lonely because she has no one else to compare her life to but I do think it’s a little sad. She’s fortunate she gets the medical care and food she’s needed as it sounds like her siblings weren’t as lucky.

  3. I agree with Fred to a point. I think before all her family members died that she was likely not lonely. I wonder what the parents intended to do…not ever give the children the opportunity to meet others and marry or have children of their own? Clearly the older two children had some idea that the world was not just their isolated life, but the younger children would not have known any other life.

    She may or may not be lonely, its hard to say, but the article seems to say that she does not attempt to avoid those whose come to her, only that she is unwilling to initiate the contact. I wonder after her stint in hospital if she will be as keen to be alone as she has in the past.

    I think our society assumes that any time you are alone you are lonely and any time you are with others you are not. I think this is false. I have tried to get my children to feel comfortable being alone and separate that feeling from being lonely. I aslo want them to understand that if you can be in a large group of people and interacting every day and still be lonely if you have not connected at an emotional level with any of them.

  4. The part about the family eating their own shoes sort of killed any romantic notions of the lifestyle. I think that even Thoreau was just a brisk walk from town when he needed provisions or an excuse to shoot the bull with someone.

  5. The article Rhett posted distinguishes between lonely and depressed, which is a distinction that probably applies to individuals like this woman. Feral cats introduced to human society after the age of 12 weeks usually (despite some anecdotal evidence from British Columbia) cannot be socialized to live as domestic pets. By then humans are irrevocably imprinted as predators and the animal would be spending the rest of its life in a de facto prison, even if it learns not to do active harm to people or property. Something similar applies to someone raised in this very unusual environment.

  6. The article brought to mind how terribly brutal communistic/socialistic governments have been through the course of the 20th century. Given a choice between extreme deprivation and isolation and going back to their previous life, they chose the tiaga.

  7. Lonely people seemed inadvertently hypervigilant to social threats. Rather poignantly, such thinking itself most likely makes the loneliness worse, he says, by nudging the lonely to ‘‘unknowingly act in a more defensive, hostile way toward the others with whom they would like to connect.’’

    Re the link that Rhett posted — I read about this study somewhere else, and I could relate to taking things too personally when I was feeling lonely or sad. An innocent remark from someone, like for example “I don’t like going to Starbucks”, can somehow get blown up to mean that person doesn’t want to hang out with me because I happen to like going to Starbucks. So then the lonely person’s negative or defensive reaction only serves to isolate them more.

  8. This made me think of instant translation. Not sure why. No need to look up a phrase book when you travel. Would we still insist on a foreign language requirement in schools or would it go the way of cursive ?

  9. Louise, having used some of the translation apps, I think there is still a lot of room for improvement. It’s enough to get directions to the nearest restaurant, but that kind of technology is not going to help you build a relationship with your MIL or function in an office.

    If foreign language study is required as a sort of intellectual hoop to jump through, than it will still serve that function. Plus I think it really is necessary if you want to have a professional or personal relationship of any depth with a non-English speaker.

  10. ” Given a choice between extreme deprivation and isolation and going back to their previous life, they chose the tiaga.”

    I watched Finding Your Roots last night, with a piece on Frank Gehry and his Russian ancestors, and a recent PBS show on Jewish immigration to America. My husband’s family left Cuba in the 60s, sending their young children ahead to be joined, it turned out, about a year later.

    It’s hard to imagine, as I sit here in my office drinking Starbucks, what life must have been like to make you decide to leave your country, with little to nothing, and restart your life in your 40s, my age, with your children. And in my inlaws case, to send your children ahead.

  11. It’s enough to get directions to the nearest restaurant, but that kind of technology is not going to help you build a relationship with your MIL or function in an office.

    I think she might mean this:

    Microsoft has unveiled their new Skype Translator technology that they say can decode languages in real-time.
    It means that during video calls the speech recognition software will allow two callers from different countries to talk with ease.

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2641653/Dont-bother-learning-foreign-language-Skype-soon-let-translate-spoken-foreign-words-real-time.html

  12. And I would let the woman from the taiga make her own choices, as they seem to have done, while indicating that she would be welcome to participate more in the community if she wished.

    There are Manhattanites living lives that are just as emotionally isolated, and we don’t demand that they open up to us. (Well, most of us don’t :) )

  13. But isn’t there necessarily some sort of delay? And it forces you to use Skype (which I *hate* because it means I have to look at myself – you are all going to tell me there is some way to shut that off, but we use it for calls to DH’s family so I’m never the one setting it up).

    DS has been using a translation app to communicate with a preschool classmate who doesn’t speak English, and apparently they are a hoot to watch. But he’s not learning much of her language.

  14. I think foreign language study improves understanding and command of English.

    At my kids’ school, they don’t just study the language. They also study the culture.

    I don’t see the foreign language going away any time soon, at least at their school.

  15. “I think foreign language study improves understanding and command of English.”

    ITA

    DD’s ES is starting a language immersion program starting in kindergarten. We are not sending DS to kindergarten next year but I would definitely consider him doing it when he starts the following year. I think it’s so neat! I wish it was going to be French, but they’re considering either Spanish or Mandarin..

  16. From the OP link:

    “scientists reporting that Agafya spoke a strange blurred language ‘distorted by a lifetime of isolation’.”

    My guess is that the language was not distorted, but rather is exactly as it was spoken elsewhere in 1936, at which point their version was frozen.

  17. I was just in the local supermarket, and I witnessed how useful it is to speak another language. One of the workers got hurt, and she only spoke Spanish. The managers were using a co-worker to translate, but then they wanted to take her to an urgent care. They had to find someone to go with her that could speak both languages even though my experience at urgent care is that they usually have someone that speaks Spanish. They had to find someone else that was bilingual to take the witness reports from one of her coworkers that appeared to only speak Spanish.

    A similiar incident happend to me in a different supermarket before the blizzard when I was trying to buy fresh pizza dough, and I couldn’t locate it. Three different people in the bakery department tried to speak to me in Spanish until they realized that I didn’t understand the directions. They finally walked me to the one person that did speak English in the bakery. She takes the cake orders so I knew she would be able to understand my request for directions.

    I really wish I took Spanish when I was in HS and college instead of French.

  18. This article reminded me about the story Milo posted regarding the cat burglar in ME who lived in the woods and only stole what he needed. Both stories resonated for different reasons (though they both had issues with language and social interactions). The OP because she’s never known any better, this is just her life. Milo’s article because he chose to go off the grid.

    I’ve been curious on how their minds work. What prompts those decisions? And for the lady in the OP, why the choice to go to a hospital? She must have known how difficult it would be for her to be in society, after so many years of not being with people.

    I always like to fantasize that I could just get away and stay on a well-supplied deserted island for ever. I don’t think I could be alone for so long though. Even when I feel lonely emotionally (and I have a great ability to be alone in a crowded room), I know that physically I’m not alone. I don’t think I’ve ever been in a situation where I was truly alone long enough to get bearings on my emotional state.

    Thinking further on being alone and lonely, I wonder about how people see me, or if I’m noticed at all. Like at a party, would my absence be noted? Have I made a significant emotional connection enough that I would be missed by one person? And if I haven’t, why is that? On the flip side, have I forgotten anyone? Would I be able to pinpoint who’s missing from my life? There are more thoughts down this rabbit hole… sorry for the stream of consciousness

  19. And for the lady in the OP, why the choice to go to a hospital?

    The unbearable pain in her legs?

  20. But, on the other hand:

    http://www.mercurynews.com/ci_19768994?source=infinite-up

    This is a story about a guy named Phil Gustafson. He was hugely popular in the online world, especially a couple of Usenet groups I used to frequent. He had tons of friends — he just didn’t see them in person much, by choice. The members of the online groups were absolutely furious about the writer’s representation of Phil as some sort of pathetic hermit. He wasn’t. He just didn’t socialize in person much.

  21. RMS,

    With Facebook’s $2 billion purchase of Oculus VR, I can only assume a lot more socializing will be virtual in 10 to 20 years? When we’re in assisted living, we’ll all hang out together on a virtual deck overlooking Lake Como discussing the issues of the day.

  22. Lonely people seemed inadvertently hypervigilant to social threats. Rather poignantly, such thinking itself most likely makes the loneliness worse, he says, by nudging the lonely to ‘‘unknowingly act in a more defensive, hostile way toward the others with whom they would like to connect.’’

    Maybe that helps explain the unhappily single people I know? Thinking back, there have been times where they will meet someone and then overreact to some slight.

  23. “Thinking back, there have been times where they will meet someone and then overreact to some slight.”

    Like a woman having man hands, or a weird laugh, or a face that looks less attractive in different lighting, or hair that’s too thick–or thin, or not placing one another high enough on the speed dial, or a guy painting his face for NHL games, listening to Jesus music (or Desperado)..,

  24. I love Desperado. Ohhh, the 1970’s Eagles {swoon}!
    See, there’s someone for everyone.

  25. Rhett –

    “The Machine Stops” is a science fiction short story (12,300 words) by E. M. Forster. 1909. Each individual now lives in isolation below ground in a standard ‘cell’, with all bodily and spiritual needs met by the omnipotent, global Machine. Travel is permitted but unpopular and rarely necessary. Communication is made via a kind of instant messaging/video conferencing machine with which people conduct their only activity: the sharing of ideas and what passes for knowledge.

    CoC – Sent you three posts.

  26. RMS, Carnegie Hall rents to a lot of music schools and competitions – a kindergartener at DD’s school has played there through her music teacher.

    Amy Chua is usually very savvy, so I was surprised she played up that concert so much in the Tiger Mom book. Saved her from waiting to publish until the girls got into Harvard, though :)

  27. superbowl hijack – how many of you are going to watch the Puppy Bowl? My kids are all stoked for that one!

  28. My daughter is all over the Puppy Bowl. This year she won’t even have to argue about whether it’s time to change the channel back to the Seahawks! But one of her brothers might try to switch over to the Kitten Bowl . . .

  29. DD mentioned that one kid in chorus had performed in NYC at the Carnegie Hall. I was surprised because from Amy Chua, I had gotten the impression that one had to be at a very high level to perform there. My kids are now at the point where they can perform locally as part of their activities. However, if these are not part of the school day, we can only make a few as the logistics become difficult and incompatible with my normal schedule.

  30. That Corporette post was too distracting – almost forgot DD needed to get on the bus!

    There were several people I knew in BigLaw and consulting who felt like that after a while: what good is all the money if you have no one to share it with because you have no time for a relationship?

    Since that’s the train of thought that led me to full-time motherhood, I strongly suggest changing your life in smaller steps: change something about your job first, then if that doesn’t work go part time for a year or two, then try a smaller firm in your field, then quit. Do not go directly from a high-powered 60 hours a week to Starbucks life. You might realize you hate it or that you really do need the money, and then it can be very difficult to get back to where you were.

  31. L – It’s fascinating how small the Internet quickly becomes. That sub-thread veered off into a MMM debate. BTW, the woman who said “I’m an actuary, what are your credentials?” is the type of person I loathe most in this world:

    Ok babe, you need to calm down. It’s wonderful that you are worth a mil. I’m sorry to tell you that is not enough to quit the rat race and retire at 35.

    You’ve never worked full time at Starbucks and you’ve never lived in a cottage in a remote area with a solitary existence. These ideas are called “escape fantasies” and they are just that – fantasies.

    Your salary has tripled in 5 years so your career has not stagnated. You are just at a plateau. Who cares about titles?

    Can you do the same work but travel more? If not at your company, perhaps as a consultant?

    Can you lateral or even submarine to a different area of your company to learn something new?

    You can shake things up without throwing everything out. Most of us do that from time to time. It keeps life interesting.

    And if you really, REALLY want to meet someone and get married, you can do that too. You just have to apply the same vigor to that as you have your job, with the caveat that no one is perfect, nor are you. Meeting people through your hobby isn’t working, so get yourself out there in another way – eharmony or a matchmaking service – and take some risks. Go on dates with people you think are not a match. Everyone is worth a cup of coffee or a sandwich in a diner.

    All in all, you are having a bad day/month/year but it does not mean that this is how the rest of your life will be.

    Reply

    Anonymous :

    02/03/2016 at 5:41 pm

    Huge over-generalization to say a million is not enough to retire on. I mean, it depends where you want to live and what you want to do/own, but there are certainly cities in the US where you can easily retire on a million, if you invest well and are able to live frugally. It doesn’t have to be places that are stereotypically “LCOL” either…there are single family homes in Hawaii for well less than half a million and you could easily pay for long-term travel by renting the house when you’re gone. And of course there are lots of LCOL area most people don’t save a million by 65…plenty of them still manage to retire.

    Reply

    Anon :

    02/03/2016 at 5:59 pm

    Big BIG difference between retiring at age 35 with a million and age 65 with a million. I’m an actuary. What are your credentials?

    Reply

    Anonymous :

    02/03/2016 at 6:35 pm

    Umm, I know how to do math? There’s no difference between retiring at 35 vs. retiring at 65 if you’re only living on interest and not drawing down the principal. It entirely depends on what amount she can live on. And if she has a hobby job where she makes enough money to live off of (e.g., $40k a year), maybe she doesn’t even need to touch the $1m in the bank at all and then it can just keep growing.

    anon :

    02/03/2016 at 6:00 pm

    She’s talking about retiring with a million…. at 35.

    That seems unrealistic.

    Reply

    Blonde Lawyer :

    02/03/2016 at 7:36 pm

    Check out Mr. Money Mustache. How much you need in retirement depends on your cost of living. Many people can live very fulfilling lives in a minimalist style. She also doesn’t need to retire for life.

    Anonymous :

    02/03/2016 at 8:36 pm

    But very possible. I retired at 37 with 1 million. Single woman. And my net worth continues to grow.

  32. @Sky — ITA! I thought she was really fixated on the parts she hated about her job/life and the parts she would love of her proposed new Starbucks life, and she wasn’t paying attention to the parts she enjoyed about her current life that would change if she went from $400K/yr to $15K/yr, or the parts she would hate about working for Starbucks (that article we discussed here about their scheduling system that requires split shifts and close-one-night/open-the-next-morning comes to mind). But I think when you have gotten that far down into the death spiral, your vision narrows and you just can’t see broadly enough to be objective until it gets to the point that *anything* has to be better than this.

    I also caught a whiff of fatalism/I’m-doomed-to-Starbucks-and-a-lonely-cottage-because-everything-else-has-failed. I find it hard to believe that there’s *nothing* else out there between $15K and $400K. I mean, if you go interview with a smaller/less prestigious place and say, “look, I’ve been working 80 hrs/week and making a ton of $, but I’m burned out and want to work 40 hrs/week and am willing to take a big pay cut to get some of my life back,” I just can’t believe that no one out there will give you a second glance. And that *all* the good men are gone. And if they are, or if the job hunt isn’t going well, why not move to a different city where you’re not surrounded by 20-somethings who make you feel old and out-of-place, since you don’t have any ties there anyway? Etc. I thought the career coach/therapist suggestions were really helpful, because her current thought process is not helping her (BTDT).

  33. Yes, death spiral of doom thinking –> bad career moves. BTDT :)

    I’m with the actuary who says retiring with a million at 35 is probably a bad idea for this lady. It sounds like she has not tried the MMM super-frugal lifestyle, and it is not something everyone enjoys.

    What does MMM say about preparing for medical expenses?

    You can certainly buy medical insurance for one on the interest of $1MM and live very frugally on the rest, but that is not going to keep you from spending down a lot of principal if you get a cancer diagnosis. My friend had a stage 1 diagnosis and a gold-plated policy and she still spent tens of thousands.

  34. Sky – I agree that it can be done, but she probably hasn’t demonstrated to herself that she would be comfortable with it. OTOH, if you throw in any sort of low-stress job, that changes the calculus significantly.

    Regardless, the expert actuary could simply offer those points rather than trying to shut down the conversation by stating her credentials. People who are comfortable with a topic, and confident in themselves, don’t need to do that.

  35. It’s fascinating how small the Internet quickly becomes.

    Um… I think that lady is my neighbor.

  36. I’m attractive enough, but nobody I’m interested in is interested in me

    I think that’s her problem. She needs to find a nice nerdy engineer or accountant with a 9-5 job at the power company who maybe doesn’t have a lot of curb appeal but has a heart of gold.

  37. Interesting post L – my recommendation would be to make changes gradually. I wouldn’t advice chucking it all one fine day. When I have time I will go through the responses.

  38. Rhett – Your analysis suggests that she has to come to terms with the fact that, although she slaved away between the ages of 14-35 to end up in a top 0.25% career trajectory, if she wants to land a husband, she needs to lower her specs to about top 10%. And you’d probably say that, ironically, she’s well into the region where increased professional success is driving down her romantic prospects.

  39. She eventually admits she’s mostly depressed about being single. And there are definitely days (I remember them well!) when you think that there simply aren’t any decent men left, or at least no decent men who will like you back. It’s very easy to get defeatist at that point.

  40. I was browsing a wedding registry for an engagement gift, and I came across an appliance that i wasn’t familiar with – SousVide. It’s almost $500 so I was intrigued to find out what this item does in a kitchen. It looks interesting, but it’s not for me. The bride is really into cooking so I guess i shouldn’t be surprised that she registered for this item. BTW, this wedding is going to take me to one of the 9 states that I still haven’t been to yet in the US. I am happy for them, but I just wish their wedding didn’t coincide with the week of my milestone bday.

  41. if she wants to land a husband, she needs to lower her specs to about top 10%.

    She needed to lower them 10% when she was 25. Now that she’s 35, she needs to lower them at least 50%.

  42. I think she needs to evaluate what being with a partner means. This may automatically evolve into less time on the job and more personal time. Sometimes you don’t realize that decent paying jobs with more of a balance can be had because you really didn’t need to look for one. If she wants a partner, she should focus on that, her job situation will follow.

  43. Lauren, I love my sous vide. I’m going to make St. Louis ribs in the sous vide tonight. It’s very easy once you get the hang of it. And the Anova sous vide appliance is under $200, so I don’t know why the bride wants the $500 one.

  44. I thought a lot of her post sounded like depression talking…her horizons had narrowed so much that it was either 400K/year, or Starbucks.

    Rhett – 50% like looking in a bar in Eastie or Lowell for the nice HVAC technicians? :)

  45. “It’s very easy to get defeatist at that point.” — Yep. And then you circle back to CoC’s comment about behavior leading to self-fulfilling prophesies, because if you assume going into a date that there must be something wrong with someone, confirmation bias will ensure that you find it.

    @Milo — agree re: “what are your credentials” — I hate it when someone undermines a valid point by being an @$$*** about it.

  46. Rhett – 50% like looking in a bar in Eastie or Lowell for the nice HVAC technicians? :)

    An HVAC technician with a heart of gold!

  47. I’m curious how someone with a “goldplated” policy ends up with tens of thousands of medical expenses. I’m not being super contrarian, I just don’t get it. The one year we had half 1 million in medical expenses, we had an HMO. Our out-of-pocket cost was under $500. Due to lack of sick leave, I lost tens of thousands of dollars, but the actual cash was much smaller. More standard insurance policies are supposed to limit out-of-pocket expenses to $6000 per person. I would expect with a Fancy policy that should be less.

    From what I’ve seen on MMM, healthcare is afforded the same amount of optimism as being able to bike for groceries forever. There is not a lot of focus on dealing with chronic illness. I think the mantra is to just stay healthy. For the population that reads the website, this is probably highly effective for the next decade or two. I believe, in many states, Medicaid is based on income, not assets. That would certainly be an option for someone with 1 million in the bank and no paid employment.

  48. On second thought, CoC, could you please delete that last comment? No reason to have his DW’s name spelled out for Google searches.

  49. I might go so far to say that the skilled, certified, hardworking, steadily employed HVAC techs earning $55-65k in TN plus overtime are comfortably above the 50th percentile of 35-year-old males.

  50. DD2 (35 in DC area), who was not particularly looking or interested in kids, seems to have found a nice construction project manager. But she has a non threatening job and modest financial resources to compensate for her strong personality, weird hobbies and intellectual firepower. Lots of her same age friends are getting married now, not earlier, but there are also lots of singles. DD1 did leave her job a while ago in the finance rat race to retool with a lot of the same issues about wanting a balanced life and a family (although she always dated and is quite attractive in the SoCal fashion), and encountered a lot of the problems with finding a less stressful job. At first, no one thought she was serious about the less exalted positions, and then the consulting/out of work time extended to a length where employers figure she is damaged goods. So she is working with former colleagues in a start up, living in a friend’s spare apartment, doing some side work, focussing a lot of time as chairman of the board at a nonprofit, some dating, and is getting by financially, only occasionally dipping into her accumulated funds (not MMM retirement balance). She was advised to move to find a husband, but decided after a lot of self examination that making this the sole focus was a very bad idea. When you change cities, you bring yourself along.

  51. There has to be middle ground between the not marriage material finance douches and Hvac techs for some compatibility purposes. Also from what I have seen, people in blue collar professions get married at much younger age, so the odds of finding someone in her age range are low. Maybe she will have better luck in the accountant pool.

    Our conversations here too, go around to finances and its matter of time before someone mentions SATs and NMSF.

  52. I’m curious how someone with a “goldplated” policy ends up with tens of thousands of medical expenses. I’m not being super contrarian, I just don’t get it.

    I agree – that doesn’t add up.

  53. She needed/preferred to go out of network to MSKCC for some advice because of the rarity of the form of cancer she had – her in-network providers had only dealt with the more common form and suggested she go there for second opinions. She also went there for one of her surgeries.

    Another friend had her micro-preemie in a hospital that was in-network when she chose her OB, but went out of network a few weeks before the baby arrived (three months early). Now her insurance and the hospital are fighting over the bills – again, best insurance money can buy.

    She’s received bills for over $1.5M for the baby’s care. In theory they could sell their house and make installment payments because they are totebaggers with high incomes, so the hospital isn’t looking at the more typical can’t-get-blood-from-a-stone situation and isn’t backing down.

  54. “Another friend had her micro-preemie in a hospital that was in-network when she chose her OB, but went out of network a few weeks before the baby arrived (three months early). ”

    This situation threatened to happen to us with #3, but even in that case, the letter we got stated that if you were already pregnant and being seen by a dr. in that system, that hospital would remain in-network, and I’m pretty sure that happened well before the age of viability. Ultimately, cooler heads prevailed and the two companies worked out a deal.

    Our prescription coverage provider has also fought with Walgreens, and temporarily booted them out of the network. Now they’re fighting with Patient First, although PF said that as long as you were already a patient with them, they’ll continue to treat you.

  55. ” there are single family homes in Hawaii for well less than half a million and you could easily pay for long-term travel by renting the house when you’re gone.”

    Doing that would probably be illegal. Most AirBnB, VRBO, and BnB type rentals here are illegal; only a small number are actually licensed. The conversion of housing to illegal vacation rentals are a major contributor to housing shortage and homelessness here.

  56. “There’s no difference between retiring at 35 vs. retiring at 65 if you’re only living on interest and not drawing down the principal.”

    Someone is apparently not familiar with the concept of inflation. Perhaps not with current interest rates either.

  57. “her horizons had narrowed so much that it was either 400K/year, or Starbucks.”

    Actually, this one sounded pretty good:
    “I could Lean Back and continue with my employer indefinitely, making at least $300k per year.”

  58. “Someone is apparently not familiar with the concept of inflation. Perhaps not with current interest rates either.”

    I think she uses the term interest loosely, and is really suggesting dividends.

  59. I think we should reconsider what we call “goldplated” insurance policies if they do not cover the local NICU or cancer referral center.

  60. Ada, one policy is from a university with a regionally well-known medical center and the other is from one of the global banking giants. On paper, the policies are great – low copays, low deductibles, no referral requirements – certainly better than our policy.

    But in both cases going OON created big problems. If they had stayed in-network the bills would not have been an issue.

    My union relatives may have better coverage, but I’m not sure because none of them have had huge claims. Fingers crossed I never find out.

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