Archive for March, 2011

Death and Taxes

I got my taxes done today. It was painful, and not just because I came out owing a sizable chunk of change.

First, I spent all Saturday afternoon gathering everything up to take to my tax preparer. This meant digging through folders of old receipts and pouring over bank statements from the first part of last year… when my husband was still alive, when we had big dreams for the fledgling business we’d launched the previous year. It stirred up a lot of memories and difficult emotions, and more than once I had to take a break from the task  just to sit and cry for a little while.

And then today, headed for H&R Block after work, I drove right past the mortuary. The place where my father-in-law broke down sobbing when we first talked to the funeral director. The place where we said our goodbyes, his parents and me, at a private viewing they arranged just for us, before the cremation. The place where we filled the chapel to standing room only for his memorial service.

It wasn’t the memorial service I first thought of when I passed and saw the sign. My first thought was, “This is the last place I saw him.” I remembered it so clearly, how he looked so peaceful lying on that table, his eyes closed, as if he were sleeping. They’d done a wonderful job cleaning him up, though they couldn’t hide the dark bruises around his eyes. They didn’t do any makeup because there wasn’t going to be a public viewing, and for that I was thankful. He looked like himself, though more still than he with all his restless energy had ever been, even in sleep. It was only when I touched his skin and he felt cold that the reality was driven home. So I touched his hair instead, ran my fingers through it gently, thinking that his hair would be cold like this on a winter’s day up in the mountains, visiting my parents maybe. The memory was so clear today, as I drove by, that I felt an absurd temptation to turn in the driveway of the mortuary… as if somehow I might find him still lying there, waiting.

I swallowed the intense emotions that welled up, though they choked me, and managed to make it to my appointment on time and without tears.

Going over everything with my tax preparer, as sweet and thoughtful as she is, brought up more difficult emotions. I earned very little money last year because I only worked for about three months. When I handed her the 1099 form from my IRA distribution, she commented that it was a good thing I had savings. “This is it,” I said. “That’s all there was, the last of my retirement savings, and it’s gone now.” I was startled by the bitterness of my tone.

When I left H&R Block, $448 poorer (tax preparation fees) and with vouchers to pay the IRS $1375 and the Franchise Tax Board of California another $1600, I felt like I’d been clubbed over the head. I knew I was going to get hit with a tax bill, due to the early withdrawal penalty on the IRA, but I’d hoped my business losses would help cushion the blow. They did, but not enough. Paying this bill is going to wipe out the very last of my savings, drain me right down to hand-to-mouth.

In the car I acknowledged, for the first time, that I am angry with him. I’m angry that I drained my retirement savings to invest in our new business, on the promise that we would have his pension to live on when we got old, only to find that there IS no pension for me. I’m angry that I believed in his dream enough to invest my life savings in it, but he didn’t believe in it enough to stick around and keep trying to make it come true. I’m angry that he left me with no will, no life insurance, no pension… nothing but a mountain of debt so high that I can’t even see the top. I’m angry that he left me.

Maybe that’s not fair, but right now that’s how I feel.


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What’s cookin’?

I never really learned to cook. Both my husband and my previous long-term partner loved to cook, and I didn’t… so I didn’t. My husband was a fantastic, creative cook. He could make everything from the world’s best homemade beef stew to exotic Asian dishes, without once referring to a recipe. When he didn’t feel like cooking, we got takeout. I was responsible for making dinner maybe once every couple of months, and it was usually something from a box, like Rice-a-Roni.

After he died, friends brought food for me and all the family who came for the memorial service. I remember standing at the counter dishing up a casserole and thinking, “Damn it. I’m going to have to learn to cook now.” I resented that. The loss of my husband’s home cooking was a reminder of all else that I had lost — his constant, unwavering support, his backrubs, his love — and I couldn’t deal with it. When the covered dishes stopped coming, I subsisted on frozen dinners and takeout for months.

When I moved into my new apartment in January, I decided it was time to start eating better. I have a great kitchen here, with lots of counter space and a good stove. I stocked my cupboards with all the basics, stocked my freezer with meat and seafood, and set out to teach myself how to cook.

I’ve started simple — casseroles, pot roast in the crock pot, meat loaf. Not every recipe has turned out well, but they’ve all been at least edible and some have been really good. And while I miss my husband’s cooking, I’m finding that I actually enjoy preparing my own food. Chopping vegetables while listening to jazz or classical music is a meditative activity. And doing something that my love enjoyed so much makes me feel closer to him.

I’m building my confidence in the kitchen, and to challenge myself to keep growing in this area I’ve even joined a Sunday dinner group, a monthly potluck with friends. I spend every Sunday afternoon cooking now anyway, and a good meal is much more enjoyable when it’s shared.

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“Please Clare… When I am dead, stop waiting and be free… of me.  Put me deep inside you and then go out into the world and live. Love the world and yourself in it, move through it as though it offers no resistance, as though the world is your natural element.” ~ The Time Traveler’s Wife

I confess, I haven’t actually read that book. I saw this quote on another widow’s blog and immediately thought of my husband. It’s the kind of thing he would have said, though perhaps not quite so poetically.

My husband, the love of my life, killed himself just over a year ago. For a while, it felt like he’d killed me too.

The whole of the last year is a hazy blur of shock, grief, depression, and pain. There were happy moments, too, more and more of them as time went on… but it’s only in the last few weeks that I can really feel the fog lifting. I’m only just now returning to sanity, beginning to feel like myself again. As the fog clears, I begin to see my way forward.

It begins by understanding that my love will always be a part of me. He lives in me, in my heart and in my memories, forever. I don’t need to cling to the past, cling to the grief and pain, to keep him close to me. The grief is still there, ebbing and flowing like an eternal tide. I know it’s not gone, that this kind of loss isn’t something you ever get over. I know that I’ll never forget him, never stop loving him. It begins by understanding that the best way to honor him is to go out in the world and live.

Tonight I’m contemplating this new beginning, which feels like a most appropriate thing to do on the first day of spring. I’m thinking about how I can live my life in a way that honors his memory and makes use of the many gifts he gave me. I don’t really know how to do this. I don’t even know who I am anymore, not really. So much of my identity was wrapped up in being a wife and a partner, in being “us,” that it remains for me to discover — or, perhaps, to invent — the identity that is mine alone.

“Perhaps we write toward what we will become from where we are.” (Sarton) That’s what I hope to do with this blog. Stay tuned.

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