Tuesday, March 29, 2022

Death and taxes: In which grief is like malaria and though it serves me rarely, as it turns out I'm an excellent shredder

This past weekend, Nick and I went to his office to work on taxes.

Well, he worked on taxes while I shredded documents.

The time had come to clear out old tax files. So we toted downtown everything related to taxes for us and for my mom from eight years ago and older.

When I was growing up, we burned everything with our information on it. Nothing identifying us was allowed to be discarded.

Lemme tell you how hard my dad embraced shredders when they became a thing. Pretty sure he gifted us all our own wee shredders.

I don't mind shredding. It's not exactly meditative, but there's something calming about the repetitive action and the hum. And it's sort of mindless but you have to pay some attention so you don't jam it.

Plus there's a rhythm to keeping it fed while not overlapping.

Such a good thing I went to grad school.

Anyway, Nick's office has an enormous shredder. It's pretty great in that it can shred wads of paper at once, and you can leave staples in. There's a limit, of course, and sometimes you have to pull really large documents apart. 

I guess I'm easy to impress?


There I was, standing in his hallway in front of the shredding closet on a Sunday afternoon, feeding documents in. 

And then I hit 2009. It was labeled "Betty's taxes 2009."

But when I opened the file, there was my dad's writing.

He was a leftie, with sometimes hard to read, distinctive handwriting.

I hadn't expected this.

But, of course he'd done the taxes, even though he attempted suicide in April and was expecting to die.  Unlike me, who always panicked right before taxes were due, Dad was organized.

And in fact, since he planned his death, though he died in May, of course he'd have done them early so my mom didn't have to.

I hadn't thought about that before.

My chest was tight and my eyes and nose were already prickling as I started leafing through the documents.

And then I came to a handwritten page listing their donations for the year. I don't know why it was the money given to WETA that walloped me, but it did.

Nick found me sitting on the floor of the hallway, sobbing. Absolutely wrecked.

I didn't have any whys or what-ifs. Really, I was just overwhelmed with missing my dad.

I wish so much I still had a voice mail. I wish I had a recording of him laughing.

The soundtrack to that moment was Pink Floyd's "Wish You Were Here".

"How I wish, how I wish you were here..."

Grief is so weird.

I feel like it's like how malaria can live dormant in the body for decades, and then out of the blue you are wracked with a high fever and such. 

Or maybe that's liver flukes. But I'm pretty sure it's malaria.

But really maybe I should just not make analogies and tell it for what it is, which is that I've been living with huge loss and the vicissitudes of grief for coming up on 13 years. 

In the way that grief is random, I don't always feel it. Long swathes of time can go by without it hurting. I can have memories that feel happy, joyful, without them being tinged with sadness or loss.

I can also be in a really healthy place, just going about my day, and then something completely unexpected rips open a little scab I weren't even aware of. All these memories and feelings rush out,  colliding and shifting, like looking through a kaleidoscope. 

They're all swirled together, in one big beautiful feeling of loss and longing.

For me they squeeze my lungs, stick in my throat, and leak out my eyes.

So Nick found me sobbing disconsolately, and I wailed about 2009 and my dad. And he enfolded me in his big old arms and I think I probably snotted on his tee shirt, but he didn't notice because he was wearing a cardigan.

I haltingly and hiccupingly told him that he would have to shred 2009. I just couldn't do it.

Part of me wanted to hold onto it, just because, but I reminded myself that I have myriad keepsakes and I don't need a list of charitable deductions.

Though I do fully support public broadcasting of any variety and I'll forever be grateful to NPR for towing away my albatross.


  1. Marjorie Hale3/31/2022 1:30 PM

    This is really lovely. Thank you for writing it and sharing it.

  2. It must have been SO heart wrenching to see that! Hugs to you dear!


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