Death & Taxes

33 Days of Truth: Day 10

Death & Taxes

Two major events have occurred so far this year that really hit hard and put things into perspective for me. One: My grandma died. Two: I did my tax return, and it’s not pretty.

I do not mean to seem in any way flippant about my grandmother’s passing by grouping it together in the same breath as taxes. But the two things happened in quick succession, back to back, so that I was grieving for the loss of a close loved one at the same time as being b*** slapped back to financial reality with the realization that I owe almost four grand to the IRS.

This double whammy spiraled me into a few weeks of intermittent, tear soaked emotional breakdowns. I came out of it with the sense that life as I knew it was changed forever. And that it was up to me to make that a positive thing. 

When my grandma first went to the hospital in serious decline earlier in the year, I debated whether or not to fly back to the mainland to visit. I was trying to save up for my impending move back to California, and a potential opportunity to travel internationally over the summer as well. A round trip would make a big dent in my savings. I had visited my grandma twice the previous year, including after she had a stroke and the family all converged then, concerned that might be the end. I was on the fence this round. How critical was it? Could I even afford the trip? 

It was silly and frustrating, to be debating on something so important because of a the financial setback. I put off making a decision until I could talk to my grandma about it. She was sent home on hospice. I called. She asked me to please hurry, saying that she wanted to see me and my sister one last time. There wasn’t any need to say more. I booked my flight. 

I stayed less than two days and came right back to Maui. Only four days after, my grandma was gone. 

I’m infinitely grateful that I went. I didn’t know just how much I needed to see her until getting there. It was hard, but gave needed closure. 

Grandma couldn’t speak very well, she struggled to get words out and mumbled a lot. When I started humming the lullaby she sang to me as a little girl, incredibly she started to sing the words. My sister joined in and together the three of us finished with, “You Are My Sunshine”. This happened mere minutes before we both left for the airport to catch our return flight. That’s the final memory of my grandma I get to carry with me. What a treasure. 

My memory is full of treasures from her. It is not a pristine treasure box, though. It’s like Pandora’s box. There is sadness, and heartache, and pain in there, too. 

I feel, in many ways, that losing my grandma actually happened years ago. We had always been close, and grew even more so when I lived with her after high school, while I attended junior college. After college graduation, I began to separate myself from her. I was trying to gain my own independent identity. It got harder and harder to be around her, to connect. I got busy and would go long periods without calling or visiting. Admittedly, I often didn’t want to. I couldn’t stand her clinginess, and her negativity. It was difficult to watch her get old and tired and increasingly unhappy. Selfishly I tried to look away.

I think it was hard for me to reconcile the angel I worshipped as a child with the flawed person I came to know as an adult. It was hard to realize my grandma was human. It was disillusioning, to see her flaws, her imperfections, her insecurity; to be privy to her past of regret and resentment; to to be subject to her guilt trips, her pleas for the attention she was thwarted from receiving as a child; and to bear witness to her hoarding, both physical and emotional. Sadly, resistantly, I watched her light fade. But there was a time in my world when she shone like sunshine.

My family says “I love you” constantly, including whenever we say goodbye, even after a brief phone conversation. We are huggers, too. My grandma is primarily responsible for these abundant expressions of affection. 

She was infinitely patient and unconditional in her love for me. She was so caring and accommodating, always ready and willing to do whatever I asked (and even what I didn’t), always with such love. She would cook, and sing, and tell jokes (she was great at telling jokes), and worry about everybody, including me. Did I have enough to eat? Was I warm enough? Did I bring a jacket? One of the things she asked me every time we talked after I moved to Maui was if I was happy. 

I’m sharing all of this because I wanted to take a moment and be extra vulnerable in the face of death. To share how beautifully and bittersweetly human my grandma was. And maybe how I am that, too. 

Death has a way of reminding us what matters in life. Losing my grandma, I was reminded that I do not have long on this earth to be happy, to enjoy health and vitality and living and loving. It also reaffirmed to me that I want my light to grow more brightly as I age, not less. 

My light has been pretty dim the last few months. A lot of that has to do with overworking and struggling through my efforts to become debt free. I was hitting the refresh button on this, giving myself a needed break, looking forward to a lighthearted summer in California and an exciting possibility of travel; so I had hesitated to get a flight to see my grandma, because of money. I was hesitating again to book my one-way ticket home, waiting for the timing to be right. Unwittingly, I bought it within the same hour of her passing. It seemed like it was all connected, somehow.

Then, shortly after that, the tax bomb dropped. Like whoa. 

It’s embarrassing to admit that I did not see it coming. Apparently I don’t know what I don’t know, until I owe. Story of my life!

I spent over a year buckling down with multiple jobs, dumping extra payments onto my student loans (upwards of two grand, some months), trying to make progress there, only to find out that in the process I accrued additional debt in the form of taxes. I had tried to save, but things came up that drained almost everything I had stockpiled up (including major car repairs, as well as the trip back to see my grandma). 

Looking at the numbers of my tax return, I felt defeated. How the hell would I ever get ahead? Despair turned to anger. I was fed up with overworking at jobs that sucked up all my time and energy, just to try and dig myself out of a hole I kept sinking further into. Is this how was I going to spend my life, and then I’d die and game over? 

And then it hit me. I was playing the wrong game. 

I thought I would find freedom in discipline, hard work, and doubling down my efforts to get on the other side of debt. Throwing hours and dollars at the mountain until it fell. I know other people have gotten out of debt that way. But I am beginning to see a different path unfolding under my feet.

I haven’t been living the way I want; withholding creativity and self-expression, while more and more of life is passing me right by. There has to be a sweeter medium. I need to change the approach, play a different game, create new rules. To cultivate as much of the kind of life I want to live as possible now, not later. 

Death is around the corner. The longer I delay in walking a path that is full of heart, that involves contribution to the world and fulfilling the purpose I’m here for, the less time I will have to do that. I will never win the game of life by deferring my enjoyment and fulfillment of it to another day. 

Before death comes, I want to say I lived, not that I paid my taxes. (Don’t worry, I’ll still pay them!) I’m not certain how I’m going to do this and not get buried financially. Maybe I’ll make more mistakes and never get ahead. But I think, and am beginning to trust, that my heart will guide me in a direction I won’t regret. 

In the aftermath of death and taxes, I hit bottom, where I found the inner strength and solid ground to pick myself back up. And I’m realizing that’s really where I found the idea for this personal growth challenge.

33 Days of Truth

This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine.

“In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” 

– Ben Franklin

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