Death and taxes

Things have been humming along in my little world. Work, gym, more work, more gym. There is a lot of other stuff in between, but the bigger events seem to revolved around work, exercise and the better health quest.

M and I have been trying to declutter, although it is slow going. Where I am a slash-and-burn sort of toss first, contemplate later type decluttered, M is more a contemplate, ponder, let sit, contemplate more … and then decide to keep anyway sort of person. Not a lot of progress being made where it’s “our” stuff or “his” stuff. Our stuff, slightly more than his stuff, but still not enough stuff leaving the homestead to satisfy me.

I have become an expert at counting to 10 and reminding myself that I love this man and that compromise is part of life and happy marriages. I still wonder why it must be that way. Why can’t he’s just nod, smile, agree with me and pitch crap into the donation boxes and bags?

After nearly 4 years, I am finally dealing with the last of the stuff I kept from my mom’s house. Considered how much she had crammed into that little house, I actually retained very little. Most of it is sentimental, but really, what do I do with photo albums of people I don’t know and cannot identify? What do I do with 6 photo albums full of photographs from my sister’s wedding showers and wedding? The 26 total pictures from my first wedding and showers are tucked away somewhere in these boxes, but it is a painful reminder of the inequality of child rearing. Then again, it could be an oldest/youngest thing as well. There are definitely more pictures of my oldest as a baby than the younger 2, but I have never been much of a photographer and their dad and his family have far more photos than I do. I can live with that.

But the pics of my sister – I thought one of her boys might want them, but I cannot reach either of them at the moment. There are some other personal papers to be shredded, but I will keep their birth and death certificates for awhile to come. There are also a couple of pictures of my very young parents that I may have framed to hang in the house.

Funny, but I never saw my parents wedding album until after my mom died, and now I don’t know what to do with it. I might feel more inclined to keep it if I had memories of looking at it with my folks, or even my mom. Now, it’s an album of strangers.

It’s funny to me the things she kept, and the ways she kept them. Since I am not very sentimental, I cannot imagine keeping keepsakes boxed and neatly labeled and never opened after being packed up and put away. Yet there was all sorts of stuff like that in her home. I found lovely clothes still with tags attached that she’d bought 40 years ago that were “too nice” to wear everyday. There were so many things like that in the house – too nice to use for special occasions, and holidays were not quite special enough. I am absolutely sure that attitude fuels my feelings that nice things for special occasions are completely wasted on me. My kids, my closes friends – we have fond memories of special occasions with paper plates and Round Table Pizza. It’s the company that is memorable and important, not the place setting and fancy flatware. I appreciate those things, especially for people who enjoy and pride themselves on setting a fine table. For me, its not a priority.

I feel some sorrow tossing or giving away things she saved and that were somehow important to her yet are completely meaningless to me. Even my daughter’s dolls, when she died 21 years ago next month, hold little sentiment. I did ask C about it, if she’d like me to save for her, but even she said to let them go, because there are no memories of her sister playing with them.

Such a surreal thing that I’m the last one standing in my family of origin.

I have been trying to put our vast quantities of stuff into a fiscal form so that M can better understand my frustration with the stockpile of stuff he might want or need sometime in the future. There is a cost to storing and keep all this miscellaneous crap. Our 2 car garage has shelving on either side completely stuffed to the gills, we have a small storage building out back (fun fact: prior owners were pot growers) that has tools and equipment and stuff that is rarely used, but when he needs it, he needs it. My point: when he needs it we could rent it.

After dealing with my mom’s house and all her stuff, I know I don’t want to leave such a legacy for my own children. M and I are both in good health and do not anticipate expiring soon, but in addition to getting our end-of-life directives, wills, and trust documents prepared and now to be updated for the kids’ marriages last year, decluttering our crap seems in order.

The job is getting done, but not quite at the peppy pacing I would prefer.

Maybe nothing is certain but death and taxes, but ours are done for another year. I did taxes last week, and each year seems to be getting better, inching me closer and closer to breaking even at tax time and knowing I am doing an accurate job with estimated tax payments through the year. This year, we owe the state $287 and will receive $17 back from the IRS, for a net taxes due of $280. I can live with that.

Hopefully it’s a good long life. We have a lot of crap to go through.

 

Letter to an absent friend

Dear Jamie,

It’s been a year since you died, a year of learning to not think in terms of things I want to tell you, a years of remembering over and over that our long friendship has run its natural course. The reality is harsh and makes me feel so sad, yet in my sadness there is much to celebrate. To mourn you, to grieve for your absence reminds me the depth of our connection and my enduring affection for you. It makes me realize again that those I love the most are also those I miss the most. Sadly, there are far too many others that custom and practice indicates I should miss, I should mourn, I should grieve, yet I barely think of them anymore and when I do, it is more in passing that another birthday has passed or a random thought from my childhood or beyond.

But you, I miss you. For purely selfish reasons, I wish you were still here. For another of our holidays lunches, or the emails we would exchange a few times each month. C and then G both married this year, and I thought about you and how you would have enjoyed seeing their pictures and hearing the stories of their individual ceremonies and beyond. Friend J has been seriously ill, and I know he thinks of you often and misses the correspondence as well. I continue with my exercise, have become even more committed and determined that I was the last time I saw you. I remember last year, you saying you much you would like to meet my “young buck” trainer, and my promise to set up a meeting next you were in town. I realize now you likely knew there would be no future lunches, no future visits to town, and how much I did not to want to imagine a world without you in it.

A year has passed. A year of learning to continue without your guidance, wisdom, wit.

Part of me really wishes for one more opportunity to say goodbye, a few minutes in your company to be assure myself that you know how much you meant and continue to mean to me after death. But it is a selfish whim, a fleeting last goodbye to someone so dear to me. Because you knew, have always known, because I am not one to try and conceal my enduring affection from those I love.

I wear Ruth’s pearls frequently, to work mostly, since I am back to a job that requires me to dress like a grown-up. I always remember her telling me that pearls are for every occasion. They are among my precious possessions.

A client gave me a lovely scotch gift set of The MacAllen, your favorite. It made me so sad on Friday, had me in tears at work. Thinking about it though the weekend, I realize you are still with me, always, and the memories will never fade away.

Perhaps that is a the enduring source of my grief, that I fear forgetting those I love. Because I still think that without you and others like you in my life, I would be less than so much dust blowing in the wind.

And so it goes this Sunday, as I quietly celebrate your life. M and I are finally getting our front landscaping started, M’s bestie finally having time to come by and get started. My patience in this endeavor has amazed me, and you would be so proud of me, for that and all the other things I have accomplished this year. In my work and my jobs, in my role as a parent, as a friend and member of my own little tribe, in the life I lead as a regular person. You would beam at my burgeoning confidence in the gym and as it has lent itself to other aspects of my life. Things you used to tell me all the time about my good qualities and the things you liked about me, how hard I would struggle to believe in your sincerity, you’d be happy that I not longer have to struggle so mightily and happily accept it now. Even in death I feel your kind and caring touch.

The year has been a lot of something, a lot of really significant wins that would thill you. I have shed a few tears in my loss today, but for the most part, I have smiled and laughed and remembered all the things we shared through the years. There is so much great stuff there, far too much to be overshadowed by your departure. Because while I will not see you again, I will feel your presence forever.

It’s enough, Jamie. We were the best of friends; we are family. Death will not change that for me.

M and I are about to go out and do some shopping – the landscape center to see about baubles and such for the front lawn. Maybe get some ideas for the fountain I still desire, or a cool garden cow statue, still my favorite animal.

I love you dearly, miss you still. But I am okay, better than okay, and I will continue to grow and to thrive. Because I have and had you as a great mentor, teacher, friend. It’s more than enough. I have enough memories of all you gave me for the balance of my days.

Rest in peace, dear friend. Our world is a smaller place without you in it, yet it continues to expand and to develop as the moments pass. It is just as you predicted and would have wanted. And I am so glad.

Love,
Janelle

 

A case of the sads

Something happened at the office today that is a rare, rare occurrence: I cried. Not just a little eye leakage, the big, wracking, ugly sobs of grief and loss. The sads of December arrived early this year.

Sunday marks a year since my dear friend James died. While I have missed him this past year, the last few months I feel the empty chair at my mental and emotional table with other stresses from other things.

I am not especially sentimental, and while I feel the loss, it is not just the first anniversary that set me off on my remarkably embarrassing emotional breakdown. A very happy and grateful client came in today bearing gifts – a couple of bottles of James’ favorite single malt scotch and cigars for the gents, scotch and chocolates for me. Always through our long friendship, this is what James would give me every year. Every “girl” needs at least a couple of vices to be interesting, he would always say to me with a wink. When his wife was alive she would give him an eye roll and playful tap on the arm, to stop embarrassing me with his flirty, dirty-old-man schtick. They are both gone now, and I miss them both.

The whole emotional breakdown thing is supremely embarrassing for me. I work in an office with mostly men, and I am typically the calmest person in the whole firm. No matter what the crisis, I tend to maintain my composure. Not today, apparently.

I tried to fix my face, but crying takes a toll. One of the partners came in to see if I was okay, and the water works started again, only more neat and confined this time. I told him it was kind of a rough morning in the gym, that I was struggling with upper body exercises, and after my great triumph yesterday it was kind of a let down to not feel supremely confident about something else. It’s absolutely true, but not worth crying over, not anymore. He knows it. I know it. But the sads of December manifest in mysterious ways.

To this big ball of weeping, my daughter’s birthday is tomorrow, and for the first time she lives almost 3000 miles from me. She and A went to DisneyWorld yesterday for an early celebration, and had it not suddenly hit me again with the bottles of single malt staring at me from across the room, I would have been fine today. I am not an overly involved parent, I miss them being just a few exits down the freeway, and we will go visit next year.

If I’m going to burst into tears, I am going to throw everything I have at it and get it over with, so ot all got wound up in the crying bubble today. Things are better now, though. Staff have been tip-toeing in and out of my office to reassure themselves that all is well. It reminds me that my role here is not just to ensure things run smoothly; I have become part of the fabric of this firm and my atypical behavior is unnerving.

While I really want to go immerse myself in the kitchen’s abundance of sugary goodness, I am restraining myself. Parents of one of our associates were in the office yesterday and brought these fabulous date pinwheel cookies, and I must restrain myself from seeking out more.

Instead I am contemplating a 2017 yoga challenge with my daughter-in-law. To the depths of my soul I know I have no business seriously considering it, yet here I am, looking at my schedule and thinking about it.

Yep, lost my mind. Maybe my common sense will return and I will not decide to add another commitment to my schedule. Then again, maybe time is really precious and memories we make now will be part of all that sustain us later. Maybe I am thinking through my heart rather than the head that compartmentalizes and schedules.

Long into the future, will I remember the work I was doing or the books I was reading or the dawdling that consumed chunks of my days? Unlikely. But K is persuasive that success or failure, trying this challenge together will be memorable, if only for attempting to fit one more thing into our schedules.

How timely that she texted about it today, reminding me of the importance of time and making memories with those we care for and about.

Money things

This morning I logged in to my regular use credit card and found 11 charges for the same online site. Yep, I’ve ordered from them in the past, but waaayyy past, like 3 years ago. Suddenly a few days ago they are emailing me again, after I had unsubscribed many moons ago, and I just though of it as some spam thing, so I unsubscribed again. Only to find 11 charges to my account totaling nearly $1000.

Charges reported as fraud, card cancelled, replacement on the way. But it reminded me why I need to cancel several unused credit cards; exposure to fraud is a real thing. And seriously, I use 2 different cards for the rewards, M has 2 others, the rest are locked up in the safe. Or they were, until I systematically called, cancelled, and shredded them.

Another to-do of my endless list.

I also had to actually write a check today as well. That was different. It’s been forever since I have had to write a check for services. My esthetician texted me this morning that her credit card machine is kaput and she is currently only able to accept checks or cash. She’s smart to text me in advance, because I never carry checks and rarely have more the $40 in my wallet.

I was an hour later than usual arriving at the gym this morning, which is unlike me, even on Tuesdays when I work from home on my own business clients and stuff. Part of it was staying up until well after midnight working on work-work, part of it was an early conference call that ran longer than usual. Having clients that travel, I find myself frequently talking business on Tuesdays at 4 in the morning.

What I realize, though, is that I can arrive an hour late to the gym and the sky remains firmly in place and nothing bad befell me for the rest of my day. The rest of my work-related calendar did not start until about 10, which is pretty typical, and even that is by phone and I could do the work from my perch of sweaty grossness without anyone else knowing. It is not a big deal, either way, but a bit of a surprise for me that I can vary my schedule on gym practice schedule on Tuesdays without consequence. Still, my habits help me maintain some my discipline. Like most everything related to work these days, I need to stay flexible with scheduling.

I finished invoicing earlier today, and I’m pleased to be finishing off my retirement plan contributions this month rather than next. Holidays are going to be pretty low-key around here, with the big move coming in January and my strong feeling that monetary gifts will be appreciated by the kids this year. Makes perfect sense to me, and relieves me of shopping. My recent quest for replacement yoga pants and shirts was more than enough. I have come to despise shopping.

Which makes me wonder – if I did not have a budgeted amount set aside for clothing and shoes and such, would the urge to go out and shop and spend money be more powerful? Since I am pretty well prepared, I find the thrill of shopping and spending money no longer rages within. Or maybe it’s just that I am so busy, with a long list of things I would like to do when I prioritize them in my time allotment. I am listening to podcasts while I practice, and I am carving out at least 30 minutes each evening to simply read for fun. There are a few online courses I would like to take, and goodness knows my blog could use a little more of my time and attention.

The idea of spending time in a mall or even more time paging through endless screens in search of something to spend money on – even worse time suck than social media.

Spending time with friends, making plans and looking forward to getting together, only to have it evaporate at the last possible moment is extremely frustrating to me. I don’t know what to do about it, though. A few of them have been this way pretty much forever, and I am jaded to the point of believing it when it actually happens. Others, though, have family issues cropping up and are in need of and deserving of understanding and support. We all seem to be of an age when our parents are slowing down, faltering, needing more consistent and constant medical care, or passing away. And it’s very difficult. Having been there myself, I am very sympathetic.

It makes me recognize the need to step back up and into the office with TM. I feel like my pragmatism is almost a fault right now, and that perhaps I could soften or be more understanding of their situations and circumstances. Am I so very busy that I cannot spend 20 or 30 minutes listening more sympathetically? I feel like I am hardening into a very unpleasant sort of person who is impatient and unable to cope with the hand-wringing angst that comes with all the stuff that happens as our lives and responsibilities toward others weighs more heavily.

Next week M and I have an appointment with our own attorney to update our wills and trust documents in light of the kids’ marriages this year. Not a lot is changing, just some minor tweaks, but it’s really important to me that we sit down with the kids and let them know now what are plans are for what comes later. I had a really, really hard time dealing with my mom’s stuff after her passing, and as much as possible I want both my kids to understand what we are thinking and where the documents are kept.

Is this morbid and uncomfortable? I suppose so, but as I told them last we had this conversation, they will thank me for it later on, hopefully a lot later on. I’d much rather have 30 minutes to an hour of discomfort of imagining the world without us in it than they be scrambling to figure things out on the fly when the time comes.

I suppose being a parent who can talk to her kids about death, dying, and where we bank and the documents for our accounts, our online banking information, etc. is kept in the safe. My hope is that we have a good long time and lot more such conversations in our future, but if I get run over by a bus tomorrow, they will know where things are kept and the way things stand right now.

I was just thinking earlier that I am just another imperfect parent, but I do try to think ahead and whatever practical stuff I can do in the here and now to make it easier down the line.

Now if I can just get through decluttering my house so I can roll up my sleeves and get to work on the garage and our storage unit. My to-do list seems infinite right now. But that’s okay. I have plenty of time.

Glue

My friend G’s father passed away late last night after fighting the good fight with cancer for more than 10 years. No matter how expected the death, it is still a bit of a shock when it finally happens. Friend G’s “pops” he has known and loved his whole live – G said his  heart stopped beating and his chest fell that final time 12:17 a.m. and 46 seconds on the clock. He was watching his pops’ face and not the clock, but when the monitors began their signal lost buzz he looked up and the clock and recorded the time.

G is an only child, which makes thing both easier and harder for him. His mother is elderly and was extraordinarily dependent upon her husband. Her health has also been faltering the last few years, and G and I have spoken at length about what his dad’s passing will mean beyond the grief of loss. Mom and dad have been in an assisted living facility for the last year, until his dad had to be moved to a hospice facility. I feel great sadness for G and his family at this time.

This latest friend saying goodbye to a parent has me thinking about families and family dynamics. It seems to me in every family there is some “glue” that keeps it together, that keeps the clan members gathering and communicating and in touch with one another. If not it seems you become like my family of origin, where we are around each other, sort of, and typically only out of a sense of obligation. There was no glue there, even before my sister and I arrived on the scene.

In my kids’ dad’s family, it’s his parents. They are wonderful people, and even though I have been divorced for their son for decades, I still think very highly of them and admire the very caring, loving, inclusive ways they have ensured my kids stayed part of the family fold. C speaks with trepidation about what will happen when they are gone, about whether or not she will still see her aunt and uncles and cousins. I am reassuring; her aunt has been slowly assuming the glue mantle for several years now as her parents age and wish to simplify family gatherings.

For M and I, our family is so tiny with just the kids and us it seems like we are all in this together. Should something happen to me before M, I believe the kids will look after him as best they are capable and as much as he will allow it. I believe he will grow more crotchety as the years pass and becomes less capable of doing things for himself. Time will tell.

 

But hopefully we have  a lot of years to left before worries about becoming frailer and less capable overcome us. Hopefully the time and effort we are putting forth toward better health now will pay dividends later. Hopefully it is not too late.

I had a meeting with our insurance broker today, and health insurance premiums are going up 20%. Ugh. However, for that 20% you get a slightly lower deductible and a lower maximum out-of-pocket. For most of the staff the increase is not terrible; the highest increase in their portion of the premium is $26 per month. For me, the lone person going from Kaiser back to Anthem, I go from $0 out of pocket to $326 per month. I am not delighted but I am not terribly upset, either. I will feel much better back with doctors I trust even if I am not using them all that much these days.

Friend G’s news today just reminds me M and I are getting older, and we need doctors we can depend upon and trust. Kaiser would be a good choice for M – he who only goes to the doctor when something seems wrong or off – but since I am the primary health care consumer and have the chronic condition, I need access to the specialists who make things make sense for me. My peace of mind is worth the monthly premium.

Because I am part of the glue that keeps my tribe together. I need to stick around and see watch the rest of the story.

And with that, I am off to bed to read for awhile and get some sleep. Training Thursday at 7 tomorrow, and we’re back to a different mode of exercise. I am very excited about it.

 

 

This day in history

Today marks 20 years since my oldest officially left us, declared legally brain dead after brain bleed. It was amongst the most anguishing 24 hours of my entire life thus far, and unforgettable because it is so much part of who she was to me and to us. I remember the day she was born, I remember the day she died. It’s just how it is, and I have no regrets or sorrow about the way my mind processes this particular chapter. I am grateful to remember her and our history realistically; it keeps her human and the daughter I love.

In the present day, life continues. Gym this morning. Text meltdown from M over potentially lost keys, only I had found them at home where he left them in the gate lock. RD appointment this afternoon. Work, work, more work.

Between all that, random thoughts sneak in. There are texts and emails from old friends, checking up and checking in, sharing little remembrances, funny stories and memories. People are so kind. Family, I decided long ago, has less to do with the blood in your veins than the depth of emotion and attachment we feel toward one another. I am truly blessed to have a large and diverse family tree with strong and solid roots.

I am super proud of my son and daughter; I wanted them to grow up to be independent, kind, compassionate people, and they have exceeded my hopes for them on all fronts. The death of a 12 year old child and older sibling could be something that rips families apart, but for us it bound us closer together. Where I had been a good mother when I have 3 living children, I improved and got better when I lost my oldest. I became more patient and present in the time we were together. I redoubled my commitment to prioritizing the work and family balance. I let them continue to be kids and fail when necessary and appropriate. In spite of my fear and instinctive, irrational desire to try and protect them from any failure or harm, I let them fail and let them fall down when it was appropriate. I bit my tongue when they made choices I questioned or disagreed with,and I held back any hint of parental condemnation or judgment when they made mistakes and had to experience negative consequences.

While I like to believe I would have learned this had B not passed away when she did, I know the dramatic changes that overwhelmed me right after her death. I was so scared and fearful that something would swoop down and steal my surviving daughter and son. Looking back, talking with my kids over the course of the last year, I realize that stepping back and just letting them be and grown up like normal kids was the best thing I could have done for them at that time. They are both wonderful young adults. I genuinely like them a people as well as love them fiercely because they are my children.

So today we are all a little sad. And the day, while a sad one, is part of what makes us a unique and close family.

The spirit that was my beautiful girl lives forever in our memories and the memories of others that knew her. Once upon a time it seemed inadequate, but as they years have passed it became enough. If necessity is the mother of invention, is it also the parent of acceptance. I cannot bring her back, and I had to accept that. But I can remember her honestly, with her human weakness and flaws, and in my dreams I still hear her voice and see that amazing smile.

Rest in peace, my sweet Sugarbear. I miss you terribly and wish you were here with us, alive and thriving with us.

Feeling our feelings

I am catching up on Supernatural episodes on Netflix while doing cardio tonight and there was a line of dialog about “feeling our feelings.” It stuck with me.

It has been a very good day. Training this morning went really well, even if I am mildly obsessed with discovering shrug-able occasions I do hundreds of times per day. Tomorrow I am contemplating what to do at the gym, whether to try the cables again with mini bands or do dumb bells and mini bands. My current preoccupation with shrugs and such has me thinking about it with far more contemplation than it likely deserves.

Work was busy and brought some interesting new developments and scheduling challenges for next month. I think I have it sketched out and mostly planned, although things will certainly change.

As for feelings, every year is a new year, and this one, as I noted, has been a very good day. I have kept busy and my focus is preoccupied with present day issues and concerns. Some years are like this, when the enormity of what is going on all around me sweeps away thoughts of what has happened in the past.

There have been years where I was tortured with guilt because I was not more visibly upset or still grieving. I wondered what was wrong with me, what kind of mother I was for continuing to live my life. Truth is grief is an ebb and flow process; if I were less stable in the rest of my life I would be far more immersed in the older feelings of loss. This year my attention is on present day quests – building my business and working on my health on all fronts. And I have no reason to feel guilty for not breaking down and being more emotional. Expectations and what others think has been such a part of who I am, how I think, what I should feel about and how I judge myself.

Today, tonight at least, I feel okay, even very serene in the moments, and I know I am okay. It’s a refreshing new slant on my improving outlook and this day in history.