Hollie Grimaldi Flores: Tax returns and other memories
April 19, 2017
Death and taxes. They say that neither can be avoided. My first mother-in-law combined the two and died April 15. It was thoughtful in that she would not have wanted to ruin a perfectly good day. April 15 already left a bad taste, being tax day and all. It was 1995, and just as this year, fell the day before Easter.
My then-4-year-old son was attending a birthday party before heading to Grandma's house to color Easter eggs later that day. Luckily for us, a family member delivering Easter lilies made the tragic discovery, sparing us from the added trauma of finding her on her bedroom floor. She had suffered a heart attack sometime in the night at the age of 62. When we arrived at her apartment, Easter baskets were already assembled and gifts had been wrapped in anticipation of the visit and the holiday. It was also the year the movie "Forrest Gump" had been released, and on the table, was a "Life was like a box of chocolates" box of assorted confections. Irony at its finest. Indeed, as Tom Hanks character reported, "You never know what you are going to get."
She did not avoid death, nor did she avoid taxes. That just did not seem fair. I filed on her behalf that year, late, and in an altered state of grief. In doing so, I learned a lot about someone I thought I knew well. By filing her taxes, I gleaned a more intimate view of who she was in the world. Charities she cared about and valued. Who she owed money to. Where she invested and their financial positions. If she had money being held offshore (she did not). Substantial gifts she received. In short, tax returns divulge a good deal of information about a person's status and character.
I can see why those who are in public service would want to garner a bit more trust and transparency by sharing them — and why they might not.
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Of course, there is plenty a simple tax return does not reveal.
My mother-in-law loved being a grandmother. She was the quintessential grandma and doted on my son. She longed for a granddaughter as well and was "over the moon" when I delivered one to her the October before. Sadly, the two only had six months together before death came calling and took her away. She went out of her way to make every moment with them count. As if she knew. Of course none of that would be evident from a 1040.
I realize I had not thought of my children's paternal grandmother for some time. Keeping her memory alive had given way to getting on with living. Her beloved grandchildren are now adults. I see glimpses of her in some of their mannerisms, in the sound of a laugh or a hint in their smile. My daughter looks a bit like her in her younger days.
One Christmas, I gave her a book called "Grandmother Remembers," which was essentially a fill-in-the-blank workbook of her family history, how she met her husband, what music she loved, who her favorite movie stars were, her favorite book, family recipes, photos of her parents and her children. Stories about my children's father as a boy and what she hoped for her grandchildren for the future. She begrudgingly filled out every page to the best of her ability. It is a great place to go when I want to feel that closeness again, when I want to remember. And it's a resource for my children as they look at old photos of their great-grandparents or try out favorite family recipes.
This year I found myself in tears on Easter Sunday when my daughter returned from a last-minute grocery run to pick up a few things I had forgotten. She walked through the door holding an Easter lily — something her grandmother had held as tradition before she was old enough to have any recollection.
As we all get older, I think we might all consider a "Grandmother Remembers" project for our own children, if not our grandchildren. Families are often scattered so far apart in modern society, it's hard to know who will hold onto the history.
Once death does come knocking, what will be left to share? It would be nice for them to have a chronology of their lineage. Maybe a war story or two. A record of the family history. Of course, they can learn plenty from our filing cabinet. It holds decades of tax returns.
Hollie Grimaldi Flores is a Nevada County resident and freelance writer for hire. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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