Death and Taxes – a few thoughts

Everything was mellow. My conscience was satisfied with itself. Several days passed before I learned differently. My awakened self had a meeting apparently, in some dark alleyway with unconscious self, and the hidden, the undercurrent, the shadow won the tussle. It was quick and it was a silent battle, as I had no idea what they were up to. It is possible the two of those selves are practicing schizophrenics. If they had known, my children would have rolled their eyes.

To prevent any accidental reader from wondering at my insanity, let me set the stage. I had married, and then divorced, a man who fathered my four children in rapid succession during the second half of the 60s. Yes, those 60s. Making love not war, we had tumbled into parenthood, church leadership, well, participation anyway, and some radically important political issues that were hot topics of the time.

We were perhaps naive, and perhaps foolish, but I believe that we both thought that having found and married each other, all of our individual problems had resolved themselves, and we could, with great dispatch, focus ourselves toward becoming an integral part of society and productive family members.

That worked for some years, with no more than the usual marital problems during pre and post pregnancy rituals and exhaustion.

Then, with the crescendo of elemental disparities and philosophical conflicts as background noise, we broke the ties that had bound us, and along with a few dishes and chairs, smashed forever the trust and commitments that we each had thought would endure. It wasn't pretty.

Decades later, Fred died. As I received the news in the car, coming home on a recent Sunday afternoon, I felt quiet and a bit reflective, sad for my children. I had lost a father, and knew what it could mean to one. I was calm, and I felt coolly distant, my concern expended toward my children and grandchildren's loss. I offered to write a short obituary, thinking, Who knew him as well as I, and who better to put into so few words the life. Writing a life in fifty words or less seems much like measuring one's worth by the market sales price of previously owned skin, bone and organs. Much that did not get said or valued bubbled up through the spaces between the words. The process of crystalizing, or pruning a life for publication distills it down to its essence, making the process one of arrogant, somewhat clinical evaluation.

A solitary man, he was the last of his siblings, and he had no one left to tell the tale. I was initially less interested in telling his story than my own. I had committed to not doing what I ached to do, tell my side of the story, finally, to anyone who might care to listen.

Ah, vindication and expiation mine at last. Or not.

Speak no ill of the dead, is the motto we all go by. Nothing should disturb the transitional end of days, the peaceful re-branding ceremonies or the grieving of the family. Therefore, my hand and mouth remained still. I felt proud of that discipline, and was careful not to bring a breath of negativity down upon the days of public bereavement. It helped that I was calm toward him. Complete, we like to say in our current jargon. Done.

He and I had not seen each other for over thirty years, essentially inhabiting separate islands, bridged by grown children and their offspring walking carefully, traveling through the river Styx that lay between our lives. I probably wouldn't recognize him if I had seen him, and he the same for my old face, so unfamiliar these days even to me.

That first night, Sunday evening, I was grateful to be home, and in my own bed, although after a few undisturbed REM sleep hours, I awoke to dreams and to thoughts, and to a generalized inability to sleep, my thoughts springing around like a videogame ball. The next day found me sleeping at meetings, falling asleep in the middle of phone conversations, and disoriented. Very jet-lagged and foggy, although I had not been near a tarmac for a while. Probably lack of sleep. I will sleep well tonight, I said to myself.

The next evening found a repeat of the first, and again I woke exhausted. The daytime follows, whether one sleeps or not; restlessness cared nothing about some really arbitrary deadline that I was supposed to keep at work. With real auditors waiting, I could not focus or concentrate, and my mind seemed full of Swiss cheese holes each time I tried to make the synapses of my brain make graceful leaps between cells. I kept falling asleep. I ignored calls, and couldn't seem to remember what dates and what important details I needed to pay attention to.

This mental fugue state continued for the week, as friends and family prayed and offered support to one another, and to me. I am so fortunate that I have people who are willing to help me keep my feet on the earth, so my spouse and I can show the kids our love, I said to one of the solicitous and concerned friends. I believed that was all there was to that. Really.

Thursday, the day arrived. My current husband and I attended the ceremony, taking a seat behind the kids and the grandkids. We stood purposely behind the others in silent respect for his lasting anger toward me; I had no business riling up a dead person with my pushy ways. I found myself crying through the ceremony, which was mercifully brief, and quite patriotic, lovely in a militaristic, parade-worthy sort of way. I blotched up my face as tears fell, thwarting my somewhat snot-nosed attempt to appear stoic to those around me. I was the ex-wife, for God's sake! I melted, although most of the melt was internal.

Wearily, we kept to our course, trying to hold the kids by our presence, expressing our sorrow for them, truly appreciating their tenacity, their willingness to be inconvenienced, their effort to tend a sick and disoriented man who didn't want things to end this way. I am proud of them, their characters proved to be patient, enduring and compassionate folks.

Meanwhile, a dark cloud reached past my heart and beyond the intellect where I store facts and observations, and moved into another, more gritty place. That shadow land of memory rose up like a specter of remembrance. The expectations and the dreams of our youth, the ideals we tried so hard to live up to, the disillusionment of our colossal failures, all welled up without the restraint I desperately needed. I cried for the lost life, the lost hopes, the lost opportunities.

I can write it now, with distance, feeling only some tears lying in wait in puddles around my eyes, bogs of tingling sadness with no home, no one to give them to, and no solution. There is simply no one to blame, and no one to charge; no complainant to file a grievance on the parchment paper of a life lived.

Yesterday morning found my dreams less vivid, and less disturbing, so I began my walk through the day with a type of meditation and chat with the divine spirit, feeling myself ready. Once more complacent, and past the immediacy of death, I was startled to hear my inner self-discussing the question of living versus dying, specifically my living and dying; I found myself required to choose between the two commitments. I was unprepared to make this absolute decision, and I did not know what the answer would be, either, come down to it. I backed way from this quagmire carefully, like a burglar who has been startled to find he is has entered the wrong house, people still having their coffee in the next room, carrying on an unlikely conversation.

I exited this line of thought completely, and gave the question to the spirit I speak to within. What would you want from me, I asked, with some resignation? What do you wish? I can stay, and I can go. I would like to have some time to write, and to finish some of my projects, but I am not going to fight, or bargain; I have no answer as to which would even be preferable. The choice is already written elsewhere. I even forgot to whine, much. I wondered how Fred's death had leaked over into mine, and I determinedly pushed him out of the way, firmly reminding him that he must move on, as he should.

In this way, I began my new day, not a widow, exactly, but shorn of some old disappointments I didn't know I carried; bereaved of the youngsters we had once been, two self centered children full of unknowing.

I had, however, dredged up some peaceful accommodation with my own future. That destiny is unknown too. Today I get to show up in front of my life and enjoy my husband, adult children and grandchildren, loving them as best I am able, in my own insufficient way, as long as I myself have days to spend. They do not wonder at my sanity so much as accept that I am somewhat odd, and certainly a mystery to them.

I can live with that.

One curious thing remains stuck sideways in my mind, fluttering in place without an answer. What I would like to know is, how did Fred’s life and death questions come to me at all?