Saturday, March 28, 2009

On Taxing Situations

Today I finally succeeded in both starting and completing something I put off every year until about this time – my taxes. I always have this irrational fear that I’m going to owe Uncle Sam a little something, even though I have as much as possible taken out throughout the year in order to avoid that exact scenario. This year there were some changes in my tax status that had me feeling a little uneasy as well.

Two years ago doing my taxes was a strange mix between comfort and the mundane. The government waits for no one, so less than a month after my wife passed away, I found myself compiling the information that would become our last tax return – or so I thought. Being a miser of sorts, I have almost always elected to do my own taxes, thus avoiding the heavy fees that most places charge to do what I feel I am completely capable of doing myself. That year, it also meant that I had to make numerous phone calls over several days’ time to ensure that I filed things properly given my new “situation”. I remember one girl being very kind in explaining information that I was not ready to deal with. But at that point there was something I didn’t want to deal with around every corner, so why should the IRS be any different? The filing eventually went off without a hitch, and I ended up with a decent refund that year, a fact I was much too distraught to really appreciate anyway.

Since my wife was gainfully employed at the time of her death, I actually had to file a joint return last year as well, making that our official last return. Due to situations beyond my control, I again found myself spending time communicating with several government employees, all of whom I remember a year later as being very helpful. It was bittersweet. On the one hand, it was nice to be able to reminisce in my own mind about all of our wonderful moments in her classroom after school and on weekends, working on materials, grading papers, preparing lesson plans. But on the other hand, it was another reminder that it had been a year since her death, that the estate I’d been forced into opening due to negligence on the school system’s part had just commenced and would not close for several months, that a small portion of the refund would come as a direct result of her last days of employment. I typically have my refunds direct-deposited and leave them in savings to collect interest until something big comes along, but last year I used some of the money to buy a few extra adornments for the flower beds. It just seemed appropriate.

The filing of my taxes this year, or more directly, this day, was also unique in a few ways. This year I was eligible to file as a Qualifying Widower. Finally, after two years, being a widower actually qualifies me for a break instead of breaking me apart. But even that had its drawbacks. As a result of no longer being able to file jointly, some of the numbers changed and I was only able to take portions of deductions instead of the full amount as I have in years past. It all worked out in the end, in that my refund was actually more than last year’s and I was able to do it all without any calls to the IRS.

It still took me the better part of the day as I somehow managed to misplace a few of the essential documents and had to spend hours looking for them. Now, organization is not something in which I am generally found to be lacking. I even started my tax file as soon as statements started coming in this year. But somehow I still found myself digging through every other file I could get my hands on trying to locate those few precious pieces of paper that would determine if I could accomplish this task the same day I set out to do it. The good news? I did. The bad news? It took me the better part of said day to do it and took away a lot of time that would have been better spent playing with a special little someone.

Once again this year, I am having the money directly deposited into my bank account, but this time it will not sit there indefinitely. There was something I wanted to do today that I could not, but will be able to do very soon. In a few weeks, when we are in the Midwest visiting family and friends during spring break, it will be revealed to my daughter that we are taking another vacation the following month to a very special place with some of those very special friends. At that point, I will be able to tell her that doing the taxes and missing some of our playtime was especially important since we will be able to spend a little more than we might have otherwise been able to at this dream destination. My daughter thinks I work so that we can travel anyway, so this will sit well with her sense of logic concerning work and play.

I was going to go into some of the other taxing situations we’ve had this week, but I think this reading may have been enough of a drudgery already, so I will save those for another post. Suffice it to say, my daughter’s grief has risen to the surface more often than not this week and she has needed much more reassurance than usual, which of course leaves her daddy feeling vulnerable and tired.

But we had a nice time together this evening watching a movie on tv. And spring is finally in the air, complete with two days of rain. And the taxes are filed. So there are always things to look forward to and be grateful for.

Like that bottle of red wine I finally remembered to buy. I think it’s time to go pour a glass.


  1. My husband died the same week our taxes were due. Talk about bad timing! My father-in-law did them for me that year. Big mistake.

    But, anyway, taxes are definitely something that seems to invoke a bit of reverie. It was another place where eventually you had to check the 'single' box again. I still have trouble with that. Sometimes I want to still write in 'widow' on another line on those forms that only have: single, married, and divorced listed. Even though at this poitn I consider myself single more than widow...

  2. According to the IRS, this is the first year I'm no longer widowed. Ha. What a crock. I haven't done my taxes yet (oops, I'm procrastinating, plus moving kinda got in the way), but this year is the first time I don't get to file as married or a qualified widow. Now I'm "only" a head of household. Yet last time I checked, gee, I'm still widowed. Thanks, IRS.

    I had a huge meltdown the first time I had to do my taxes after Charley died. I tried to hard to hold it together with the CPA (the first time I'd ever used one; Charley always did our taxes himself) and just ended up in (rather embarrassed/embarrassing) tears by the end of it. Not a pretty moment, or memory. I was trying so hard to be detached and understand all the tax implications of my widowhood, but all it ended up doing was smacking me in the face that my husband was dead, dead, dead.

    Good for you for surviving it multiple times.


  3. To both of you - It never occurred to me that I would eventually be considered "single" in the eyes of the IRS. As if checking a different box on the form could erase what any of us built with our spouses.

    I appreciate your input, especially as you have both been at this a bit longer than I have.

  4. Oh... and not just the IRS... it look me a long time to get myself to check forms everywhere else as single... Doctor's forms, financial forms, club memberships--you wouldn't believe how often you are asked to specify your marital status in your daily life. I began to notice each and every one. They made me feel like I was on the spot... Should I check "single" or should I check "widow"? What will people think? There's a weird part of you that always wants to check "widow" because you want people to know, subliminally, that once you had a "normal" life... For some reason, "single" sounded to me like I was immature, still out there having the time of my life without a thought for marriage or family... I never wanted to check it not only because I didn't want to admit to myself the loss of my husband, but also because I wanted people to know that I was not living this single life as something I'd chosen. I think I check "single" now because I feel like, eight years out, my widow card has expired. Even though in very real ways, I'm still a widow (always will be) because I feel the loss each day, a little, still. It doesn't completely go away. But I think that even if I ever found another person I'd want to spend the rest of my life with, the impact of Mike on my life will still be there. Hopefully, it will affect the marriage positively (ie, it will remind me to not sweat the small stuff).

  5. Mars Girl - Allowing Mike's impact on your life into your new relationships/marriage should be a prerequisite. I had a good example of this when my mom remarried. It will be this way for me if/when the time comes as well.

    As far as forms go, it bothers me more to have to write "deceased" under spouse than it does "widowed" under self. It's as if that negates her existence in my life somehow...