When I awoke yesterday I tried to decipher why I was so tired. An April first joke? Gratefully I had the opportunity to spend last weekend at our beloved Illahee with my bestie-for-forever friend, and I had even taken two days of vacation from work. I am fortunate and grateful. Yet as I awakened Friday morning I felt exhausted. As I sipped my morning tea, before taking on the day’s work, my thoughts meandered back through March. No wonder, I concluded!
March for me was full, much of it heightened by emotion. Not only did the month include the first year anniversary of Mom’s death (March 6), but it held birthdays for both Dad (March 2 – would have been his 92!) and Mom (March 28, her 89th). Last week, without intentionally planning it this way, I spent March 28 at Illahee, our parents’ most favorite place. Mom first visited this spot over sixty years ago when she and Dad were courting: she slept in a spare bedroom, my grandparents in the master and Dad –as he liked to remind us– tucked safely away upstairs in the loft with the squirrels. This was our home away from home through childhood, and the place Mom and Dad visited frequently as long as they could. Their last trip to Illahee together was just a few months before Dad died in 2014, while the week after his death our family spread his ashes back to this favorite place. Mom’s last visit was 18 months before her death during our last family Illahee reunion prior to COVID. We loved ones returned to spread her ashes last August following her memorial. My grandparents who built this place could not have asked for more to have created such a tradition of place and family, and my generation and the next know how fortunate we are.
For me, March also included a job interview and the task of completing Mom’s 2021 taxes. These things pale in comparison to the war in Ukraine and other global issues. And yet, it seems crazy, that even after our body concludes its earthly act, somebody left behind owes report-outs to the IRS. While I took this on after Dad’s death, it somehow felt different then with Mom still alive. In March 2021, I completed Mom’s 2020 taxes shortly after she died. It felt odd and yet there was a sense of completion. Soon after, though, I learned how complicated these final financial processes could be, even though our parents had set up everything they could to keep it simple: they had made and paid for arrangements for their own cremations, and did not leave vast amounts of money or any property for their five kids. Even then, I cried in frustration twice on the phone while trying to redeem two small annuities when I was told the agents couldn’t speak to me. I remember thinking, just as I had while helping to manage Mom’s final years of medical insurance needs: how can this be so difficult? It was later, as I went through the probate process I didn’t think would be needed, that I effusively thanked the clerk at Clackamas Courthouse for being so compassionate, understanding and helpful.
But now, twelve months later, I hope to get Mom’s 2021 tax return in the mail this weekend. She lived two months and less than a week in 2021. Still I await her small tax refund from 2020. Midway through 2021 I was able to get through on the IRS lines and was assured that the refund would show up any month. Last fall I stopped trying to call, knowing it seemed impossible to get through. I am grateful that whatever eventually comes back to me and my brothers (yes, they owe me!) is small potatoes and nothing any of us need to make an essential payment. Yet I can’t help but think about how much worse others may have it, including those overworked IRS employees.
I used the end of yesterday’s daylight to tuck veggie starts safely into pots and spaces in our garden. I shoveled soggy, spent soil and refreshed it with new. I dirtied my hands pushing peas into fresh beds. I admired tulips popping out of pots, perched on our front steps away from the browsing neighboring deer. Blossoms from our cherry trees dot the sidewalk like snow. Research informs us what our bodies and souls already know: digging in the soil is healing for our well-being. Only this morning did I recognize the symbolism of taking time to begin this new month with such a powerful yet simple act. Even among taxes and death, increased daylight, the glory of seedlings and the fragrance of daphne and cottonwood remind us of the hope, joy and beauty that surrounds us. And in that I am grateful.