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Death and taxes still certain in this world
VITAL TRIFLE, BY LAURI GROSS
Death and taxes still certain in this world
My father-in-law passed away nearly two years ago. Since that time, I have often replayed in my head conversations I had with him in the last few years of his life. From this distance, I can see the forest that I couldn't when I was amidst the trees.
About six months before Judd died, one of his nurses said Judd was on a journey. I knew she meant he was on his last journey, the one that would end his life. But she made it seem like this journey was filled with as much potential and as many exciting unknowns as any other. And I guess she was right.
There were plenty of stories Judd told that were just plain nuts, a manifestation of his deteriorating condition, as well as of the pile of pharmaceuticals in his system.
One day, he told me 10 world-renowned philosophers had flown him to England to offer him a job as head of a secret corporation. He told me this from a hospital bed in the middle of a week-long stay. From that point on, he felt it was his duty to conduct a job interview with any hospital staff who entered his room, from the girl who came to take his breakfast order to the doctors and nurses. Before he could accept the job offer from the philosophers in England, he had to check out the staff he would be inheriting.
Later, in a rehab facility, he told me he had been to a Cavaliers game the night before with Bill and Hillary Clinton. He felt bad, because he only had $30 in his wallet and he was supposed to buy the Clintons dinner. Also, he said with a devilish grin, that the ladies sure loved Bill.
He told me about a book he was writing about someone he knew decades earlier. He talked about court cases he was being dragged into, even though he didn't know how he could help these clients from his hospital bed. Judd was an attorney and practiced right up until his last hospitalization, when he was in his late 80s. His clients all loved him and were loyal right up to the end.
Often, Judd would explain that he was in his bed, and then he fell asleep, and then these wild adventures would begin. But he was too far gone to recognize these "adventures" as dreams. Even in his sleep, he was trying to remain important in other people's lives, as he had been in his prime.
One of the hardest transitions to make was to take over control of Judd's personal finances. Since Judd was still conducting business with a few remaining law clients, Sally, his longtime secretary, visited him a few days a week to help him sort mail and handle legal paperwork from his hospital bed. Sally and I helped Judd pay bills and deposit checks.
When I found unpaid and overdue bills crumpled in his dresser drawer, I knew we had to handle this part of his life for him. I also knew he would hate that idea. Sally and I talked to Judd about things like magazine subscription renewals and appeals for charitable contributions, so he would still feel connected to his personal financial decisions, while we made sure his medical and other bills were paid without him even knowing.
Eventually, he did figure out that I was paying his bills, and he was unhappy. He quizzed me regularly on how to write a check, how to pay a bill, etc., convinced that I was not competent to do so. One of his nurses told us that Judd asked her if she would please take care of his finances and pay his bills for him. Apparently, he considered her better qualified. Of course, I didn't take any of this personally. I knew it wasn't the real Judd talking.
As we approached tax season, we knew there was no way Judd would be able to prepare his own taxes, despite being an accountant, as well as an attorney. He had always done his own taxes, as well as those of many friends, relatives and clients.
I kept waiting for Judd to notice how close we were to April 15. Sally gave me the year's worth of tax-related papers, and I began compiling them for our accountant. February approached, and still Judd hadn't said anything about it. I collected more info from banks and other institutions, and still Judd was thankfully unaware.
Eventually, Judd spoke the words I dreaded. "I have to prepare my taxes," he said.
"No you don't. I took care of it," I explained.
After some uncomfortable questioning, Judd told me never to mention again the fact that I was doing his taxes for him. I could just see the "before" Judd and the "now" Judd battling in his head. He knew he needed help, but not being able to prepare his own taxes was just too much for him to face. I kept working with the accountant, but I never mentioned it again.
Finally, I did have to ask Judd to sign a paper acknowledging that the accountant had electronically filed his tax returns. With failing eyesight, he looked at the paper and fell asleep with it in his hand.
"How does it look?" I asked.
He startled awake and said, "Not good. It looks too high."
I explained there were no dollar figures on the paper. "What looks too high?" I asked. He pointed to some numbers on the page. "Those are the last four digits of your Social Security number," I told him.
His shoulders slumped. He sighed, and he signed. There was enough of him left to recognize this as a defeat, although I would have given anything if I could have avoided making it seem like one.
He died on April 10, five days before his taxes were due, probably dreaming of just making that deadline.
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