The famous quote, “In this world nothing can be said certain except death and taxes” is found in an epistle written by American statesman, Benjamin Franklin. In the recent past, I experienced and witnessed many family and friends suffer through the ordeal of death and taxes. We can be assured that both will come, but are we ever really prepared for either? Well, at least we can do what we can.
Taxes and death made a great impression on me as a child. When I was growing up, I can vividly recall the elaborate preparations involved in the annual event of filing taxes. My grandmother, a sound business woman, would invite her “tax lady” over to the house and seize the entire dining room table. Boxes and folders, tabs and envelopes, highlighters and pens, paper clips and staplers were spread all over the place. In my little girl mind, I was very conscious that this tax thing was a big deal.
My father was also diligent and my memory of accompanying him to file his tax returns is also very clear. We would go to his “tax guy” whose office looked like a little house located around the corner from where my grandparents lived. I remember the tick, tick, ticking of this schedule and that schedule, this W and that W, this deduction and that deduction all being recorded on an old rickety typewriter. It’s probably no surprise when I got my first job and it was time for me to file my taxes, this is where I went— typewritten returns and all.
I obviously learned a lot from watching this unavoidable process of filing income taxes; yet it wasn’t until my latter years that I saw many people’s aversion to it. It’s like this anonymous quote says: “People who complain about taxes can be divided into two classes: men and women.” I have observed the anxiety, stress, burden and indignation of various individuals being audited, owing the government, having wages garnished as well as deliberate tax evasion. The emotions that are stirred during tax season can be just as “taxing” on your body as when you’re grieving the loss of a loved one. Like another anonymous quotes goes, “Death and taxes may be certain, but we don’t have to die every year.” Thank God!
Death is never easy on the people who live and write about it. My first memory of death was awfully traumatizing. However, like my familiarity with taxes, I was no stranger to interment arrangements and maintenance. I was extremely aware that my grandfather had purchased burial plots while he was very much alive. Knowing about that didn’t disturb me even though I fiercely dreaded the day my grandparents would actually pass away. The prudent way they preplanned portions of their funeral service, as far as I was concerned, was just a normal part of how our family did things. After all, going to the cemetery on holidays to manicure and adorn gravesites was a ritual in which I was not only accustomed but very comfortable.
Thanks to my upbringing, the importance of preparation was instilled in me despite the fact no one ever directly taught me the lesson. I watched and learned. As a matter of fact, I didn’t even know I was learning it. I guess you could say it was passed down to me. My grandparents did eventually go on to be with the Lord; but the fact that they did much of the work for us not only made it easier, it was inspiring as well. I was very proud to be the granddaughter of a man and woman that took on the costly but necessary responsibility of laying their own bodies to rest.
When an unexpected or premature death occurs, like my family just endured, you don’t have the convenience of preplanning. But it was not by chance that my aunt (who just so happens to be my grandfather’s sister) had an available plot to bury her 17 year old grandson. I know she never imagined it would be used for him; nevertheless, her preparation allowed her to provide for her family. You may think you don’t have the extra income to make pre-need funeral arrangements; but perhaps you can begin investing in it annually when you receive your tax return check. Maybe you find discussing this as morbid; still I encourage you to do the research, if for no other reason than to demystify the process.
Now I know not everyone has the privilege of filing exempt on their taxes or the excitement of getting money back, but it’s something we have to do. And although the very definition of the word tax includes words like burden, enforce, exacted, imposed, it is our duty as citizens of this country to pay taxes. So you might as well prepare yourself to do it somewhat cheerfully. Take to heart this definition of an optimist: “someone who sets aside two hours to do his income tax return.” Being as ready as you can be for any situation, including death and burials, can definitely remove some of the stress. Think about it, but don’t let it get you down. I’ll leave you with a final quote. It is a Scottish proverb. “Be happy while you’re living, for you’re a long time dead.” Oh and don’t forget many businesses offer freebies on tax day. Enjoy the treats and take a load off.
*Since the original writing of this article, my father has also gone on to be with the Lord. Although we hadn’t completed the preplanning for his interment, knowing the process ahead of time definitely made it easier to handle. And despite the emotional difficulty, the logistics were smooth. For that, I’m grateful and hope to be even more prepared in the future.
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