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Apparently yesterday was my day to deal with my widows and soon-to-be widows. And they happened to come in just the right order.

I should start by saying that I've been doing returns for these three clients for 10 years or so. So I have developed some rapport with them.

Let's start where I started, with the couple. The first few times I did their returns, I only saw the husband. He was a bit gruff in those early years - he had just retired as a fishing boat captain. A few years later I finally met his wife. She was much easier-going -- until we got down to business. She's not gruff at all, but very much a business-is-business kind of person.

A couple of years ago, she let me know that he was in the early stages of Alzheimer's. Since I see them only once or twice a year, it's been easy for me to see the progression. This year, he wanted to make sure we were deducting his flights to Hawaii - where the boat was kept. He hasn't been on his fishing boat in a decade. Physically, he's in pretty good shape, so this is probably going to be one of those long, drawn out, painful to watch affairs.

The middle client might have been the hardest. Her husband passed away just over a month ago. Once again, I didn't meet her until I had been doing their returns for 6 or 7 years. Over that time, I could see his health failing. I finally met her when he had to stop driving and she brought him in to the office. He was still reasonably sharp, although he struggled a bit with changes to the tax law. Kept wanting to do things the old way. Other than that, his organization and attention to detail was pretty good. The last couple of years, she became more involved in their taxes - asking questions (usually good ones) and gently correcting his mistakes.

She brought her son with her this time. Or perhaps I should say he brought his mother. This is absolutely the hardest time to deal with a passing. The funeral is done, the friends and family have gone back home, and you're left with an empty house. It showed on her face and in her demeanor. I suspect the son was also struggling a bit. It felt to me like he was compensating for his loss by perhaps taking a bit too much care of his mother. I knew she was capable of handling things from our previous interactions. But he jumped in and wanted to do everything. As always, I generally direct my questions to my actual client, but he jumped in without giving her the time she needed to think. I don't take that personally at all. I've seen it before. They are both grieving and dealing with their still-fresh loss in their own ways.

The last client of this trilogy lost her husband in mid-2019. Well, she really lost him about a year before that, as Alzheimer's did it's cruel work to him. This time my first meetings a decade ago were with both of them. They had a pretty equal partnership in my experience with them. They each had their areas they took care of, but both were at least somewhat familiar with all of their finances. Then came the diagnosis and inevitable decline. He did less, she did more. Then she did it all. She cared for him at home as long as she could - and maybe a bit longer. A year ago was the first time he didn't attend our annual meeting. She finally had to place him in the care of others, first at a day facility, then full time care.

At our meeting a year ago, I could see the relief on her face. She was finally rested and sharp. Yet there was the pain of knowing what was yet to come - along with the financial pain of paying for his care. They were both life-long savers. Digging into those savings for this long-term care is hard to do for such a person. She knew logically that was why they saved, even if it was hard to do emotionally.

She was visibly more relaxed this year. She had several months to process and deal with the loss of her life partner, so the feelings weren't as raw as the previous client. But there was still a definite sense of the loss - as one would expect. The financial drain had stopped, which relieved that pain as well. We could plan ahead a bit for her first year filing as a single person (which is something that catches many widows and widowers by surprise - their taxes can go up even if their income drops a bit.)

I've been doing taxes full time for 20 years now. I've been through this cycle with dozens of clients. And it seems that each time I go through it, it affects me in some way. I see how others cope with their own losses, and it teaches me a little bit about the losses I have in my own life. This last year just seems to have been a bit tougher in that department. The biggest loss was my wife's brother. Another long-time friend and mentor died a couple of weeks ago at the age of 100. It pained me that I couldn't attend his funeral.

Yet life goes on and we must carry on. There is work to be done and family to care for and life to enjoy. So I get back out there and carry on, with a few more memories to tuck away.

--Peter
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