Other and I have sometimes felt annoyed by the mountain of paperwork my sister-in-law J left us to excavate. Particularly onerous have been her taxes. But in just the way a drop of pondwater can be a magnifying glass for viewing the flora and fauna within it, so my sister-in-law's taxes have become a kind of lens on her life.
My sister-in-law and I did not always get along. There were resentments that flowed both ways, and there are wounds that fester still. But when I look at how she spent her money and what it tells me about her, I feel only admiration and sympathy and affection.
She donated hundreds of dollars a month to nonprofits, particularly community-building ones. She bought self-help and self-improvement books, as well as books to satisfy her vigorous curiosity. Her medical expenditures were unending and heartbreaking: everything from painkillers and sleeping aids to feeding-tube supplies and emollients for her radiation burns. Even the little vanities that seemed extravagant—the monthly appointments with her colorist, the shopping sprees at H&M and Uniqlo and Zanna—are humanizing when I see them laid out in black-and-white receipts and totted up into a sum that is dwarfed by her charitable tithing.
It's hard to read the mind of anyone, much less a dead person—and J was particularly inscrutable and contradictory—but the objective record of her giving and spending is unambiguous. I wish my taxes told as moral a tale.