You quit your job, decide to move; you make arrangements, and everything is set, brave woman, until the paperwork and a bureaucrat smack you upside the head.
The Zen of Social Security
A friend of mine, on hearing that I was retiring to Blue Lake, suggested that I might want to consider taking early Social Security. I was on the doorstep of my 62nd birthday and the thought had never occurred to me. I figured I'd find some part time work to sustain me, but was actually terrified at the thought of existing without the usual high-powered city job. Social Security?
At first I resisted. It smacked of "unemployment," or being "on the dole," all things of great disdain in my family mores. And worse than that, it sounded "old." But on careful consideration, I realized I wasn't going to eat unless my writing began to pay immediately. (a fairly meager meal that might be!) Drawing my lifetime's invested withholdings from the governmental coffers started to look like a good idea. After all, I reasoned, I had supported a lazy ex-husband through a difficult marriage, had been a single woman for 27 years -- working feverishly to show the world that I could stay afloat and had indeed successfully dog-paddled for four decades -- didn't I deserve a break?
When the woman from the Social Security Administration telephoned me at an appointed hour, she had a 30-minute list of questions to answer. She wanted to know my wedding and divorce dates, my ex-husband's mother's maiden name, etc.
I laughed. "Darling, I can barely remember his face after all these years, you want me to tell you his crazy mother's maiden name? You've got to be kidding!" She was patient with me, but not very amused.
Slowly but surely I recalled most of the dates and facts that she apparently needed to process my application. She calculated the sum that I would receive monthly (a lesser sum than I'd get if I waited until I was 65). Then, to my surprise, she said, "You could take even less money, if you wanted to use your ex-husband's benefits. Then you could collect your own higher benefits at 65."
It was all too complicated and without a pause, my pride soared and I said, "No, thank you, I'll take my OWN benefits." She explained that a form would come to me in the mail, that I needed to send her my birth certificate and sign the form waiving my rights to my ex's benefits. Okey dokey. It was simple and I had done it...albeit with a reluctant little walk down memory lane.
The form arrived. I was ready for it, birth certificate in hand. When I opened it and started to read, my eyes filled with sudden and surprising tears.
This is a waiver of your widow's rights to social security benefits....it began.
Widow's rights.... Widow. The word jumped off the page like it was written in dayglo neon, and the truth sunk into my consciousness. My ex was no longer walking on this planet. My years of resentments and old wounds were as smoke curling on the page. Mel was gone. The stark clean fact of it cut through me like a zag of lightning. I felt stupid, too.
Still reeling , I called my friend. "Of course," she said. "Two people can't receive the same benefits. The only way they'd offer them to you would be if he was deceased."
Then it really was true.
I don't believe in coincidences. I'd known for weeks that my retirement process was a spiritual journey, that I was gifting myself with the last years of my life to do what I love most, to write. What I didn't know was that when the moving truck pulled out, I'd be leaving behind so much more than hard work, heavy traffic and high rents.
"Bye, Mel. You finally came through for me, and I didn't even have to ask."
Then I headed off to my new life, not a widow, but someone else, someone brand new.