It was cold outside the U.S. Social Security Administration building on Colby Street in Waterville on a recent morning, and Shirley Beaver couldn’t wait to get inside.
But it wasn’t the subzero temperatures that had got her all riled up.
No, Shirley, 79, of Pittsfield, had a more urgent reason for wanting to talk to the Social Security people.
She had received a letter in the mail dated Feb. 6 from the insurance company that supplements her Medicare saying she was dead.
“To the estate of Shirley Beaver,” the letter states. “Medicare told us about the death of Shirley Beaver. Please accept our condolences.”
It said her prescription drug coverage had ended Jan. 1 and if any premiums had been paid prior to that date, her estate would receive a refund within a month. It also said if any information in the letter was incorrect, she should contact her local Social Security office.
“I almost fell through the floor,” she said.
The worst part of it is that Shirley, who has a heart condition, went to her pharmacy recently to get her prescription for medicine refilled and was told she could not get it.
Dutifully following the directions in the letter, which said if there was anything incorrect about it she should call the Social Security office, she did so, first thing Tuesday (last Monday was the Presidents Day holiday, and the office was closed), and was told to come to the office.
Her son, Russell, drove her the 22 miles from Pittsfield to Waterville, and they were the first ones through the door.
I met them there by accident.
Once inside, we met a security guard in a gray uniform sitting at a table. He instructed us to sign in at a computerized kiosk.
One by one, clients were called to the windows by a woman’s voice on a public address system. As Shirley was being called to window 3, I approached her son, Russell, to ask if he thought she would be willing to talk to me afterward.
“I think she would,” he said.
Russell, 52, said he lives with his mother and is disabled from an injury he suffered years ago when he fell off the roof of a three-story building. He said his brother, David, was coming up from Massachusetts soon to live with him and his mother, as David had had four heart attacks and a major stroke. You might say they will all take care of each other.
After Shirley spent about 45 minutes talking with a woman at the window, Russell introduced us. We sat and chatted and Shirley explained her situation, starting with the story about her trip to the pharmacy to get her medicine. A pleasant woman with short, straight white hair, blue eyes and a warm smile, Shirley said the whole thing has her head spinning.
“Of course, I didn’t sleep last night,” she said. “They’ve told me my Social Security check might be late because there’s such a mix-up. It’s very depressing, because I’m a 79-year-old widow.”
Getting a Social Security check later than expected might seem like a minor annoyance to some people, but Shirley counts on that money to pay for her oil, house insurance, food and other necessities.
“I’m down to my last penny of the month,” she said. “Now I can’t get this medicine I need. I got oil two weeks ago, and it was $678.”
We got to talking about her life in general. She worked 30 years as a certified nurse’s aide at Eastern Maine Medical Center and then did private-duty nursing, which she loved.
“I took care of my husband for 17 years before he passed away 15 years ago. He had eight strokes and seven major operations. He was in a wheelchair; he was totally disabled.”
She took a photo from her wallet, of him smiling, with her by his side. They looked happy.
“He was a veteran,” she said. “He was in World War II, at Pearl Harbor. Then he was a truck driver.”
She told me stories about some of the people she nursed in their homes and how grateful and appreciative their families were. Her career was very rewarding, she said.
“I try to be who I am. Don’t try to be someone you’re not. You just have to open up your heart. I loved taking care of people. It wasn’t the money. It was the love and the care and the friendship and the kindness and a lot of TLC.”
The more time I spent with Shirley, the more I liked what I saw and heard.
She is a good, solid, salt-of-the-earth Maine woman who has worked hard, loved her family and used her skills as a nurse to help people, both physically and emotionally.
Before Shirley left to go home to Pittsfield, she said she was praying the nice woman at the Social Security office will help her sort out the mix-up about her supposed death.
“I’m keeping my fingers crossed,” she said.
I’m keeping mine crossed, too, because Shirley is a sweetheart who is entitled to have not only the heart medicine she needs, but also every single cent of the Social Security money to which she is entitled.
Not to mention the fact that she is very much alive — and has a lot more living to do before the real thing comes along.
Amy Calder has been a Morning Sentinel reporter 26 years. Her column appears here Mondays. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org