All’s well that ends well, as they say.
At least that appears to be the case with Shirley Beaver and Thelma Maxwell, who finally got word from the U.S. Social Security Administration that their benefits have been restored.
Shirley, 79, and Thelma, 84, had not met until recently, when they discovered they shared a common dilemma: both had received letters from the insurance companies that supplement their Medicare saying they were dead.
Shirley’s letter said her prescription drug coverage ended Jan. 1. When she went to the pharmacy to get medicine for her heart condition, she was denied it.
Thelma was told she may not get her Social Security checks for two months.
As if getting a letter saying you’re deceased isn’t stressful enough, the women had to visit the Social Security office to prove to officials not only that they weren’t dead, but also to impress on them how critical it is that they receive their monthly checks.
Shirley, of Pittsfield, lives with and takes care of her two grown sons, one of whom is disabled from having fallen off a three-story roof; the other, who has suffered four heart attacks and a major stroke.
I met Shirley, a widow and retired nurse’s aide, in February as she was waiting in line at the Social Security office in Waterville. She said she had received a letter addressed to her estate, saying she was decreased.
Her Social Security check, she said, is her lifeline. Every month she uses it to pay for oil, electricity, food, and other necessities.
After I wrote a column about Shirley’s plight, Thelma’s grandson contacted me and said she, too, had received a letter notifying her estate that she was dead. Thelma lives in Oakland, 30 miles away from Shirley, and like Shirley, takes care of two people — her grandchildren, who are 13 and 14. She also relies on her Social Security check to survive.
Thelma called Shirley and they began communicating by telephone, comparing notes and commiserating in what they say has been a very exhausting and frightening time.
Meanwhile, I contacted the U.S. Social Security Administration’s regional office in Boston to find out how the mix-up occurred, and was told by the public affairs officer that the administration receives death information from various sources such as family members, funeral homes and federal agencies and handles death notices with an accuracy rate of about 99.9 percent. He also said if any inaccuracies arise, the Social Security Administration takes immediate action to correct them.
He asked me for Thelma and Shirley’s contact information so he could call them.
Thelma contacted me Thursday to say he had indeed called.
“I said, â€˜Well, do you think I’m going to get my check?'” she recalled. “â€˜Yes,’ he said, I’ll see to it.'”
Afterward, the local Social Security office notified her the problem had been fixed.
She also went to Senior Spectrum’s Muskie Center in Waterville, where a woman helped her to change her supplemental insurance company to one that will charge her less money, she said.
When I called Thelma Thursday, she was repairing quilts and sounding much more upbeat.
“I’m really happy,” she said. “Thank the good Lord.”
Shirley also was hopeful. She had revisited the Social Security office and called that office repeatedly to plead her case.
“I told them ,â€˜I need that money now'” she recalled.
Finally, she said, a woman from the office called to assure her all was repaired.
Not wanting to take any chances, Shirley immediately drove to her pharmacy and asked if the computer showed she has insurance for her prescriptions.
“Everything went through,” she said. “I was able to get my medicine.”
She also visited her bank to make sure her Social Security check had been deposited.
“If it wasn’t, I was going to raise holy heck,” she said. “I’ve got Irish in me and I’ve got Indian in me and I was ready to go down and do the war dance.”
Happily, she learned the funds were there, just as the Social Security woman promised.
Relief doesn’t describe how Shirley feels. That Social Security money tides her over, month to month, as she shops for food and other necessities, always watching for the lowest prices on everything, and searching for the best deals. She prides herself on finding items that are marked way down.
“I get everything on sale,” she said. “We have homemade soups. All my clothes come from the thrift shop. I haven’t had any new clothes in years and years and years. I go down to the thrift shop by the church and buy shoes for 50 cents. I don’t care if they been worn by three other people. In my house, I don’t have anything that matches — I’m all odds and ends. But I’m comfortable.”
She says she doesn’t know how much more time she has on this earth, but she’s not dead yet, and feels blessed to be alive.
“I was brought up poor, but I feel if the good Lord puts something in front of me, I’m going to be thankful for it.”
Amy Calder has been a Morning Sentinel reporter 26 years. Her column appears here Mondays. She may be reached at [email protected]