Monday, October 1, 2007

Visit to Social Security

I do not recall visiting Social Security when my mother died. Someone must have but if it was me then the visit made no lasting impression.

I checked the website and found the instructions on what to do when someone died. So I called and reported the death on the Monday after my dad died the preceding Friday. The person I talked to said I needed to bring in the death certificate to complete the process and I received the certificates this past Saturday.

So I found the address of my local Social Security office this morning and headed up there as soon as I got around which wasn't terribly early. It was just before 11 when I opened the door. I was greeted by this uniformed officer kind of fellow who asked me what I needed. I told him and he responded that I needed a ticket and pressed a button on a keypad next to a keyboard and monitor mounted on a stand directly in front of the door. A little printer soon ejected a paper slip with the number "78" printed on it.

I thought "78!" and wondered where in the queue that put me.

The computer screen appeared to be a 15" CRT. As nearly as I could tell there were three options on the screen. One was for applying for social security cards or numbers and a second was for appointments. Everything else, which included my task, was the third choice.

I chose a chair next to the window on the 2nd row. It was one of those kind of vinyl covered chairs and I think it was sort of orange colored or at least it reminded me of that. It was actually pretty comfortable. There were about 20 or 30 people in the waiting area. They rather grouped themselves into little units. There were a few of us who were alone but we were in the minority.

The people who had appointments were called by name. The people who were getting cards were called by numbers in the 120's range and the rest of us were also called by number but of a different range. I heard 72 called and thought to myself that I wasn't too far from the current number.

There were three windows labeled with the numbers 1, 2, and 3. Window 1 was nearest the door and right across from me. Window 2 was closed. Window 3 seemed to be handling the people needing cards. Only once did a door open and someone called out a name and a man and woman rose from their seats and disappeared into the inner sanctum of the place.

Soon someone else entered the office and the polite officer asked them their business. They tried to explain in detail but he quickly got them a ticket and helped them find a chair. I heard the man say he had been living out of country and now was returned and need to inquire about Medicare benefits.

I must say this officer's voice and demeanor was so soothing that I think he must be an invaluable resource to this particular office. I wonder if anyone knows the contribution he makes just by his presence and his calmness and his courtesy. He just so easily put everyone at ease that he helped.

But he left for a break shortly afterwards and the next person that came in rather cautiously approached the computer monitor as though it were a wild animal not quite domesticated and capable of inflicting injury on the unsuspecting. I watched him read the instructions on the monitor but to my astonishment he proceeded to strike several keys on the keypad in quick succession. He did manage to get a ticket printed but it seemed to him unsatisfactory and he interrupted the lady at window 3 for further guidance. She had to come out and type whatever it was necessary to generate the ticket. I think he was a little deaf.

The next couple seemed to know exactly what to do or at least the woman did. And she had the ticket in her hand almost before I had time to wonder about it. They sat across from me and down to my right.

The next couple was a man and a woman. The man apparently had difficulty with his eyesight because he leaned way over to peer at the CRT and the keypad. Whatever he needed to do required the last 4 digits of his social security number and this seemed to be one step too far. He kept talking to himself and left the lady there by herself to grapple with the keypad. The lady from the previous couple tried to help. She finally got a ticket but I really have no idea whether it was correct or not because they were still there when I left.

Finally my number was called. The man who I thought was deaf apparently didn't hear the number very well and he asked several times "Did you call [number_of_choice]" to which the lady in window 3 replied "No, it was number 78." I took my place in front of window 1 and slid across my ticket on top of my official death certificate. The lady received both and typed something on her own keyboard. Finally she asked if I was a relative and what relationship and what was my social security number. And a few minutes later she handed me the death certificate. I said "is that all?" and she said it was.

It was 11:35 AM. About 40 minutes and I thought to myself that it could have been much longer.

All in all I think it was a sad experience if not just a little frightening.


Chris said...

These types of things is the stuff I don't like. Just seems like there should be more to it, some kind of fanfare, something....a simple keyflick and it's all said and done. In the eyes of our government, we are a 9 digit number, easier for organization and accountability. In the eyes of many, you are a wonderful son who did his best, lovingly, by his father.

Peace be yours as you go through these final tasks.

Cinnamin said...

Hi Flinty - Just wanted to check in and say "hello"...I totally agree with Chris, you are a wonderful son who did his best, lovingly, by your father!

I hope you are able to get into a YOU routine and enjoy spending time and travels with Judy. She sure sounds like a nice lady!

I don't envy you that visit to the SS office! Mom lost her card a few years ago and it seemed to take forever to get through all of that red tape involved! You did well, congrats!

~Betsy said...

Chris said it well - there should be some sort of fanfare.

I hope there aren't too many of these tasks for you, Terry. I found them to be grueling.

I think of you, Lori and Nancy often and pray you are all settling into some sort of new life.

nancy said...

i don't remember doing anything for social security either when my mom died. i'm pretty sure the funeral director handled all of that. i think the funeral home is also handling that again. i will have to check with my sister on that.

SKYGIRL said...

Oh Flinty, you are such an observer? Every detail, every person, room temp, smell, emotional tone? I actually think someone should do a 'skit' regarding any government office.

Maybe Saturday Night Live? Perhaps you could submit one? Yes, a screen writer, perhaps this is your new career?

IRS, Social Security, DMV, take your pick! At least you made the best of it, which it seems you always do.

Lori1955 said...

I had my day at Social Security today. I'll blog about it. I thought the wait was absolutely ridiculous for a one minute hand over of a death certificate.

Chris said...

Our funeral home dealt with the SS office about Mom. Dad was worried about the checks and asked the director about it and he said he had already handled it. I was so grateful. At that point, I didn't want Dad to have to make any more calls or handle any more final business than he absolutley had to. I have gotton very protective over my dad and his feelings.