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Friday, September 7, 2018

Divorcees - Are You Pulling Your Full Social Security Benefit? Part 3

And the verdict is:

If you haven't read Part 1 and Part 2 leading up to what I discovered from Social Security, and perhaps you really don't have time, please read the following paragraph where I will give a synopsis of a benefit few divorced women know about.

I filed for Social Security early (62 years of age). I have also worked while receiving my benefits, but the pay I received did not require that I had to pay additional taxes. The requirements for the benefit I will start receiving is that:

  1. I am divorced
  2. Was married to my ex-husband over 10 years
  3. I did not remarry
  4. He passed away

Under this outline, I am a Surviving Divorced Spouse, entitled to Dual Entitlement - a benefit that can provide me with a major portion of my ex-husband's Social Security check. In a nutshell, my social security monthly payment more than doubled.

If you fit the parameters of the 1, 2, 3, 4 outline above, and you feel your ex-husband earned a higher social security payment than yourself, take your:

  • 1. Birth Certificate
  • 2. Certified Marriage Certificate (with your ex-husband)
  • 3. Certified Divorce Decree
  • 4. Your Driver's License

to your local Social Security Office and apply for Dual Entitlement. It may take a few visits, but the additional benefits will be worth it.

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Divorcees - Are You Pulling Your Full Social Security Benefit? Part 2

On my last posting, I reported that I discovered a benefit that I had to report to Social Security in order to attain.  (Click Here for Part 1). People have asked, "What Happened?"

True to form, the application taken over the phone was not totally completed and I had to go down to my local Social Security office and repeat the process. Upon its completion, the date of my application was then locked in for any retro-payment that may occur.

Though I took the kitchen sink of records with me, (I wanted to be prepared), the three documents that were absolutely necessary were my birth certificate, a certified copy of our marriage certificate, and a certified copy of our divorce decree. I also took my passport, and the last taxes we filed together showing our Social Security numbers. They didn't use the tax return, and the clerk really didn't spend much time looking at my passport.

Did I find out anything? No. That was appointment number 1. He did, however, report that I was eligible for additional benefits, assigned me another appointment, and reported that I should once again bring the certified copy of my marriage certificate, and a certified copy of our divorce decree. (I will bring back the kitchen sink file as I like to be prepared).

My appointment is this week, and we'll see what happens at appointment number 2.

In the meantime, they have sent several letters that really don't apply to me, and are sent to everyone who applies for benefits. I was instructed to ignore those as they pertain to my situation.

Stay tuned for Part 3.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Divorcees - Are You Pulling Your Full Social Security Benefit? Part 1

There is a class that is not offered as we are growing up and truthfully, we probably wouldn't take it  if it was available. However, by 60 years of age, we'd be eager to register.

Yes, there is a mountain of information regarding Social Security benefits, but it's left up to us to glean through mass storehouses of pamphlets or website pages. It's virtually impossible if a person has other things to do with their lives. What I discover more and more as we proceed forward is that numerous women are surviving on less than what they deserve by the Social Security outlines. And this is due to just not knowing what to do.

I am not a representative of the Administration; neither have I, or will work for them. But I am both a widow and a divorcee who is learning the hard way.

Three years ago, I began receiving benefits and was required upon filing to include both husbands on my application. I was advised that I would receive the highest amount possible, whether that was from my own earnings, or pulling from a past husband's earnings - whichever was higher. And when it was completed and I was able to talk to a representative, I was told that I was pulling from my ex-husband's account. I actually repeated my question to the nice gentleman on the phone and he repeated the answer - I was pulling from my ex-husband's account.

Three years later, I find that NO, I WAS NOT.  He was never linked to my account.

I also discovered that if I was married to my ex-husband for 10 or more years (which I was), and did not remarry before the age of 60, I was eligible to receive survivor benefits from his account (entitled "dual entitlement") upon his death. Naturally, they're not going to find me; I have to do the leg work. How many divorcees do not know this and have never take advantage of it?

I will convey there could be other circumstances that would affect this, but I was married to him for 12 years, worked and paid taxes, and after divorcing him, I never remarried. Today, a free call to their 800 number showed that I was now eligible to a portion of his social security. Yes, once again, we were divorced but that doesn't matter. We were married over 10 years and I am considered by Social Security to be a Surviving Divorced Spouse.

I can't tell you how much of an increase for the rest of my life I'll receive, and naturally, that will depend on a number calculations, but I should know by September. I'll keep you up to date. We don't enjoy calling the Administration, but what if a free call showed you were not receiving the best percentage available?

It's a free call. It may take several days. But if you have an inkling that perhaps your initial benefit amount was incorrect, or that you might be eligible for an increase due to the death of a spouse or ex-husband, give them a call. Let a representative double check your account.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Menopause In A Nutshell

For those women born in the 50s or before, there's a good chance you went through menopause with minimum to no support, accept what a male doctor could tell you (which was usually very little). Luckily, for those in their 40s and facing this transformation, there is the Internet and women who are willing to talk about symptoms, multiple solutions, and support. What a change social media has created.

Still, with all the chatter online, there are still those women who wonder what they'll be experiencing. They'd like to know now and fast, without having to read 20 books on the topic, so here I am. And as far as my credentials - I'm a woman in her 60s who went through it cold turkey. That's all the credentials I need.

This is a journey that's a little different for everyone. Not everyone starts at the same time, ends at the same time, or has identical symptoms, but many of them will be similar. There are those who will have more challenges than others. And there will be a few who will swear they sailed through it like a breeze. Really? Ask the people they lived with.

It is a span of 7 to 10 years that every woman has to walk alone. No one can do it for you. I'm not going to pull any punches. What makes this more challenging than puberty, and other life passages, is that it not only transforms your body, but your mind and emotions as well. There are many things I would do for my friends so that they would not have to endure it, but this is not one. Most women feel that way.

My symptoms started at 45. I don't know why I should remember exactly when, but I do. I think it's because I had no one to talk to. Shoot, even the doctor wouldn't talk to me! And it started with something as simple as formication. No, not fornication - form with an M - formication. I was on a farm, milking twice a day, so the thought of a bug crawling on my ankles wasn't unusual. I'd swat the dumb thing away while I continued milking with the other hand. After about three good swats, I'd finally stop and look for the blasted thing. No. There was nothing there - just the sensation.

It didn't really worry me, though I did wonder if there was something burrowing under my skin. Fear not. It's just estrogen minutely leaving your system. It doesn't last forever and I wish I could recall how long it lasted. I would have to say that it was probably on and off for a year, or until the other symptoms overroad the sensation. Where you'll experience it can be different. My neighbor said it was on her nose, while others reported their arm, knee, or back.

Sometime later, you're going to have your first heart palpitation. And I'm going to talk to you straight. It's not like those flutters you get when you've fallen in love and he rolls up in your driveway. You're going to be in the middle of something, not paying any attention to your body, and suddenly your heart skips a beat - maybe even two. It'll get your attention! Then, it kickstarts itself by slamming into your chest. No, it does not hurt, but it sure scared the bajeebers out of me! It scared Oprah as well who thought she had the beginnings of heart disease. She immediately sought the advice of her doctors and no one would talk about it. It took a long time for her to find someone who would talk to her about normal menopause symptoms, and at that point, she realized that a lot of women were experiencing the same silence. She created a show on the topic in hopes of helping others.

The heart palpitations don't happen all the time, and it won't happen every day. But it will occur. This is where I tell you that it really is a good idea to have it checked out by a physician to make sure you don't have something else occurring. But, I also want you to know that most of us have been through it. Why? Once again, your body is losing more estrogen in your system.

Within time, my electric personality began to develop with mood swings. Actually, they weren't swinging; they were stuck in one mode. This was not necessarily pleasant for those around me. If you're reading this with your lover, boyfriend, husband, or a close male friend, you might want him to read this part as well. There comes a day, when your estrogen level is a bit lower and your testosterone level is a minute bit higher than it's been all your life. No, you're not going to look like a man, but you're going to experience something he has had to deal with since birth - assertiveness, aggression, and anger. He was raised in childhood and his teenage years to control those emotions in a socially acceptable manner. He was guided to use his power and aggression in such a way as to achieve the goals he wanted, influence the people around him, and to hold his own in a debate. You, on the other hand, have just entered his world, with years of being told that "ladies don't act that way". You were expected to stuff your feelings, smile, and be sweet.

Welcome to his world - without the training. When will you notice this? The first time he says something you've deemed as stupid, and you've stuffed that emotion just a wee bit too long. You'll fly with what's really been on your mind for the last 40 years, and you really aren't going to give a hoot how it affects him. In fact, there's a good chance you're probably going to like it at first. But in time, even you will get tired of popping off at everyone.

During one of those episodes, my husband asked if I took my pills that day. Way Wrong Question. I opened another entryway into the attic. He never asked that one again.

I wish I could tell you that that phase will last for a few short weeks, but it's really not going to. It's going to be your attitude for quite some time. Some women never lose it. It's then that you're going to have to decide just how you'll address it. Read up on it. Keep an open mind and consider your options. Try a few choices and see what feels right. Ultimately, you'll choose the route that works for you.

My family had encountered too much cancer, and hormone replacement therapy was then out of the question. I chose the alternative therapy with an herbal supplement and it worked well. Taking the edge off my new explosive personality (and it was) really helped me mentally and emotionally for the rest of the adventure. Dare I say that after the adventure ends, we don't return to stuffing our emotions either. For those gentlemen who fantasize about the good ol' days returning, they're gone. It's part of the package.

With the new personality comes the power surges. The world knows them as hot flashes and everyone accepts them differently. They're going to be your constant companion, so truthfully, try to work with them and not against them. Every time I experienced one, I knew it was one more step away from the incredibly painful periods I'd endured since I was 14. Luckily, the herbal supplement took the edge off of them as well, but not the experience.

Other than HRT, there is no magic pill that makes them go away. Once you are taken off the HRT, you'll still have to address the symptoms, so you have to decide whether you go through it now or later. Time will take them away. They do not last forever and you'll even have one from time to time long after menopause is over.

A sudden change in hormones, and additional mood swings - can we throw in sleeplessness or a change in sleep patterns as well? Even under the most normal of situations, loss of sleep doesn't make for a good day. Chances are, you're still working (in or outside the home), and this doesn't set well. And this factor can last for the rest of your life. You wonder what else could possibly occur, all at the same time. Well, there can be more.

We're going to take a break here, because you'll feel like that from day to day, and we need to address you for a moment. This isn't about anyone else. It's about you and a few things you can do to help feel mentally better. This is where you stop taking care of the entire world every single minute and address the path you are walking. Life is now different. It's not going to the same, but there are positive events ahead, and all this transformation comes to an end.

First, go to town and purchase yourself a nice daily organizer. You can get an inexpensive or expensive one. Either one will work, but make sure you like it. Make it fun because it's going to become your closest friend. Paper will ultimately become your brain, and I'm not ashamed to say that there were days I had to write in when to go to the bathroom. Yes, I did. It's not just your body that's on a journey; your mind is as well. That's what makes this transformation a tremendous challenge, and it always appears that no one around you understands. Use this personal calendar for whatever you need. Write it down, carry it with you, and you'll discover a lifesaver. No one else has to know what's in it.

Second, find a hobby, and/or topics you enjoy. Make yourself some "sacred space" to escape to. Whether it is inside or outside the house doesn't matter. What makes you happy at the present moment? It could even be something as simple as fancy tea in a bone china cup. It's a place for you to turn to when you're feeling like an alien on a strange planet, and you have no support. Again, it doesn't have to be expensive, or even the same focus from year to year. But you will need something that is all yours. Get creative, colorful, and make it positive.

Ok...we've had our break. Let's get down to the nitty gritty. A lot of women out there are coming out of 30 years of lousy periods. Painful, irritating, and many times you're expected to smile through it. Our minds don't comprehend that type of behavior any longer. Our bodily schedules are changing and for some, not always for the better. I was lucky. Over time, they faded away, but the pain did not. In fact, I was wondering if the pain would ever go away. The more "older" women I asked, the more I received the silent treatment. You'd think the children of the 50s invented this rite of passage.

One day, a friend of mine said her mom would talk to me and I was honored to sit down with a woman who would answer my question, "does the pain last forever?" The message was, "first your periods end, and then the pain ends." That's exactly what happened. In other words, I had a few more months of cramping, without spotting. Then, thank you God, the pain left for good.

There are other symptoms that some will endure, but perhaps you won't. Some endure migraines, but fortunately, I only had two. You may not have any. Some endure other physical pain; I did not. You may have a symptom of your own that your friends will not experience. The journey is basically the same, but at times, on different paths.

As women, we were all different and this "ending" holds variables for all of us. Again, research. There are women out there just like you. You'll learn a wealth of knowledge from them but trust your gut instincts. Talk to older women who will share their experiences. Find out what works for you to make your life more comfortable. And know that some of it has to be rode out without escape.

Relationships change. Words are spoken that you can't get back. There are times you feel you're going insane, but you are not. Those around you will grow impatient and ask you when you'll "get over it". You'll snap. You wonder if you can remember anything (see organizer above). And you wonder if it'll ever get better.

It does. It will. It will not last forever. Every year is a bit different. Billions of women have walked before you without support or help, but that does not minimize your journey. Take advantage of reading, researching, and trying something that works for you. There is no escape, so ride with it instead of against it. Find humor. Change your hairstyle. Have a makeover. Find some fun and hang onto the happy moments. It will get better and you'll discover a whole new life afterwards.

Friday, November 17, 2017

The Holidays - Make It A DVD Marathon Day!

The older I get, the more honest I get. I suppose that comes from time turning us all more honest and not caring what we sound like. Remember that grandmother that spouted off all sorts of "stuff"? We all eventually turn into her.

So, let's talk about the holidays. There are so many who sit alone on the holidays, and can't wait until January 1st. January 1st is that glorious day that states "It's 12 months until that time rolls around again" and we can just let it go.

If we look at the two back to back holidays in the States, they both scream "Family". I would write "Family and Friends" but so many of our friends go to their families and we're not always a part of that. Therefore, November and December make us feel like aliens from another planet.

We see it on the news. We see it online and in every shop we frequent. We see it on the Christmas cards, and even in the wrappings. Tell me - it makes you feel as if you don't belong, doesn't it? But I'll let you in on a little fact - many of those living with others feel the same way.

This year - 2017 - I'm giving you permission not to celebrate those holidays in the traditional ways. Do you know that if you do nothing but what you want to do that day, the Holiday Police will not visit your home? There are no citations, and no prison sentences.

I recall the year my husband passed away. Christmas was me and three dogs. That was it. People wanted me to put a tree and do all the holiday festivities because they knew it would make me feel better. B...S. Reality was, they wanted to believe I was ok. This made THEM feel better. I believe I did some of that, but what finally occurred was that the dogs and I had a food fight (far more fun) and I had a mess to clean up (it was worth it).

If you wish to do something that's special, do you enjoy movies? Make it a DVD movie marathon day! I've done that for several years. Go out and buy a bunch of DVDs that you've wanted to watch (or rent them), spend several days beforehand buying, cooking, or baking up a storm of things you like (it doesn't have to be traditional), start early on Christmas Day, and have a back to back foodfest and marathon.

Perhaps you just want to decorate for the season but not in the traditional manner. Stay away from red and green and choose colors of your choice. Maybe you like snowmen, white twinkle lights, or purple and white stones. Start a new tradition that's clearly you. I like the old Santas that look like wizards and can be kept up all year. A wizard or two around the house never hurt.

Or maybe you have a green thumb and enjoy the thought of purchasing Christmas Cactus. Most of them are blooming by now and I hand it to anyone who can keep them going. A small table with all those blossoms (and maybe a new tablecloth) can be special enough.

Whatever item that makes it fun for you (blue clocks, new socks, bright lights, 20 candles, etc) use it. Whatever hobby you enjoy (painting, cooking, photography, sewing, woodwork, leatherwork, etc.), choose a special project to start that day and center all activities around it. Throw on a great movie or tunes, and get out the crafts!

It's your day - not society's. There are many, many people out there doing the same thing. We are scattered far and wide, and tucked away creating a day of our own. Go for it! It's your day!

Monday, October 16, 2017

Living Off Demand - Following Nature's Footsteps

I suppose I watched my grandmother more than I thought. but it was interesting. She did things so different than how my parents and I lived - until this past decade.

I watched her as she walked down the garden path to the wash house. It was a great room for playing in (when we got away with it). A block constructed grey room, it housed the washer, a large concrete sink, an open shower, and a toilet area. Lye soap was made there in the summer for the entire year's use, and the block absorbed its scent.

Though the big house had a bathroom installed in the early 50s, the thought of bathing in the house was just something past generations couldn't fathom. So no matter the season, no matter the weather, once a day, the elders took their turn walking down to the wash house to shower.

And it's not that every day was perfect. There were times that it just wasn't going to get warm enough, and the space heater helped warm up those massive blocks ahead of time. Looking back, I realized their schedule for this practice changed with the seasons - it changed with the sun's transit.

When I starting living off the grid, or in the RV, I adopted this ritual, and also realized that past bathing rituals followed the heat of the day. Suddenly, there I was reliving a practice I found strange.

Since the 1950s (or thereabouts), society started living "On Demand." Everything we do is when we want to do it - a major change from days gone by. Off the grid, pass up the opportunity, just once, to make the sun your bathing partner, and a cold bath is awaiting you in the dark!

I know it's a different practice, but remember this story should you ever need it in the future. So many chores can still be accomplished if we only watch the sun and the weather of the day. We may have to bend, but it will ultimately get accomplished if we are flexible and follow the weather's footsteps.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

And Who Is Going To Take Care Of You?

As a genealogist, I learned through searching my own family tree, that caring for the elder members of a family has never been a guarantee.

From searching the Census Records, I discovered that my great-grandmother, Mary Bannister, took care of all the elders. It didn't matter that they lived 3,000 miles away surrounded by other children - some on the same road. The elders were packed up, put on the train, and sent to California to die.

Let's call it what it was, shall we?

She was born in 1879. Her husband, Arthur (my great-grandfather), was born in 1874. She had five siblings in her household and he had seven. Most lived in the towns where their parents lived, yet, they did not have time. So, from Kansas, Oklahoma, and Ohio they came in their latter 70s and early 80s, to try to adapt to a huge house that was not their own.

My Mother, born in 1923, was one out of six girls and two boys. Some lived within walking distance. Some lived with the same town. Yet, it was my mother who drove the 14 miles when they called to say that "Mom needs someone to take care of her." We would pack up, drive to the next town and get her when she was ill.

  • The others did not have room in their homes. Neither did we. She slept in my bed while I slept on the couch.
  • The others had husbands and children to take care of. So did my Mom.
  • They were very busy with their everyday chores. So was my Mom. If she didn't clean it, can it, make it, sew it, construct or create it, we didn't have it. We were not wealthy.

There came a time whereby Grandma naturally asked for my mother because she knew she didn't have to worry about hearing an excuse or "no".

My message today is that this practice didn't start yesterday, and it was practiced long before 1874 as well. As family structures have continued to be altered and broken down over time, and as children are raised more independently (or dependently) with each passing decade, caregiving is deteriorating in our society.

Insurance rarely, if ever, covers for a caregiver, or an institution in which to be hidden away.

I believe that the day of the Golden Girls will appear. In order to survive, we will band together in one home, doing the best we can to take care of each other. Younger generations may think that's great, but it will in many respects be the disabled trying to care for the disabled.

Years ago, I resigned myself to that fate and decided that it was time to learn from the older generations. I was fortunate to have a few homes to clean of women in their 80s and 90s. Oh! What I didn't learn to still achieve those things I would wish to practice if I lived to their age.

Our families will become those of whom we choose and not necessarily born within. Naturally, there will be no guarantees, so what will you do? In the days ahead, I shall share lessons learned from those women born in the 1800s, whom I was privileged enough to meet.