Smith: Social Security check one more painful reminder

A friend of mine told me recently that his girlfriend of many years just left him.

No note, no conversation, no explanation. She just walked out.

In a feeble attempt to console him, I offered that my wife's recent death on June 4 provided some similarities in our situations.

Yes, there is one major difference: I have no hope of ever getting Cay back, but he can dream of or work toward winning back his girlfriend.

But as tragic as my situation is, I have an advantage over my friend. I know that I have to move on, and I have been making progress doing so, but my friend is stuck in limbo.

He faces an undetermined time of uncertainty over whether he, too, should move on or try to restore what was lost.

The U.S. Social Security Administration (SSA) has determined that there is another benefit to dying. Coming across some paperwork Cay left, I noticed the possibility of some money due to me, money the SSA calls a "death benefit" provided to the surviving spouse.

So, I called to inform them that my wife had passed away.

"We've already received notice," the helpful representative said.

I wondered how they knew and determined that it was triggered by the issuance of her death certificate a couple of weeks prior.

After a few moments of calculating, he told me that the death benefit is $255.

"Would you like us to send you a check or would you like the money transferred to a bank account?" he asked.

The meager "benefit" is not an issue for us. Of course, any money helps, but I wasn't expecting anything so this is, well, I suppose a benefit.

I wondered what happened to all of the thousands of dollars Cay had contributed to her Social Security account, and when I asked aloud, the representative told me that when I turn 60, I am entitled to a monthly payment of about $1,250 until I retire.

About the same time I was talking to the SSA, I met Megan, the niece of a close friend, and her husband, Buddy, and their two dogs, Tanner and Rudy.

Megan and Buddy were passing through town on their way to Phoenix, where Megan will begin nursing school in a few days. Megan and Buddy were married in November and are expecting their first child later this year.

Buddy left a good job in Seattle so that his wife could realize her goal of becoming a nurse.

He said he would look for work once they were all moved in, and I got the impression that in order to support his family, such as it is, he will take a graveyard shift at a convenience store.

I like Buddy. In fact, I like him a lot.

I resisted the temptation to tell Megan and Buddy to embrace every moment of their time together and the adventure they have begun.

I wanted to tell them that before they know it, their kids will be grown and gone, and eventually, one of them would probably be calling the SSA to find out if they have a death benefit coming.

By that time, if the SSA is still in business, the benefit should be about $300.

STEVE SMITH is a Costa Mesa resident and a freelance writer. Send story ideas to

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