Do Unto Others focuses on the Middle East, (nonviolent) social movements, and how I make sense of my place in the world. I'm currently based in Cairo, Egypt doing peacebuilding and community development.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Beneficiaries and Aging

Grandma Hazel Ruth, a volunteer for the Foster Grandparent Program, stepped into my office today to fill out some paperwork. One of the forms she needed to complete was an insurance beneficiary form. The purpose of the form is to designate an individual who would receive some monetary compensation in the case of the her death while under the Foster Grandparent program.

Hazel Ruth looked at the form with a puzzled expression. She blurted, "Well I can't fill this out." Inquisitive, I ask her why.

"Well I have no one to designate as a beneficiary."

I find Grandma Hazel Ruth to be one of the sharper volunteers in the program so I hesitate to explain to her some possible options, such as family members or close friends. My hesitation proves wise as she continues, "I don't have anyone who would receive this money. My son told me not to give him any money or put his name on any forms because it creates complications with the Sherrif's Department, his employer."

"Grandma Hazel Ruth, who did you have on your form last year," I question.

"Well I had my teacher from the classroom I work in because she was the person I knew the best. I suppose she was my closest friend. The problem is that the teacher has left the school and I am working with someone new. I would guess the new teacher would find it odd if I designated her as my insurance beneficiary. I don't know anyone well enough to put on this form."

We decided to leave the form blank but the whole encounter struck me with profundity. Age and relocation brought with it isolation and lack of intimate relationships. Besides the time that Grandma Hazel Ruth spends at a transitional homeless shelter in downtown San Diego, she doesn't spend time with other human beings. If she does, she doesn't really know them and they don't know her. Those relationships at her place of volunteering, 15 hours per week, are the most important relationships in her life. I hope someone is there to be on my insurance beneficiary form when I am old.