Although she has never married or had children of her own, Mary Thompson knew that she wanted to care for her two young nieces after her sister died unexpectedly from a brain aneurysm in 2004. “I knew I wanted to raise Brianna and Brandy. But I really did have a fear of how I was going to do it financially as a single person,” she said.
Initially, providing care for two children unexpectedly strained Mary’s budget. Her salary as a human resources assistant at a bank only allowed her to comfortably meet the needs of a single person. Suddenly, she needed to make it work for three.
“What I was making was not enough to handle food and clothes for the girls let alone if they would want to go to a movie or out to eat with their friends,” she said. “I was concerned. I didn’t know how I could make ends meet. My paycheck took care of house bills and whatever I needed personally, and that was about it.”
But about a year after her sister’s death, Thompson got some relief when she learned that her young nieces qualified for survivor benefits from Social Security.
“Someone told me about survivor benefits for the girls,” Mary said. “I didn’t know they were available, and once I started receiving the support, it really made a huge difference.” Currently, Brandi is 15 and a freshman in high school. Her older sister Brianna is 19, and a student at Lander University in Greenwood, South Carolina, studying secondary education.
Mary still counts on Social Security to meet her bills. “If I lost that, I’d have to find another way. It could come down to having to move,” she added, “which would mean disrupting Brandi’s life even more, putting her into a new school and taking her away from her friends.”
Regardless of her struggles, Mary always knew stepping in to raise her sister’s kids was the right thing to do for her and the children.
“I knew right away I didn’t want the girls split apart,” she said. “And it’s great being a parent. I ask the girls all the time, ‘do you know how much I love you? Do you know how important you are to me?’ And the smile and say, ’yes, auntie, you tell us all the time!’ It never fails to make me smile.”
Mary is very thankful for how Social Security helped her family to smile again and hopes the security it currently provides will remain available for families in the future.