Morrisella Middleton didn’t anticipate that she would need to care for her daughter’s children, but she gladly accepted the responsibility. Despite the day-to-day difficulties that arose, the Baltimore resident raised her grandchildren while working hard as a supervisor of an assisted living facility to provide a good life for them.
Although her daughter Yolanda was married with two children, she fought problems with drugs. Their father Shane Morrell, Sr. held a construction job renovating old houses. One day he was rushed to the hospital coughing up blood. Shortly after he recovered, he experienced another coughing attack with even more blood. Doctors ran tests and determined that Shane had mesothelioma, a form of cancer most often associated with the inhalation of asbestos. His physician told him he never saw such an advanced case in such a young man before and gave him just more six months to live.
“I knew it was important that Shane spend as much time with his kids as possible,” Morrisella said, “so I took them all over town to hospitals, clinics, wherever he was at for his treatments.” His condition worsened. In four months, Shane landed in hospice care.
Morrisella threw a Super Bowl party for him in his hospice room, improving Shane’s spirits. But the day after the party, he took a turn for the worse. When she visited him that day, he told her that he wasn’t going to live much longer.
“He was really weak, could barely move,” Morrisella said. “He was trying to talk to me and I watched him slowly reach over and open a drawer to his night stand.” He pulled out brand-new copies of some paperwork, including his Social Security card that the hospice staff had helped him obtain, and then handed them to her.
“Miss Morrisella,” he said, “please take care of my son.” He also handed her an envelope with some money and instructed her to give it to Shane Jr. at Christmas. Two days later, Shane Sr. was gone.
“Their father died about 11 years ago. I’ve raised their daughter Laquanna since she was four and Shane Jr. since he was three, right after his father’s death,” Morrisella said. “Laquanna is 23 now and Shane is 17, so it’s been quite a while.”
After caring for the children for several years, Morrisella’s world crumbled around her in 2007. Diagnosed with congestive heart failure, malignant hypertension and cancer, she needed to go on disability. A year later, her daughter Yolanda died.
Shortly thereafter, Morrisella lost 80% of her wealth during the economic downturn. She needed to rely completely on Social Security including her contributions from her past employment and the survivor benefits that Laquanna and Shane received.
“Social Security has been my lifeline – my only lifeline,” Morrisella said. “It’s been critical for me in raising the children and their future. Thank goodness for the survivor benefits for the kids and what I contributed to in the 44 years I have worked. It’s been my only token to get by.”
She says her experience taught her what Social Security can mean to a family, something she never fails to communicate to the children.
“I tell my grandkids all the time of the importance of Social Security,” she said. “It’s important to get a job, to pay into the system. It could make a huge difference in your life. It certainly has in mine.”
With her cancer in remission, Morrisella looks forward to a new endeavor: volunteering at a local hospital to help other cancer patients through their treatments.
“My first instinct has always been to hurry up and get better soon and get back to work,” she said, “and that’s what I’ve been trying to do.”
For more Social Security success stories, download Generations United’s publication Social Security: What’s at Stake for Children, Youth and Older Adults.