Facing up to the challenges of old age

Arthurlyn Miller finds joy in working crochet. This piece, ‘The Good Shepherd,’ took her a long time to make. – Photo: Jewel Levy

The challenges of old age are many, and North Side resident Arthurlyn “Arty” Miller, 87, worries about Cayman’s elderly, as in her words, when you are old, “dog eat your supper,” the expression meaning things are not going well for you.

“I feel good, only thing is I can’t walk by myself because I get nervous … thank God, I can still comb my hair,” Ms. Miller said above the clickety clack of her walker. She sits on the porch to watch the chickens feed and the birds fly over. This is her top priority for the day.

“I come to the porch to look at the chickens because all they do is eat,” Ms. Miller says with a chuckle. “I like to watch them and the birds too. They make me feel better. Then I look at the trees.”

One of 10 children born to Clarabell Watler and Alfred Watler, Ms. Miller grew up in Bodden Town.

“My best days growing up were going to church, school and helping my family,” she recalls.

“It was better days back then for everyone; even the older people would share what little they had. Today people tell each other not to share because they are working. We had no work and shared. The government was not helping us in any way.”

In her later years, she married North Sider Mack Miller and moved to North Side where she resides to this day.

According to Ms. Miller, aging is not for the faint of heart. If you do not start losing your eyesight, there are arthritis and other illnesses that may come along. Even simple tasks like opening a medicine bottle, getting dressed, walking or bathing can sometimes be a challenge if one does not have help.

It takes her close to 15 minutes to make it from the bedroom to the porch some 10 feet away.

“It’s tough going for shut-ins … oh, I made it,” she said all in one breath.

“When breakfast comes and you are not able to get up and get it, forget about it. You’ll just sit there and think about it. Helpers come and helpers go and then you are alone,” Ms. Miller said.

She worries about older people in North Side, East End and all over Cayman who are suffering for want of help.

“Good God, [someone should] go to the shop and buy a little sugar and a small bottle of coffee and tin of cream, give it to them and get somebody to take care of them,” she said.

Ms. Miller’s biggest fear is not knowing who is going to take care of her when she gets much older.

“It feels very bad to have a stranger come in and take care of you, and when you have no money to pay and feed them, you feel even worse,” said Ms. Miller, thanking God for her son Chester marrying her daughter-in-law Judy, who helps to take care of her.

But she knows that not all elderly folks are so fortunate.

“I think someone needs to go out and check on these people, to find out whether their families are taking care of them and they are not alone,” said Ms. Miller.

“If they not got money, someone could buy [food] and cook it for them. If not, the next day we will hear ding dong, that means you dead and gone.”

Her advice in a nutshell? Enjoy life while you can.

“You got your good days now, enjoy them, because when you get 50 and start going on the other side, you will wish you were dead … your mind goes and everything else with it, and when you get to the place that you can’t remember anything you want to know, it is a very sad story,” she said.

Despite Ms. Miller’s chirpy spirit, there is a sadness to her voice when asked if she gets out very often.

“Nobody don’t carry me nowhere because they don’t have time. When they come home, all they can do is flop out and go to sleep.”

But she has made peace with staying put these days.

“I like to stay home and watch who is passing on the road. I am afraid of the cars on the roads because from the news so many accident happen every day,” she said.

Ms. Miller finds joy in everyday pastimes – she loves to crochet, which she learned to do when she was 32. In her younger days she would sell her pieces to every “Tom, Dick and Harry,” an old folk saying she said came from Aunt Becky Barnes.

“Aunt Becky from Bodden Town was a good old soul,” she recalls with a laugh.

Ms. Miller said she looks up to God and says to him to make her live until she reaches 100. And if he wants to put 100 more with that, she is willing to wait here and ride it out.

With a chuckle, Ms. Miller said she does not know if she will get her wish because she is already 87.


  1. This is the saddest article I have ever read. There got to be a way for the community to step in. Social isolation is lethal at any age and no one deserves to die alone and abandoned. School age children can “adopt” an elderly person, visit regularly, entertain, brightening up their days. We did it when I was growing up.
    There is the Elderly rights Law in China.In France parents also protected by Law.
    In Korea an honorable adult duty to care for his or her parents. The Japanese expect children to dutifully tend to their parents. The elderly in western cultures often move to retirement communities, assisted living facilities, and nursing homes. The Mediterranean and Latin culture it’s commonplace for multiple generations to live under one roof where the aged remain thoroughly integrated well into their last days.
    To conclude my commen, I want to say that I support ”dignitas” organisation – “To live with dignity – to die with dignity”. Hope it will be legal in most countries soon.

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