EDITORIAL – An overflowing cakeful of candles to our Cayman centenarians

“Do not regret growing older. It is a privilege denied to many.”
– Author unknown

On the front page of today’s newspaper, we introduce you to a number of Cayman’s oldest, most enduring and, perhaps by definition, most interesting men and women. All are triple-digit in age and share membership in Cayman’s most exclusive club: They are our centenarians.

Compass reporter Jewel Levy spent many hours with our centenarians – visiting with them at their homes, at their bedsides, at The Pines Retirement home, and, in Wellesley Howell’s case – he just turned 103 – at his place of business.

In a way, we are envious of Ms. Levy for her assignment. Spending time with those older, and almost always wiser, among us is often enlightening and always fulfilling. A wonderful conversation starter with any elderly individual is always, “What is the most valuable lesson you have learned in life that I might benefit from?” The answers are invariably revealing, surprising and wise.

As we edited today’s article, Compass Publisher David R. Legge recalled an assignment from several decades ago when he worked as a reporter and editor at Florida’s St. Petersburg Times. St. Petersburg had developed a well-deserved reputation as a city for seniors (some irreverently called it “God’s waiting room”), and Mr. Legge was tasked with explaining “what it was like to be a senior.”

To get a better perspective, he moved into what was then known as an “old age home” for several weeks to live among sexagenarians, septuagenarians, octogenarians, nonagenarians and perhaps even a centenarian or two.

The most poignant takeaway? The elderly are lonely. They long for, and live for, contact with their children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and for many, great-great-grandchildren.

The most anticipated event of the day was the arrival of the mailman. A letter, a card, even a short note from a loved one was a treasure to be read, reread and, certainly, to be shared with the larger group. But most often, for most seniors, mail call was a disappointment: They got nothing. (“Oh, you know how the kids are these days; they’re so busy and they’ve got their own lives to live …”)

It would be easy, even tempting, to romanticize caring for the elderly or, in some cases, the infirm. But in truth, it can be very difficult because the elderly can become, as they get on in years, increasingly difficult – forgetful, intolerant, and endlessly demanding and seemingly ungrateful.

Caregivers will confide that too often their best (only?) tools for coping are patience and an at-the-ready sense of humor.

In many modern families, young adults depart from their hometowns in pursuit of education or employment, leaving their parents and grandparents far behind.

Often, however, a son or daughter will remain in the nest and, by default, become the caregiver for an aging relative. These people are deserving of sainthood, and we suspect they all get a free pass to Heaven.

Our purpose in this editorial, of course, is to recognize, applaud and, indeed, celebrate those with 100 or more candles on their birthday cakes.

In closing, we will remind you of an apropos title of a Jimmy Buffett tune:

“Life’s Short, Call Now.”

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