By Dr Kenneth D Kemp
THE opportunity to age gracefully is something that I suspect all human beings long for. Where the differences materialise, however, is in the age we’d like to achieve before dying. Some say 75, while the majority respond somewhere in their 80s or 90s. Rarely does anyone say 100, thinking that it’s too far-fetched to even conceive.
Truth is, they’re not wrong. The average life expectancy in The Bahamas is 73 for men and 79 for women. Likely owing to easier access to more advanced health care options late in life, or a healthier lifestyle in general, in the United States those numbers are marginally higher than ours at 78 for men and 82 for women.
Genetics play an important role in this process. Barring any unforeseen life-ending trauma it’s reasonable for individuals to expect to survive as long as their parents and grandparents.
Numerous studies have proven that parents with poor eating habits have children and grandchildren with multiple medical co-morbidities.
Health-conscious parents, by contrast, furnish their children with life sustaining dietary and exercise habits.
Passed down either knowingly or unknowingly from one generation to the next, their offspring typically live longer and enjoy a better quality of life.
That was certainly the case for the patient discussed in today’s report.
She, at the age of 108, learned everything she knows by watching and emulating her mother. I call her Mama Millie and this is her story.
Mama Millie was born in August 1914, just two weeks after the start of World War I. She was one of six children and growing up, she loved to run and play with her siblings. Her mother taught them to love and protect one another, to be kind and respectful of elders and to never gossip. She carried those lessons throughout her entire life and just this past week she challenged me to do the same.
Her mother walked everywhere and worked tirelessly in their home and on their farm. She also believed in the healing powers of plants and she picked, boiled and made a tea of various herbs for her children daily. Mama Millie drank this bush medicine consistently until she turned 100.
Originally from Black Point, Exuma, Mama Millie watched many of her neighbours struggle financially when the sponging industry collapsed because of the war.
The Bahamas was still a Crown colony at the time and it taught her about the power of community and helping neighbours in their time of need.
She was four when the first world war ended and nine when the international suffrage movement began fighting for women’s right to vote and an increase in the minimum age to marry, which at the time was 12 years old.
Mama Millie never liked school and was quite satisfied to leave early, barely able to read and write, but knowing what she wanted.
And what she wanted was to be a housewife and to be her own boss. She says proudly that she fulfilled both of those goals, marrying for love and never working a day for another person.
She was in her mid-teens when a fisherman asked her out one evening. She paid little attention to him until she saw him the following day with the sun shining on his fit body. Her heart skipped a beat. He was so handsome, she stated with a deep smile, and from that day forward, her heart belonged to him.
Their marriage, she exclaimed with her fists clenched tightly, taught her that sometimes in life you have to fight to get what you want or keep what you have.
Standing at only four feet, eleven inches, she once fought a woman who was twice her size in height and weight who tried to seduce her husband.
Mama Millie tells the story of how she beat the fat Jezebel so badly she was arrested and taken before the courts to answer for her crime.
When the judge saw her small size compared to the victim, he was shocked that a small axe could cut down such a mighty tree and let her go with a warning.
Sadly, Mama Millie’s husband died over 60 years ago from an unknown disease and she misses him to this day. They were married for over 30 years and had six children.
After the death of her husband, Mama Millie’s children supported her financially.
She had a busy, but ordered life taking care of her children and grandchildren and through it all she gives God thanks for her many blessings.
Specifically, she’s enjoyed great health her entire life. Apart from occasional pain in her knee and shoulder joints, fingers and neck she has no complaints.
At 108, Mama Millie has no medical problems and is not on any medications.
Her vision is blurry when attempting to see at a distance and her hearing is beginning to fail in one ear but she recognises that it could be so much worse. Her memory is as sharp as it gets and she recalls her childhood with microscopic clarity.
Her life has not been without injury or incident. Many years ago, she was standing on a ladder cleaning her roof when she lost her balance and fell. That accident cost her a broken foot that healed without issue.
Another time, she was babysitting her grandchildren when an armed robber broke into her daughter’s home and assaulted her. She was struck in the neck with a sharp object but she got back up and started hitting him with such intensity that he ran off with a second assailant on motorbike. The neck injury still plagues her and she’s unable to sit in one position for long periods of time without eliciting discomfort.
The joy of long life and seeing the world change before your eyes with the birth of future generations is unfortunately also coupled with great loss.
Mama Millie has outlived all of her childhood friends, her parents, teachers, siblings, neighbours, husband and three of her children.
Her most recent loss was the death of her daughter who was killed in 2017 when she was hit by a truck crossing the street. She was 73 at the time.
The loss of one child was devastating but three has been soul crushing and it’s left a hole in her heart that’s still as raw as it is deep, despite the passage of time.
Today, Mama Millie lives with her daughter, Coolie, and their house is filled with incredible laughter and love.
Every day, her neighbours, church members and family visit and seeing them makes her happy. She sits on her porch daily until almost 10pm at night singing Christian hymns and talking to her visitors. She misses the days when she could bake bread for the children in her community.
Before school they’d stop by the house and get hot bread and she’d remind them to be nice because you can’t see God’s face if you’re not nice.
Mama Millie has lived her life by the platinum rule, treating others the way you want to be treated.
Other lessons that she shared with me are that manners and respect take you through the world whether you can read or write, to be good even to those who spitefully use you and to never want for anything that Jesus can’t give you.
Mama Millie also added a tip from her fighting days; if the person is bigger than you, push before they can react, kick and run.
Mama Millie loves to travel and especially enjoyed her trips to Cuba.
Her favourite things to eat are chicken wings and native-grown bananas and she loves Ensure nutritional shakes (vanilla or strawberry flavored).
She received a signed commendation from the Queen on her 100th birthday and last year she received a Queen’s honour bestowed at a service at the Baha Mar hotel. It sits proudly on her living room table and she welcomes anyone to see it as they pass her, either cleaning her yard or lounging on her patio chair, gracefully waving and smiling at all her neighbours.
Mama Millie has lived for a century and has been the gatekeeper of her family for most of her life, watching after and protecting them.
The role of gatekeeper in Greek and Roman mythology is one reserved for a supernatural being who bridges Earth with the spiritual world, connecting the two irreverent of time.
And like the gatekeepers of folk legend, Mama Millie connects our world with a time long past.
Her eyes are the portal to a time we can’t comprehend or recognise but for the stories passed down by those old enough to share them.
This is the KDK Report.
birdiestrachan 3 months, 1 week ago
I was wondering who is the aged one surely not that beautiful lady sitting down majestically , so it must be the man standing besides her just smiles and feeling good,
email@example.com 2 months, 3 weeks ago
That is a wonderful story. Continue to share it as it is both a good example and a glimpse into a life and way of living gone forever.
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