We Are Holding Our Breath…

Dawn Vickerstaff
4 min readAug 9, 2023


My husband’s mother is living in her home where she wants to be. She says, in so many words, that she is playing a waiting game. She’s waiting out her body, her mind, and our covered mouths worry. We can do nothing but watch closely and keep the carers in place.

She got her way when we removed her from respite. She waited us out, stubbornly refusing to engage in any therapy, in any form. “They don’t understand deaf people here,” she asserted.

We just sighed in frustration. How do you force a 93-year-old lady to get up and walk, engage in exercise designed for her, socialize with the other residents, or participate in events and activities? The answer is you don’t. All you can do is invite and make attractive, everything you can. Even while they refuse everything. But she did eat and regain some strength and rosiness in her cheeks. We had to be satisfied with that.

The carers, twice a day, have been in place now for about two months. Mum has finally accepted them, mostly. She has a favorite and she laughs and jokes with her. The other, who is there when the first one is taking a well-deserved day off, is not so much a favorite. “I can’t understand her,” is Mum’s typical white British excuse for non-engagement.

Mum is 93 and otherwise quite liberal for her age and demographic. She voted against Brexit. She believes immigration is a positive for Britain. She also thinks people her age should be banned from voting because “we aren’t going to be around for the consequences”.

She’s almost entirely deaf. Her carers speak with soft accents. We tell her she needs to get her ears used to hearing different sounds. But for a profoundly independent woman, accepting any care from anyone has been a difficult and fraught journey.

The other day, we received a call from Charlotte* who said she did not want to leave Mum, and that she was worried about some things she’d observed. My husband dropped everything and flew up the motorway.

This ‘dropping everything and flying up the motorway’ was a regular feature of our lives until the carers were engaged. We’ve been profoundly grateful for the respite. We call Mum just about every other day, just to check in and see how she is doing. The conversation is usually an interestingly two-sided/one-sided exchange. We’ll say something and Mum will assume we’ve said something else and go off on that entirely unrelated subject line. It’s as amusing as it is alarming. She’s also been repeating herself, forgetting important information, deciding she’s going to do things she obviously can’t, and hiding particular facts, specifically health conditions. The carers are necessarily our eyes and ears on the ground. We trust that they will alert us when things are worrisome.

My husband spent a few days with her and reassured himself that she was doing alright. She needed to have him with her and that was all it was, really.

My husband’s brother has been the main responder in the past and has spent a large amount of time with his mother, making certain that she has her meds, gets to go shopping, goes to the doctor, has someone with whom to drink tea in the evening, and generally has some company. We’ve always gone up at least once a month to visit. It is a logistics challenge but we are always happy to see Mum. But we have not been as on the spot as my BIL, who is unpartnered and so supposedly freer to respond. As a result, my BIL has been over-stressed, especially during her bouts with cellulitis, and has become ill. We all want him to rest and recoup. Now, we were seeing a bit of what he was experiencing.

Mum wants to die in her house. She talks about how she’s ‘lived too long’ and that she is ‘a nuisance’. We protest loudly that this is not true, and it isn’t. We all love her and want her to live her best life for as long as she can. We are lucky that she can afford carers. They make our lives so much easier. It is a privilege, and we well know it, to have them relieve so much of the worry and responsibility for her daily needs. Still, we are holding our breath, waiting for that phone call that says she’s gone. It is, sadly, inevitable.

*not her real name