On the 1st of March, earlier that same year of 2010, after a long and painful six-year battle with stomach cancer, Brian’s mother Sally had passed away aged sixty-seven. He spoke emotively and honestly about her life. I could see he was deep in grief with her recent passing. He explained that his dad had died suddenly a few years earlier, also aged sixty-seven. Brian had recently been living alone in a single nurses’ residence due to his previous marriage breakdown. He shared that they had a seventeen-year-old son. Six weeks into our new romance, since things were going well, I asked him to pack his bags and move in with me. He moved one carrier bag of mismatched clothing, along with a million boxes of heavy metal vinyl records, CD’s, rockumentary DVDs, and a half-opened box with a green plastic urn with Sally’s ashes in it. It seemed that his mother was moving in with us.
One night we were watching a film, suddenly there was an almighty crash. A framed photograph of Kylie had somehow fallen off the inner wall from the kitchen, then had flown backwards landing on the floor in front of us, completely intact. “There she is Brian!” I exclaimed, “that’s your Mum saying hello, she is here!” Brian looked at me as if I was insane. The perfect landing of the picture frame was a logistical impossibility. Brian became pale but was in deep thought. “How about we scatter her ashes soon, maybe she wants to break free?” I suggested.
Looking up at the lonely green urn on the shelf above, he agreed. A few days later, Brian had prepared himself to let his mother go. He suggested that she be scattered by a Lebanese cedar, which he and his family had planted in her honour a few months before. The tree was in Dorney Lake by Eton, where they had lived as a family for many years. Derek, a dear friend of his father’s, and a forester by trade lived nearby. He would regularly attend to the tree, making sure it was kept in perfect condition. Brian and I stood by the tree, we said a prayer and let her ashes go. It was a deeply emotional time for him. As we mindfully walked away, Brian handed the green urn to me. “Do you think you could get rid of this? I don’t know what to do with it anymore, I cannot bear to throw her in the bin.” It felt as if the urn was in some way still part of Sally. “Of course, I can, don’t you worry.” Unscrewing the urn slowly, I looked inside. There were some remaining ashes collected at the bottom, along with a card, with her full name, birth, and death dates, with her cremation details, all beautifully handwritten in calligraphy ink. When we got home, I put the urn under the bed and forgot about it. Derek, the forester, returned to the Cedar tree, shortly after we had left, to clear it of Sally’s ashes, as this would have poisoned the tree.
BRIAN'S BELOVED MOTHER SALLY MEAR - SHE DIED 1ST MARCH 2010
A few months later, we decided to move to Berkshire. This made sense, as commuting over a hundred miles a day in two different cars, just because we worked opposite shifts, was becoming impossible and expensive. As I was clearing out the house, I came across Sally’s urn. Not wanting to upset Brian, I pondered what I should do with it. By now, I also did not want to just throw her in the bin, as she was becoming very much part of our relationship, but I could not leave it at just any old place. It was the funeral director’s card that got me in a heart-wrench tizzy. The first anniversary of Sally’s death was coming up in March 2011. Brian asked sometime in February, what I had done with the urn? “Oh yes, I forgot to say before, I recently found a beautiful woodland nearby, full of snowdrops, I buried her there.” I told my first lie. “Gosh, that is so you.” Brian said. So, I had to move fast on this before he found it.
The next day I went to work on the ambulance doing a patient transfer. Sally was coming with us. My crewmate for the day was Mark, he had known about all my spooky escapades for many years, so this story was nothing new to him. In fact, he found it all quite funny. We took turns driving all the way up from Slough, Berkshire to Morpeth, Northumberland, both of us looking out for anywhere to leave Sally. In the end, we found nowhere appropriate in plain view, as the ambulance was tracked. We had picked our patient up from a care home. She was ninety-seven and clearly coming to the end of her life. She had dementia along with other more severe health conditions, her body was failing her. There was no doubt that she was on her final journey to a Hospice in Barnstable, North Devon. I made her comfortable, then sat opposite her, so I could keep an eye on her throughout the trip.
A few hours into the journey, the lights in the ambulance started flickering. I ignored it at first, but then the bulbs began flashing on and off. I shouted through to Mark. “Are you messing with the lights?” Mark called back. “I’m not doing anything. Maybe it’s the ghost of Sally!” I could see his eyes, wide and mocking in the rear-view mirror as he continued along the motorway. The lights in the back went off, then they came back on again. I joked, “It looks like Sally’s not too keen on your driving.” The old lady had just woken up. “Who’s Sally?” She asked. “Is that her there?” Pointing to the empty seat behind me. “Is she coming with us? She says she is from Liverpool. I loved The Beatles!” I was not expecting that reply, I knew it was Sally, who was indeed from Liverpool. It was not surprising the old lady could see her. Often, at the end of life, we see through to the other side. The lights flickered again. Now I knew for sure that the spirit of Brian’s mum was with us, on this, our patient’s and now Sally’s final journey. “Yes,” I said, smiling. “She’s called Sally, and she’s coming with us.” Knowing Brian’s mother was travelling along with us inspired me to jot down a note to her, so I grabbed a patient report form and poured out my heart to her on the back of it.
ORIGINAL PHOTO TAKEN (WITH PRIMATIVE BLACKBERRY) OF THE NOTE I WROTE FOR SALLY
It took six hours to get to the hospice. Once we had dropped the patient off into her room, we were offered tea and cake. I noticed the head of a rose on the floor next to the table that I was sitting at and bent down to pick it up, thinking that I could put it in Sally’s urn. A nurse saw me and smiled quizzically, so I felt compelled to tell her what I was doing. She suggested, “Why don’t you hold a ceremony in the courtyard of the hospice?” She went to get the managers approval, returning with an armful of roses from the garden. I got the urn from the ambulance, then broke up all the roses into petals and popped them inside the urn. Back in the hospice courtyard, opening the urn, removing the card, I put it with the note I had written to Sally in my pocket. We all said a prayer as I scattered the remaining ashes, along with the rose petals, onto a flowerbed. The manager offered to dispose of the empty urn, so I handed all responsibility to her. On the 1st of March 2011, the first anniversary of Sally’s death, I told Brian the whole story. I thought he would be annoyed with me, but he gave me a big hug and told me how grateful he was that I had given his mum such a beautiful, second send-off.
TAKEN FROM ROCKER BYE BABY CHAPTER 12 PAGES 118-122 COPYRIGHT CLAIRE MEAR 2020
THE SKY ON THE JOURNEY BACK FROM THE HOSPICE TO AMBULANCE BASE
ONE OF MANY FINAL LETTERS SALLY HAD WRITTEN TO BRIAN BEFORE HER DEATH.
Story also told in CHAT MAGAZINE JUNE 2020 THANKS TO JACQUI DEEVOY.
About the Author
Claire Mear is a