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On the morning, just after eleven o’clock, of Tuesday 22nd November 1988, I had driven an Iveco Minibus, a Service 4, slowly into Ryde Bus Station. As I had done so I had noticed the tall, dark and rather imposing form of Steve, the duty inspector, leaning on the information board of the bus stand.

My first thoughts were that an irate motorist or passenger had phoned in to complain about me and that the inspector had come out to grill me about some incident. 

But he hadn’t.

As the last passenger had alighted from my vehicle Steve had stepped up onto the platform and said: “I’m very sorry to tell you this, Matt, but your mother has died. Your uncle is waiting for you at her house.” Lynch had then added: “Don’t worry about paying in, I’ll do that for you. Best you get off straight away.” 

I was instantly in state of shock and disbelief as I’d handed him my tatty leather cash bag, change dispenser and Setright ticket machine. I then clambered out of the cab and stepped down onto the paved surface of the bus station.

It was also at this point that the thought occurred to me that it was probably Uncle Ronald that had died because he was ten years older than Mum and had suffered from health problems himself. I had then further rationalised that perhaps Uncle had died whilst visiting Mum and that she just needed me for support, my hope being that ‘wires had been crossed’. 

Another thing was that Mum had seemed in perfect health when I had seen her last on the Sunday, just two days previously, when she had dropped my fourteen month old son, James, back at the maisonette after having him for the afternoon whilst my wife, Leanne, and I had gone over to the Luccombe Hall Hotel sports club for a swim, sauna and jacuzzi.

Those had been my initial anxious thoughts and desperate speculations as I had walked hurriedly past the waiting passengers and along the departure stands. 

As I had crossed the entrance to the pier I had shivered and become aware for the first time how chilly and cold it was. I had also observed my breath condensing into little puffs of vapour which momentarily took me back to being a little boy pretending to be a steam engine. Later I was to discover that it had been the coldest day of the year; and metaphorically the coldest day of my life.

I had also briefly cast my eyes out to the freezing grey-green waters of the channel and had speculated rather morbidly that anyway who fell into it wouldn’t last long.


It only took me about five minutes to get to Mum’s house, a four bedroom Georgian town house in Spencer Road and walk down the eight or nine stone steps to the front door. 

As I had slipped my key in the lock and let myself into the hallway the first people I saw to my right in the kitchen were my Uncle and Auntie; in actual fact, they were my great-uncle and great-aunt since they were my mother’s uncle and aunt and both were in their seventies. I realised, heartbreakingly, at this moment that Mum had indeed died.

As soon as they had become aware of me they had turned round and immediately I could see both of them had been weeping because their eyes were red rimmed. They had both wrapped their arms around me and we had all hugged each other for a moment. It was the closest I had ever felt to them over all the years they had been in my life. Uncle Ronald had then filled me in on the tragic events of that morning and what we believe had actually happened, though we can never be a hundred percent certain.

Apparently, Mum had got out of bed - she had arranged to meet a friend, Margaret in London that day - slipped on her dressing gown and then gone downstairs to let her dog, Dinah, into the garden. She had then returned to her bedroom and was presumably preparing to get ready having had a wash. At this point, half-dressed, she must have felt seriously unwell because it looked like she'd got back onto the bed just prior to suffering a massive and fatal heart attack; she was found face down with her arm reaching out for the glass of water on her bedside table, the doctor telling me sometime after that it was unlikely she would have suffered for long, if at all. About three-quarters of an hour later the neighbour, Angela (also in her seventies), let herself in to exercise the dog as had been pre-arranged since Mum was going to be away all day. Surprised not to find the dog in the passageway she then went upstairs to see my mother sprawled across the mattress and obviously dead. Nevertheless she immediately phoned for an ambulance before attempting to get hold of me but because there were no radios on the buses the Company was unable to contact me till I arrived back at the bus station just after eleven, and probably about four hours after Mum had breathed her last. In the meantime Angela got hold of Auntie and Uncle who had then driven over to Mum’s house. By the time I had turned up Mum’s body had been taken away so I never got to say a proper ‘good-bye’ to her which was something I bitterly regretted after.

So, those were the circumstances of my mother’s last moments and as Uncle had recounted them to me I had wondered what had gone through my mother’s mind in those last few seconds. Pain. Terror. Disorientation.

Afterwards I had gone upstairs to my mother’s bedroom. As I had stood in her room I had experienced a curious mix of emotions. On the one hand it seemed so poignant with her clothes, black skirt and black cardigan, hung up for the trip to London and the dog-eared second-hand penguin paperback-book with bookmark poking out, never to be completed, lying on her bedside table. Yet it also felt so mundane, as though she had just popped out and would be back soon. And then again this was the place where a tragedy had unfolded.

I didn’t stay there long before going back to the kitchen and having a cup of tea with Uncle and Auntie, the tea brewed in my mother’s pot with her milk, her sugar and drunk in her cups. It was all so strange and surreal and it felt like it was happening to someone else, should have been happening to someone else.  Also at this point I hadn’t cried - odd.

A little while later the friend, Margaret, she was supposed to be meeting in London phoned to find out why she hadn’t turned up. When I had answered she had initially seemed to be a little irritated perhaps believing Mum had forgotten or even not bothered to turn up. But when I had told her what had happened there had been silence followed by incredulity. I had visualised her calling from a red phone-box on a busy station concourse, her mouth dropping...

After that the events of the day become a blur. I phoned my wife, Leanne, a succession of friends, relatives and relevant authorities. My shocked uncle and auntie had then left.


That evening, about eight, I had returned to the house, an unlit and now chilly house, with the dog, before lighting the gas fire in the lounge and switching the telly on. I remember watching The Taking of Pelham One Two Three but all the time thinking of my mother’s body cold on the slab.

Before I went home, a few hours later, I paid a visit to the top bedroom (my mother’s room when I was little) to discover sitting on the mantelpiece a small Christmas gift already wrapped in silver paper for my baby son, James. It was at this point that I shed a few tears…

Submitted: November 20, 2022

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