A tree in our hospice garden

Remembering Brian and memories of Tarner Hospice

During our 25th anniversary year, we’re bringing you memories of Martlets through the decades. Erica’s husband Brian was looked after by the Tarner Hospice in 1982. Tarner was one of three hospices that merged to become Martlets in 1997. Erica, who is 92, shares her memories of Tarner and the care given to her husband.

Brian and I met at Bristol University; he was playing rugby and I was doing the teas. He’d forgotten my name by the next day and had to ask his friend! But then we went out on Saturday night and he asked me to marry him!

When I rang my mother the next day to tell her she said, ‘Oh dear, but you’ve only known him five minutes, what happened to the medical student?’. Brian and I were very, very happy and got married 18 months later in 1964. It seems a long time ago now. At 92, I’m the longest surviving member of my generation by many years.

In our latter years together, Brian was diagnosed with cancer which eventually became terminal. The doctor said the time had come for him to be cared for in the Tarner Hospice. We went in quietly one evening in an ambulance and I remember it was a very bumpy ride. The Tarner Home was up a little lane near Carlton Hill and wasn’t very easily accessible. I would go and visit Brian in our Morris Marina car and I hadn’t been driving long. I had to reverse it up the lane and hope I wouldn’t need to do a hill start!

Brian had a wonderful Irish nurse at Tarner who listened and and talked with him. Questions were beginning to come into his mind about what would happen when he died and the religious side of things. He needed to talk with someone and she was such a comfort. 

That first day we arrived at Tarner, the matron came out to meet us and she was a lovely lady. We were also introduced to the friendly nurse who become Brian’s confidante. Brian was given a bright, airy room. There was one window overlooked the Carlton Hill Primary School playground and the other had views out towards the sea.

I was given time off my teaching job to be with Brian in those last weeks. We would sit and watch the children playing in the school playground below. Brian and I were both teachers and he lectured at Brighton Polytechnic, which is now the University of Brighton. It was lovely to hear the children playing as it connected us with our memories of teaching, which we both loved.

Brian had had an operation two years before he went into Tarner and we asked the doctor how long he thought Brian might have left to live. ‘Two years’, he said. Once we’d got over the shock of the prognosis we decided to make the most of the time we had together. Brian’s declining health meant he had to give up lecturing. So, he started planning places we could go and things we could do together. We went up to London to ballet, concerts, and to Madame Butterfly which I will always remember. I don’t know how we had the energy to do it all but I’m so grateful we were able to have that time together.

Brian died at five past nine in the evening on 17 March, St Patrick’s Day. Almost exactly two years to the day from when he was given the prognosis. I was holding his hand and talking to him. 

At 5am that morning I woke up and somehow I knew that would be Brian’s last day. I got up and did the usual things for my daughters who were just 19 and 21 at the time. It was so difficult for them as they were still young. In those days people generally didn’t speak much about what happens when someone is dying. The breathing becomes raspy which is quite unsettling. The nurse explained to me that Brian wasn’t in pain and that’s what happens towards the end. She said I should keep talking to him because hearing is the last thing to go; he would still be able to hear what I was saying to him. Goodness knows what I said but I know I told him I loved him several times.

I was on my own in the room when Brian died. After he had gone, I wasn’t sure how to react; I had this urge to get up and tidy the room and carefully pack away his clothes, his book and the bits and pieces he had taken in there. I emptied the dead flowers in the vase on the table and re-arranged the ones that were still alive. I spent some time doing those things before I rang the bell and a nurse came in. Perhaps I should have done that immediately when he died but I had this feeling of wanting everything in the room to be right – isn’t that strange? It can be a shock when someone you love dies even if you are expecting it. It takes a while before you fully realise they are gone.

It’s good to know that you have a leaflet at Martlets about what happens when someone dies that you give to patients and families. Understanding that will help so many people, as you can react in ways you don’t expect.  

I know you also have a counselling service that can help bereaved family members too. I’m happy to hear that 25 years after Martlets opened you are expanding again and building a new hospice that will help more families in the future. We had a lovely view from Brian’s room at the Tarner Home and it’s good to hear that all your new patient rooms will open onto the garden.” 

Our bereavement service offers support to the family and friends of patients who have received care from Martlets – whether that’s in the Hospice itself or out in the community. Please contact the bereavement team on 01273 273400 and ask to speak to the Patient and Family Support Administrator, or email bereavement@martlets.org.uk 

Our information booklets Living with loss and Next steps are available to download. 

Martlets has been at the heart of the community for 25 years. As we start work on our new building, we invite you to share your Martlets memories.