Real Life

I stored Mum in the microwave for safety… then I lost her!

Sandy Johns, from Cairns, Queensland, shares how her good deed to help after the floods nearly ended in disaster!
  • When Sandy Johns moved from her home in the Gold Coast to Cairns, she packed her prized possessions as carefully as possible to avoid breakages.
  • While travelling, she and her husband, Trevor, used a storage unit, but it flooded and needed cleaning out.
  • To help others affected by the floods, they donated some of their belongings to a community charity.
  • To Sandy’s shock, she unwittingly gave away a microwave which contained a very special vase.

I picked up the beautiful hand-painted vase in my hands and smiled.

Better keep this safe, I thought.

It was 2021, and my husband Trevor, 67 and I had bought the ornament which had our names painted on the front of it during a trip to China. But when Trevor’s dear mum, May, 94, passed away four years earlier, it became her urn.

We were planning to move from the Gold Coast to Cairns and knowing how rough removalists could be, I packed the urn inside its decorative box, labelled it with fragile stickers and a note.

Mum’s urn – ashes, it read.

I put it inside the microwave for further protection, then boxed it all up.

Trevor Johns (left) and Sandy Johns (right). Photo: Supplied

Everything went into storage while we travelled.

We finally settled in a rental home in Cairns in August 2023, we’d not unpacked our things from storage.

Then, four months later, floods tore through town, turning our community upside down.

We threw ourselves into the clean-up process and visited our storage unit to see what was salvageable and what we could donate to people who’d lost everything.

At the local community centre, I dropped off boxes of practical things, including a couple marked ‘kitchen’.

A few of weeks later, I was strolling along The Esplanade listening to the local radio when a report caught my attention.

The urn we bought for mum’s ashes while we were visiting China. Photo: Supplied

“In today’s odd news,” began the announcer, “a local’s newly donated microwave came with a surprise – a box marked ‘Mum’s ashes’!”

Who on earth would do something like that? I thought, grinning.

Then it hit me.

Oh no! May! I gasped.

Running home with my heart pounding, I wondered how I’d tell Trevor I’d accidentally donated his mum!

“You did what?” he said as I spilled the beans.

“I tucked her into the microwave for safekeeping,” I explained, “And now she’s ended up at the community centre!”

I quickly called ABC to confess what I’d done, and next thing, Trevor and I were live on air!

We were so nervous; we couldn’t stop laughing.

Sandy gave the Holloways Hub Volunteer Donation Crew a microwave that contained her mum’s ashes. Photo: Supplied.

“What are the odds I’d be listening at that exact moment!” I exclaimed.

Afterwards, we rushed to the Holloways Community Hub and the volunteers were beside themselves when we rocked up to claim the ashes.

Rennae Brant-Goodwin, the volunteer crew leader, told us our donated goods had been passed on to flood-affected families needing essentials.

In the rush to help, the sealed box with the microwave had been handed over without a check. The new owners had contacted them after they’d made the awkward discovery.

“We tried everything to return the urn to its owners,” she said. “We even posted about it on Facebook but no one came to collect it.”

Thankfully, the post was widely shared, leading to it being featured in the local paper and on the radio.

Trevor and his mum, May Johns. Photo: Supplied

“We can’t thank you enough,” I told them.

When I phoned our kids – Blake, 36, Nathan, 34, and Katie, 29 – to tell them what had happened to their nan, they laughed.

“Nan loved cooking, and she loved her microwave,” Blake joked. “She was probably quite comfy there.”

I still can’t quite believe the ashes made their way back to us.

But now that May is home, I won’t let her out of sight again!

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