Around 30 of us gathered to accompany Jennifer Ffennell on her final journey at St Swithun’s Martyr Worthy. We said Psalm 121 together and Simon gave the following eulogy
Well she certainly was a character. We all shared many happy moments with Jennifer and there were other moments when she drove us completely demented, usually down the end of a telephone line. But that’s how she was.
She was remarkable in a number of ways, not least for her generosity- always remembering Birthdays, Easter & Christmas when presents arrived always sealed with yards of sticky tape making opening them a feat in itself. Then there were the numerous drinks parties that became such an important part of her life, be it the harvest festival, or the dog’s official birthday party, or the dog’s unofficial birthday party. Woe betide anybody who didn’t respond to the invitation promptly. You knew what was coming next.
She had a good eye for architectural design converting Martyr Worthy Minor into an attractive brick and flint cottage that has been much admired over the years, and she knew how to lay out a garden often using unusual plants that she was never afraid to experiment with.
She was resolutely brave about her failing health during her last few years, seldom complaining about her aches and pains. Indeed on more than one occasion when she had fallen over in the night, & forgetting to press her personal alarm bell, she would be picked up off the floor in the morning, stiff as a board by the paramedics, who on enquiring as to how she felt she would reply that she was feeling disgustingly well and that she hadn’t fallen over. It was just her legs that had collapsed.
She could be infuriatingly stubborn and determined. How can one ever forget those journeys she embarked on down her drive and across the main road, when she could hardly walk, to post a letter – a letter that could have been mailed perfectly well the next day by Stephanie. But no, it had be in that afternoons post.
Jennifer was born and brought up in Martyr Worthy Place. It would appear that her childhood years were not always the happiest, and perhaps ill prepared her for the challenges she encountered in adult life, and may explain some of the mental health problems that were to bedevil her for many years that led her, at times, to behave in a very irrational way.
After leaving school straight after the war, she worked for five years for the British Red Cross as a transport officer for the hospital car service. She then embarked on a floral design course that ended up with her becoming the head decorator for Constance Spry in London and thereafter she spent a number of years as a freelance florist both in North America and back in Hampshire.Working with flowers was perhaps when she was at her happiest and she would have approved of Linda’s flowers in church today.
She then went on to further her education in landscape architecture by attending courses at Cheltenham School of Architecture, and Edinburgh University. Once qualified, she became a research assistant in turn at the University of California in Berkeley, the University of Washington in Seattle, and finally the University of Newcastle-upon- Tyne. It was in the1960s that she decided to settle down in Martyr Worthy Minor and devote her time to the two things that we will probably best remember her for.
Firstly her love for this village of Martyr Worthy. She cared passionately about its fabric and
fought furiously to preserve it’s integrity leading a campaign, back in the 1950s, to prevent a large scale development of houses on the land surrounding Martyr Worthy Manor extending all the way down to the river. She was the anonymous donor in the village who offered to buy part of Texas field for the purpose of creating a car park for the village hall and the church to relieve the ongoing parking problems that we still have down this lane today. Unfortunately a decision as to its position couldn’t be agreed on and so eventually the offer was withdrawn.
She donated the wrought iron bench by the bus stop at the top of the lane after the previous one was stolen and she was responsible for moving the parish notice board from being beside the main road to down outside the village hall. All these things were of the greatest importance to her and so it got done.
.She served on the parish council for many years and will have crossed swords with fellow members on a number occasions. She was very outspoken at times and seldom found reverse gear. But in a quiet moment one might care to admit that she was very often right. She was a trustee of the Martyr Worthy Village Hall for over thirty years seldom missing an AGM. She honestly thought that it was the best village hall in the country and told people so.
Then of course there was the other love in her life – namely her succession of four legged friends that were to become her loving soul mates for so many years and who were to play such an integral part in her life. It’s quite difficult to sum this bit up in words. Perhaps we will remember the toys strewn all over the drawing room floor, or the photo that arrived as a Christmas card, or sitting next to Orlando in Church on a Sunday morning. I have always thought that to be regarded as eccentric by ones friends and neighbours is a compliment. I am not sure quite what qualifies one for such an accolade, but I would suggest that issuing your assembled guests at the end of the dog’s birthday party with a doggy bag from Fortnum & Masons must go a long way down that road.
She was fiercely independent and despite her advancing age and failing health certain in her mind that she could manage perfectly well on her own at Martyr Worthy Minor. The reality of course, was quite different and it was entirely thanks to Stephanie and Lucinda that she was able to remain at home for as long as she did, backed up by a team of wonderful carers from the Homeinstead agency, various dog walkers & David, who looked after the garden and the house for more than forty years. The lion’s share of the work though fell on Stephanie & both Lucinda & I are greatly indebted to her for her patience, kindness & devotion.
In a curious way the last few years of her life in her nursing home were perhaps her happiest, when memories of her previous years had almost deserted her, and freed of all that had gone before she became a gentle dear old lady with impeccable manners who never complained and who was to become genuinely loved by those of us who saw her through to the end.
Jessica read John 14:1-7 and Alex gave the following address:
I first met Jennifer at one of Orlando’s parties. A lot depended upon whether Orlando responded positively or not to a new visitor and I don’t think I was as successful as some of my other clergy colleagues in ‘Orlando whispering’. Perhaps, it was the all pervading smell (from Orlando’s perspective) on my clothes of our border terriers which caused a problem, I don’t know but I don’t think I passed the test….
Jennifer was an eccentric in a truly English way and Simon has already focused on some of her eccentricities. I think one of the joys of life in England has always been in the past its embrace of eccentricity. I think it is part of our sense of humour not perhaps such a feature of the culture of other European nations.
I think that the modern world has actually become rather intolerant of eccentricity and I think we lose something and can become rather boringly grey, rather boringly the same, without the Jennifers of this world amongst us.
Jennifer did not find relationships terribly easy. But I have learned that when people find relationships difficult that there is often a reason, a cause perhaps buried deep in childhood or perhaps young adulthood, which we may not know about, which explains why they are the way that they are.
I think that Stephanie, Simon and Lucinda’s care of Jennifer over so many years has been an incredible example to all of us because Jennifer was by no means easy.
But I was particularly struck by Simon’s eulogy where he said that, as she got older, she was finally freed of all that had gone before and that she became a gentle dear old lady with impeccable manners.
She became how Jesus has always known her stripped of the defensive scales that she built around herself and, at the last, perhaps how she was always meant to be.
I think we often see death and dying as nothing short of a catastrophe, a gradual decline from the best that we can be, to the worst.
But Jennifer shows us that perhaps we should see our final journey to death in a wholly different way, not something to be frightened of, not something to be ashamed of but a journey to something better….something that we can actually do well.
Of course this journey can be a scary prospect for many of us as we contemplate our own deaths when we get a frightening diagnosis perhaps….
But Jesus says, in the passage Jessica has just read ‘Don’t worry’ ‘do not let your hearts be troubled’. In other words: It’s all going to be fine because, I am going ahead of you trust in me….And wonderful Thomas, who may doubt, but is no fool, says very reasonably as we might say: ‘Lord we don’t know where you are going, how can we know the way?’
Jesus replies: ‘I am the Way, the Truth and the Life’.
When we as Christians cross over that final barrier, Jesus says the way to live our lives today and the way to cross this final barrier of death, the way to die, is to trust in Jesus and follow the way he has set for us.
But what does ‘trusting in Jesus mean?’
We can only trust someone that we know and getting to know Jesus is undoubtedly life’s most important task and its greatest privilege.
If we want to get to know the way, the truth and the life then the time to prepare for that journey, the time to start to know the way…is now.