About 30 mainly family and friends gathered at St John’s Itchen Abbas on Tuesday 4th December 2018 to say goodbye to Ruth Hunt.
We sang Guide me O thou great Jehovah and Morning has broken and Ruth’s niece Anna read Remember me by Christina Rossetti. We read the Lords Prayer in English and Norwegian.
John Hunt (Ruth’s brother) gave the following tribute
Thank you all for coming. Some of you from quite a distance, particularly Uncle Lars and our cousins from Norway.
I hope I don’t embarrass you too much, by going on a bit, and perhaps being a bit blunt, and personal. And I certainly don’t mean to suggest that I’ve been a devoted brother to Ruth. Far from it, actually. For several months recently I’d occasionally taken the phone off the hook to stop the phone calls.
But funeral tributes tend to focus on a list of achievements through life, and/or how the deceased had created and sustained a loving family. Frankly, there’s not much to say here in respect of Ruth. She didn’t work, she never had a serious, lasting relationship of the partner kind. And many of you here only knew her, really, when she was ill. So I’d like to put a bit of perspective on it, and talk about who she really was.
Ruth and I had always been close. Partly, I guess, because we were often together in very different environments. Several years growing up in Sudan, long stays in Norway, and later in the States. When we were kids, we were competitive, and would often squabble like cats and dogs. She was a golden girl; stubborn, forceful, in a good way, but somehow didn’t seem to accept that I, being two years older, and a male, as well, should be the natural boss. And, after all, there were lots of manly kind of things I could do that she couldn’t. I could take mackerel off hooks, for instance, and put worms on them, while she was too squeamish. Or perhaps she was simply more friendly to life than I was. I just about had the upper edge, in those years.
In our teens, our relationship changed. We both went to Grammar Schools in Southampton- they weren’t fee paying ones back then. I went to the boys Grammar School, Ruth to the girls. I didn’t shine, at all. I wasn’t sporty, never came close to being made a prefect. Ruth seemed to excel at everything. She was vivacious, articulate, intelligent, athletic – I can’t remember how many sports she played – she was good at all of them – and was made Head Girl in her last year.
I chose this school photo of Ruth for the front of your service sheet here, because that’s how I’m going to remember her. Beautiful, bright, and happy.
I can’t remember how old she was then, maybe 17. In the photograph, there’s maybe a touch of exasperation on her face, like saying to the photographer “lets get this over with”. It’s how I remember her talking to me – “John, pull yourself together. Start getting real”. Or, more often, especially one occasion I remember painfully when she had an all-girl party with several dozen attractive girls around from her school – just “John, stop bothering us”. She seemed like the grown-up one.
After Grammar School, she had a number of options. She had a talent for drawing, and I think considered Art School. But that didn’t have the same kind of cachet as being a doctor. With her usual all Grade-A kind of results, she went to Guys Hospital in London, to study medicine. I’d visit her there often, sleeping on the floor of her student room after parties, or in the house she shared with other girls in Blackheath.
She had now become more like an older sister to me, in many ways, than a younger one. She wanted to take care of me. We stayed close. I went out with one of her best friends, she went out with one of mine, things were looking good. Those were the best of times, in hindsight. And underneath the paranoia that came later, which made it difficult for her to establish new relationships, and to make or keep friends, I’ve always felt she had a heart of gold. A strong sense of what was right and wrong. A commitment to be the best she could be. And utter loyalty, to family, friends, and her faith.
But it was at Guy’s that things started to go wrong. And to the younger generation here, I’d just say, that when you have kids, don’t push them too hard. Let them do what feels right for them. Nothing, absolutely nothing, is worth the kind of mental breakdown she had there in her last year. I think she was basically a home-town kind of girl, family-orientated, a very committed Christian, and the pressures of secular life in London and the kind of work that’s involved in becoming a doctor in a very high-pressured, non-believing sort of environment, were too much for her.
For a decade and more after that she was in and out of mental hospitals, I remember visiting her in half a dozen of them. Those were the worst of times. And I think it took years for the family to really understand what was going on. I didn’t understand it, and our parents were mostly working and living overseas.
I believe the extraordinary gift of life carries a price, like, obviously, we all have to die. But the distribution of that price is unequal. And Ruth had more than her fair share of the cost. The last 40 years were really difficult for her. I see her death as something of a release, and I’m thankful it was, at least, quick. I think she was so courageous to battle on with the schizophrenia that she had, which seemed to come from nowhere, quite apart from the other chronic diseases that came later – the coroner’s report stated the cause of death as sepsis, caused by urinary infection, but there were contributing factors of chronic kidney disease, chronic pulmonary obstruction, and Multiple Scelerosis. But the schizophrenia underlay everything. She’d managed to control it, largely, with the help of a lot of medication. It’s decades since I’ve heard her screaming down the phone saying that there were claws coming through the walls.
I’m sorry if this all sounds really negative and depressing. I say it because you can’t measure who she was without understanding what she’d been through. I would never have survived as long, with her conditions. And without knowing how serious her illnesses were, you might not appreciate how hard she fought against them, how determined she was, and her strength of character.
She was the most courageous person I’ve known. The striking thing for me, is she never, ever complained about her condition. She never blamed God, or life, or anyone else, in all those years. The Book of Job wasn’t one of her favourite ones, it wasn’t really an “evangelical” one, as far as she was concerned, but it’s the one that comes to my mind, when I think of her, though without the happy ending.
And to me, she was still the person she’d always been. There was always a core of Ruth that was still “Ruth”, still the same determined, stubborn, beautiful, loving person, even if it had got turned into something else. And she was always looking forward. She had good taste, an eye for good design, and was always working to improve her flat, as she had with the terraced house in Winchester.
Earlier this year I moved her from Winchester to a warden-assisted flat in Alresford, as her mobility had been getting worse. It seemed to be going well. I believe the help she got there was far better than anything she’d had before. We’ve had great and caring support from her doctor, her psychiatrist, and others who have dealt with her, in the most professional kind of way. But at the beginning of last month, I’d left some shopping outside her door on the Wednesday, spoke to her that evening, but Thursday and Friday I couldn’t get in touch with her. A day or two without contact was not unusual – she would often sleep all day, and then might be up for a couple of days and nights. That was a side effect of the medication, and it had recently been changed, which often caused more side effects. But on Saturday there was still no answer, so I let myself into the flat, and found her body.
We had still argued, over recent months, like we always had. She might say to me for instance every other day that she couldn’t manage to walk to the Co-op around the corner, or the church, which was even closer, and I’d tell her to pull herself together, get dressed, and start walking, like the doctor recommended, and then a few hours later she hadn’t made it. So she’d ring back and say that I was being brutal when I wouldn’t drive over to buy her cigarettes, and I’d reply that I couldn’t be her delivery boy in that respect for the foreseeable future, that if she wanted them, she had to go out and get them. She might complain about things being stolen – her keys, dentures, whatever – whether by neighbours or witches, and I should complain to the police, and I’d try and talk her down.
For the last 20 years or so, though, she had been relatively stable, and content. And she’d found some good things to do. Her paintings in this period, actually, which she began more recently when she moved down to Hampshire, are not the dark, depressing things you might expect from someone in her place. They are full of light, colour and happiness. That’s the Ruth I knew, the one I’ll remember. We have a few on view in the pub across the road, I hope you can join us there after this, even if only for a few minutes. There’s a bit of food, tea and coffee, and a tab for drinks at the bar. And if you want to come back to our place afterwards, which is about 10 minutes away, past Alresford, you’re very welcome.
I happened to open a novel over the last few days and there was this quote at the front from William Morris, a Victorian poet, novelist and designer, which I hadn’t come across before. He said-
The past is not dead, but is living in us, and will be alive in the future which we are now helping to make.
Ruth will live on in me, and I’m sure in all of us. And I really hope there’s more than that, and that she has found her peace with God. Ruth certainly believed in that. I looked up to her, though it’s a long time since we agreed on issues of theology and faith. What’s beyond, maybe a personal God, maybe a universal consciousness that’s behind everything, I don’t know, though I’m certainly not an atheist. I believe Ruth’s spirit carries on in some form, and I would like to pay tribute to her inspirational life. Thank you.
Anna Kerby read the following tribute written by her father David
Learning with sadness of Ruth’s death, I realized that hadn’t seen her for half-a-decade. But that doesn’t mean that she’s been out of my thoughts. Far from it! Here in Mongolia, my weekly drawing-class students’ often plodding, inarticulate work (and my own, if I’m honest) remind me of Ruth’s palpable gift for drawing and painting – I haven’t taught a student yet who shows Ruth’s gift for what we might call honest mark-making.
Ruth didn’t plod. She drew and painted naturally, precisely and without affectation. Great observation: positive and negative spaces; tonal value and colour – it’s all there in her work. Accuracy and above all truth. Often with a quirky sense of humour. In a nutshell: Ruth could see.
Referring to painting David Hockney said: “you can’t teach the poetry, but you can teach the craft”. For Ruth both the poetry and the craft were part of her DNA (a cliche, I know, but true, I think). At school this was apparent and she was encouraged to do more.
Much later we too exhorted her to do more – and wish that she had – because what she did is her unique version of the truth and, therefore, has value.
You may have heard of a thing called ‘flow’. Maybe you’re lucky enough to experience it. It’s a wonderful state of total engagement in an absorbing activity by which both time and the world outside of that engagement cease to exist for you. I can well imagine that Ruth very much enjoyed this very happy state whilst drawing and painting.
The Norwegian artist Edvard Munch: “Without anxiety and illness I should have been like a ship without a rudder”. That’s an interesting thought.
Ruth was rather good at baking too. Ruth’s successful baking, like her painting, required precision. Baking is a tricky business which Ruth mastered (unlike many of us). The cakes she brought to the table at her home and on her weekend stays were delicious.
Quick and bright: Ruth was no fool. Head girl and by all accounts top of the class. Sporty too.
Ruth was kind, thoughtful and interested in others: our successes (and birthdays!) were all remembered. She was sweet to the kids and good with them when they were little.
Strong during difficult times. Sometimes Ruth would laugh (sometimes with Laila) as a sense of the absurd broke through.
There were difficult times. Let’s remember: with Jack and Laila abroad and Ruth living in London – Claire stepped up. Later, when Ruth moved to Winchester, John did the same. Laila, of course, was always key with her devoted love and support for Ruth. A rock.
Ruth refused to let her difficulties define her and we should not define her by them either.
May Ruth remind us to use our talents wisely and to be grateful for our time.
Revd Alex Pease read the following reading from Ecclesiastes 3
For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance.
He then gave the following address:
We have just read in Ecclesiastes that there is a time for everything: a time to be born and a time to die..
I am not one to doubt the wisdom of the author of this book of the Bible: King Solomon famed for his wisdom but 62 does seem like a very young age as a time to die…..
But I know all of you who knew Ruth (as I did not) know the enormous challenges which she had in her life….
Of course, that wasn’t always the case. For so many years she had such considerable promise and talent until her breakdown at the early age of 23.
Her artistic eye, which manifested itself in her painting and in her gardening, her enjoyment of beauty, give us a window on what might have been.
Due to her mental health struggles, she found relationships difficult and this made working and making friends challenging as well.
So she has had a really tough time and so have all of you….
But now we can have confidence in a fantastic present and future for Ruth and for all who see Jesus as Lord of their lives.
You see the Christian understanding of what happens at death is that when we as Christians cross over that barrier, we won’t have a disembodied eternity: twanging a harp on a cloud. Christians believe in a physical resurrection – like that of Jesus, in a new Earth ruled by Jesus, where we will be able to eat/drink/enjoy many of tangible joys which we have experienced during lives in the world.
I can’t promise everything that you might enjoy now but I do think that Ruth will find there enormous joy in art and music (in both of which we have now a glimpse of the Almighty’s creativity) and quite possibly gardening, as perhaps we return to the garden of Eden which was always intended for us.
CS Lewis: in the final volume of the Narnia Stories called the Final Battle imagines that new Earth as a place in which we feel that we have come home at last, free from the shackles which have enslaved us during our lives and also as a place in which we can go further up and further in, in a place which is just more real and more beautiful than the world as we have experienced it.
Aslan the Lion, who is the Christ figure of the books finally speaks to the children, who are the heroes and heroines, as they reach this incredible place, this new heaven and earth: “…all of you are – as you used to call it in the Shadowlands – dead. The term is over: the holidays have begun. The dream is ending: this is the morning.”
Lewis continues: ‘..for [the children] it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story, which no one on earth has read: which goes on for ever: in which every chapter is better than the one before’