My reflections at Jill Saward’s memorial service

Yesterday lunchtime, I cast my wife’s ashes into the sea off Nefyn Beach on the Llyn peninsula, as she had asked me to do. Earlier, a memorial service was held at the town’s Eglwys Dewi Sant (Saint David’s Church). This is what I said during that service. Actually, it is the best recollection of what I said. I went off-script quite a bit and, despite new batteries, my tape recorder came to an abrupt end half-way through my reflection. So the first bit is what I said. The second bit is an amended version of the text with the best recollection possible of what I said.

If anybody who was present made their own surreptitious recording, I would be grateful for a copy.

At Jill’s funeral, I didn’t speak. I didn’t think at the time that I would be able to. So Sue – Pog – spoke and gave the family tribute. I thought I would be able to do so today, but now I am having second thoughts.

There is so much that can be said about Jill that if I was to start now I would still be talking at this time in a couple of years’ time if I wanted to scratch the surface. But don’t worry about that, I am only going to say a few words.

We’ve heard a little about Jill’s connection to Nefyn, Jill’s campaigning work and Jill’s involvement with the beach mission here. I want to talk a little about Jill the person. But first, I want to say something to the people of Nefyn.

Diolch.*

Diolch yn fawr.

Diolch am Garu Jill.

Diolch am ofalu am dani gymaint ag y gwnaethoch chi.

Diolch am ddarparu lle diogel iddi.

Diolch am adael I Jill fod yn Jill

A diolch ichi am y cariad, y gofal a’r tosturi yr ydych wedi’i ddangos i mi, ac i Myles, Rory a Fergus.

A diolch i chi am beidio â chwerthin ar fy ymgais dristus ar fy Cymraeg! Roedd Jill yn arfer beirniadu fi am y ffordd y dywedais i Pwllheli

Diolch.

The English speakers might have wondered what I just said then. Don’t worry, the Welsh speakers are also wondering what I have just said!

I first came to Nefyn in December 1992. Jill and I had been seeing each other for a few weeks – we had met at Greenbelt Festival in the late August. I persuaded her to give me her address on the pretext of sending CDs and DVDs for her to review for the magazine I was working for. But, me being me, it is not only passports that I lose. I also lost her address and it took me another month to track her down. She lived just a few miles away from me and so I delivered the CDs and DVDs in person and then the relationship began.

But a few weeks after making contact she was contacted by the police because the most violent of her attackers was about to be released from prison. He had threatened to kill her. He had the address. And the police took it seriously. They wanted to install panic alarms in the house. They wanted to install security features. They wanted to link the phone number to the 999 system.

Jill was having none of it. She fled to America and she stayed there for four weeks with a family friend while I was left with the task – having only known her about three or four weeks – of finding somewhere new for her to live. While she was in America we agreed to get married but we were still keeping it quiet. I don’t think either of us proposed to the other but we both just knew it was going to happen.

Jill and I came to Nefyn on New Years’ Eve in ’92 when she had returned from America. A number of people were staying at Pendorlan who were connected with the mission. Jill wasn’t at that stage and so that option wasn’t available to us.

There were quite a few B&Bs in Nefyn in those days but they were all closed for the winter.

A young teenager, Bethan Jones, had been in Jill’s mission groups. She saw Jill and I on the street and came to say hello. She asked whether we were staying overnight and Jill said that she hoped to be able to but couldn’t find anywhere open. “Leave that to me,” she said, and marched up to the front door of the nearest B&B. After speaking quite forcefully in Welsh to the lady of the house, she came back and told us that she had two rooms available for us.

I asked what Bethan had said to persuade her to open up, and she said that “Jill was a very special person and needed a place to stay.” That was sufficient. Bethan first met Jill as a five-year-old in the Shrimps group at the beach mission. Her support for Jill was typical of the relationships that built up between members of the beach mission team and the townsfolk.

And I am so pleased that a memorial garden will be created at Nefyn in her memory and in the memory of other people connected with the team.

Jilly loved to bring joy to people’s lives – in many different ways. She was well known for the support that she gave to victims of sexual violence. She did more than provide support. She brought joy. Or, at least, tried to.

She brought joy to friends – and would pick up on the smallest thing that somebody would say and turn that into a practical expression of joy: whether sending colouring books and crayons; or providing a surprise Christmas meal in July – including pudding, tree and all the decorations; or turning up on somebody’s door to surprise them with Christmas in a hamper – while dressed as an elf!

And she brought joy to her family. I can’t begin to tell you how much we will miss her. What I can tell you is that, for me, life has been very difficult since January and I am here today because of the love, care and compassion shown to me by so many people. Jilly was the light of my life. She was the backbone of all that I did. I achieved nothing without her support.

In all that she did, she was inspired by her love of God. She lived out that challenge from the reading we just had from Micah, to act justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with our God.

She was no saint – as Gary Piper said at her funeral in Lichfield Cathedral in January. For all the good that she did, she understood the need she had for God’s forgiveness – that’s why she was quick to offer forgiveness to others.

Later, we shall say the Lord’s Prayer and it has that line: Father forgive me as I forgive those who have sinned against me. One of the most controversial aspect of the ’86 attack was the speed with which Jill forgave the attackers. She knew that if she wanted God’s forgiveness in her life she had to forgive the sins of others: not to earn God’s forgiveness, but in response to it.

We have just sung the song Bread of Heaven. It was a very important song to Jill. She played it over and over on the night following the attack and it brought her great comfort through the words of the chorus : “Bread of life, bread of life, all things made new.”

“All things”, she would later write in her book. “Not all things excluding rape victims, but all things.”

But for me it is the middle verse that is so significant: “A child in a manger no room in an inn; That’s just the way that the story begins.” As the story of Jesus did, indeed, begin with the nativity in Bethlehem. “The death of the Saviour, the rising anew” – that could easily be the end of the story; but as the song goes on: “The story continues in me and in you.”

The Acts of the Apostles is the book that follows the four Gospels in the Bible; describing the Acts of the first apostles. That book shouldn’t be finished because the Acts of Jesus’ modern-day apostles continue to tell the story.

In her life and her actions, Jill lived as a disciple of Jesus, and she challenges all of us to all live up to that standard: to live in a way that carries on the story. Jill did that.

Thank you.

*English translation of the Welsh part of my comments:

Thank you.

Thank you very much.

Thank you for loving Jill.

Thank you for caring for her as much as you did.

Thank you for providing her with a safe place.

Thank you for letting Jill be just Jill

And thank you for the love, the care and compassion that you have shown to me, and to Myles, Rory and Fergus.

And thank you for not laughing at my sad attempt at Welsh! Jill used to criticise me for the way I used to say Pwllheli.

Thank you.

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