Time to Say Goodbye to Jenny

Farewell Jenny and Stan

Eleven months ago, I conducted the graveside ceremony for my friend’s elderly father, Stan Szewczyk. The stories around the dinner table as we gathered to create the ceremony were filled with lots of laughter and good memories and inevitably, tears for this transition they all knew was coming—it was time to say goodbye to this ‘constant’ in their lives—a source of joy and love that Stan and Jenny had offered their children and grandchildren for many years. On the first of April 2021, Stan was buried in the Coffs Harbour Memorial Gardens at Karangi…and now it was time for us to meet to say farewell to Jenny.

Celebration of the life of Jenny Szewczyk

The ceremony was held at 11am on the 4th March 2022 on a sunny morning—which was a relief to get a small break in the heavy rains that have seen major flooding on the north coast of NSW. The small number of guests were immediate family and a few close friends.

The Graveside Ceremony

Music: Time to Say Goodbye (in Polish)

A very warm welcome to this celebration of the life of your mum, nanna and friend—your beloved Jenny. For those of you who I have not met my name is Wendy Haynes and I am a celebrant. It was only ten months ago when we came together to farewell Stan and I met Jenny for the first time. It was a tender moment when I knelt down next to her at the graveside and she referred to Stan’s death, with sadness and tears, that, ‘This is the way it is. It is the natural way of things.

This ceremony creates a sacred space to acknowledge this ‘natural way of things’ and to give voice to your love and your grief and to celebrate and honour Jenny’s life… and to say goodbye.

Having spoken with Czesia and John, Maria and Noel; and the grandchildren earlier this week, I was touched once again, by the love and happy memories that flowed around Jenny.

You loved Jenny, as did so many people outside of the family and this close-knit circle of friends that gather here today. Many of the messages of condolence paint a vivid and joyful picture of the life Jenny lived and the love she gave to so many. Many of the key words in the messages were repeated time and time again…

She was remarkable, vibrant, amazing, wonderful, very special, magnificent, gorgeous, delightful, loving, kind and joyful—Jenny was truly beautiful. One of Czesia’s friends, Lauryn wrote, ‘Her life reads like a heroine novel. One of the best’.

Today, you get to express your grief and yet, Jenny’s death comes with mixed emotions—acceptance and grief. There is naturally a great sadness at having to say a final goodbye, especially now both Stan and Jenny have died, and there is also relief that Jenny is no longer in her frail and very tired body. Itis bittersweet.

One way that we can hold our grief and love in this community is to share just some of the many wonderful stories that serve to connect us all and bring a glimpse into who she was—that will remind us of the life she lived and the gifts she shared.

Eulogy and Tribute from Maria

Maria will now read the tribute she has written for her mother.

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Most of you also attended Stan’s funeral last year on 1-April 2021. As their stories are of course intertwined some relevant information is repeated here. My mum was christened Joanna but was always known as Jenny in Australia. Jenny was born on 20 February 1932 in Bohorodczany a town in the vicinity of what is now known as Lviv in The Ukraine but was then Polish territory. Like my dad’s family there were also 9 children – 5 boys and 4 girls – and my mum was the last surviving member of her family of origin. From stories she told of her childhood, they were quite poor and the food they ate was simple but healthy fare – she remarked when certain grains became fashionable that this was the food she grew up on.  She particularly mentioned enjoying picking apples and any other fruit in season whenever she could – at times from other people’s property.

My mum at nearly 8 was still quite young when WWII broke out and she never particularly dwelt on this time of her life (from 8 to 14) but did tell us about some of the horrors she witnessed. Like having to take her older sister’s lunch to her in the town and seeing bodies strung up on poles and once witnessing a mass shooting in the forest with her cousin. They ran for their lives.

The war disrupted the family’s life completely with one brother being killed and their father gone missing, not to mention the uncertainty, hardship and deprivation of those years. With borders changing after the war, the family was given the option of becoming Russian citizens or being resettled in Poland. They chose resettlement and were transported to Lebork in the north of Poland close to the Baltic Sea. There they lived in a modest flat overlooking the central small town square. The building is still there and the town square has been beautified.

My mum was quite a private person not given to talking much about herself so we don’t know much about her teenage years in Poland. I remember she mentioned getting into trouble for taking one of her sister’s dresses to wear for an outing. From the bits she has told us I get the impression she was quite plucky and liked to have fun.

Jenny and Stan met in Lebork and married on 28-August 1952. He a good-looking, serious natured man of 28 and Jenny an attractive, vivacious young woman of only 20, setting up home in Lebork in a flat provided through Jenny’s work, as things were in Communist Poland in those days.  It’s in an attractive building which Noel and I have visited twice in recent years. Jenny & Stan had 2 daughters – Maria born in 1953 and Czesia born in 1956.  There were good memories of living in Lebork across the road from a lovely huge park which extended into woodlands where blueberries were picked and many snowmen built.  In summer, days were enjoyed by the sea or the lake with all 4 of them travelling on Stan’s motorcycle – Maria on the front handlebars and Jenny holding baby Czesia behind Stan!

There came a time in the late 1950s when Stan got restless. He proposed moving to Liskow, the village where he was born to run the original small family farm or travel to Australia where his older brother Caesar ended up after the war. Caesar’s letters of sunny Australia offering opportunity were very enticing .  Jenny was not at all a country-style of girl and so they travelled to Australia, arriving in Sydney on 31-July 1960 on the ship Neptune from Genoa in Italy.  Caesar lived in Georges Hall in south-western Sydney on a 1-acre property and back then it was a semi-rural area. The family lived on that land in a small 3-room fibro shack with an outside “dunny” with no flushing water.  Caesar allowed his brother to cultivate a huge section of land and Stan created a market garden. While Stan was in his element, Jenny was a bit shell-shocked to come to this rich country being stuck in what appeared to be the “backwoods”.  She was always a stylish and elegant woman.  Her first year was quite dispiriting but my mother has always been resilient and strong, didn’t look backwards and so she just gone on with it.

Stan and Jenny were 36 and 28 when they arrived in Australia with a debt to repay for their voyage and 2 young daughters to support. There weren’t the migrant support services there are today back then and they couldn’t speak English. They undertook English lessons by correspondence and went to work. At that time migrants mostly worked in factories and Stan went to work in Bonds in Wentworthville among the noisy textile weaving machinery and after a year Jenny got a job in a leathergoods factory.  It was hard work among lots of smelly chemicals. She learned silk-screen printing and soon became a supervisor.  Maria & Czesia actually worked there as young teenagers in some school holidays. Jenny remained there for over 10 years and eventually moved on to Precision Valve in their quality control department, enjoying a better cleaner and most pleasant environment.  She made some lifelong friends there and enjoyed that job.  My mum has always loved working and has been well liked and respected by her co-workers and often introduced innovation and change – something I was proud to witness as I got older.

In August 1965 the family very happily moved into their new 3-bedroom home in Chester Hill, modest by today’s standards but a palace to them at the time with separate bedrooms, an internal flushing toilet, a modern tiled bathroom and a wall oven! Stan planted a lovely garden and they were often complimented on it.  For several years the garage stood empty until Jenny came home one day and announced that she was getting a driver’s licence.  She did just that and purchased her stylish white Mazda 1500 which was her pride and joy.

Stan and Jenny lived in that house for just over 30 years. They were very hospitable people and Jenny loved to entertain – always creating delicious food and being very happy to welcome people to their home. Many a pleasant evening was spent with friends in the lovely gazebo, around the barbecue and swimming in the above-ground pool and enjoying their home. Their daughters didn’t leave until the ages of 27 and 24 as they enjoyed their parents’ company and their home life.

My parents didn’t have the luxury of being able to travel as much as they may have enjoyed as they were most generous to their family in Poland, particularly Jenny’s side of the family. They sponsored one of Jenny’s nieces to Australia. Both her brothers Tadek and Edek spent months here earning money to help with projects back home.  Edek returned again with his wife and stayed many months spending a considerable time in Coffs Harbour with Czesia and John.  In 1972 Jenny did travel with her two daughters to Poland for 5 months spending the last 2 weeks in Rome having lots of fun there. A treasured memory of Maria’s is a holiday on Heron Island on the Barrier Reef they enjoyed together in 1978 – snorkeling in wetsuits to keep them buoyant discovering some of the magnificent treasures of the reef.

Jenny and Stan did travel back to Poland together in 1999 also including a short tour of Europe. Over the years Czesia has taken them on 2 trips to New Zealand, a trip to Lord Howe Island with Jenny while Charles was working there.  There have been countless trips to various parts of Queensland, including visits to Charles and Charlotte in their proudly renovated home in Brisbane.

My mother has been great company with her sense of fun. She’s had a varied and interesting working life continuing into her late 70’s. Leaving factory work, she became a tea-lady at CBS Records where Czesia worked which somehow led to her spectacular cake-baking in her 40s, never having been a particularly keen baker.  She gained quite a reputation for her cakes and made them for various music celebrities – the huge one for Boy George when he visited Australia being a standout.  This led to her making her cakes for various cafes and restaurants for a time.

From tea-lady she moved on to be in charge of the “cake & coffee” stand in the famous David Jones Foodhall, once getting a mention by name in the Sydney Morning Herald by Leo Schofield a well-known food critic at the time.  Her co-workers lauded her but she would have served him and bantered completely oblivious of his status with her natural charm.

At 56 Jenny became a grandmother with the birth of Laura in 1988.  Then followed Charles in 1991, Rachael also in 1991 and Sharon in 1993. And she lived to become a great-grandmother to two girls -Charles and Charlotte’s lovely little Elodie now 14-months old and Laura and Kai’s Althea born 16-December 2021.

Her love and devotion to her grandchildren is legendary. From the beginning she doted on each and every one and has been very present in their lives.  Her natural hospitality led to her spoiling them with favourite foods and treats and there was always something delicious in Nana’s house.  She also loved to take them out and about – and has recorded their early lives on videos she filmed, which of course now are invaluable.

In 1995 Jenny and Stan moved to Coffs Harbour where Czesia and John had been living for some years. Their son Charles was almost 5 at this time and Nana made his lunch throughout all his school years – yes into high school.  They saw him to and from school up the road at Korora Public School and formed a very close bond.

And while the Sydney branch of the family was further away, the contact with their family was very constant.  The 3 grandchildren visited on many school holidays and Laura, Rachael and Sharon have countless memories of time spent with their grandparents in Coffs Harbour.  And of course Jenny & Stan visited the family in Pennant Hills from time to time, sometimes together and sometimes separately.  Jenny came to hold the fort while Maria and Noel travelled overseas a couple of times.  She was an incredibly giving person always on hand to help her family.

As mentioned Jenny loved to be useful and to continue working and Czesia managed to get her opportunities through various contacts in Coffs Harbour.  Initially she did baby-sitting jobs at Opal Cove for holidaying parents and then at various other resorts through an agency continuing till 2006.  Jenny also became a favourite baby sitter for the owners of the agency ‘s own children.  She worked in a sandwich shop near the library on Fridays for about 18 months and worked with another of Czesia’s friends in her catering business for some time – working at the lovely Orara Valley House when it was a conference centre. She always had amazing energy and was well-liked by her employers and customers alike.

In compiling this story of my mother and in comments made in condolence messages by friends the words vivacious and charming keep cropping up.  She was well liked with such a sense of fun, enjoying a glass of wine – especially on the beach, – visiting a café for coffee (about which she was quite particular), or going out to a movie.  And she loved to play games bidding outrageously at Tysiac (a favourite Polish card game). Mah Jong was a game she’s enjoyed for many years with her group of ladies, in recent years hosted in the home of Betty and Sandy here today.  She also taught Czesia and her friends Rodney and Phil to play and there were regular Dinner and Mah Jong nights with lots of hilarity.

Looking after Stan in his dementia took its toll on my caring mother and when he went into a home she was wracked with guilt and sorrow.  Her own health suffered leading eventually to her stroke on 30 January 2021.  Jenny could never adjust to her loss of independence and being in care herself. Though she was able to banter with the staff making them laugh when she called the lifter they used a helicopter and pretending they were going to Hawaii or asking where they were travelling to today.

But until that time my mum led an active, independent life without much medication or health issues, being able to enjoy life.  I had many many visits to my parents’ home particularly in recent years and always enjoyed their friendly welcome either when picking me up at the airport or being so happy of my safe arrival by car.  I was proud of my very stylish mother with her gorgeous head of hair on which she received many compliments.  I was fortunate to spend lots of time with my mum walking on the various beautiful beaches around here, visiting lots of cafes, playing endless games while enjoying a wine and a chat. She was great company and is much missed.

Tributes from Czesia and John

Czesia has asked me to read her tribute to her mum.

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Hi Mumushu, I know you’re there watching us saying goodbye to your body and celebrating your life. I believe your spirit is with me and will always be. I will miss not being able to go places as we did so often side by side but I will talk to you each day like I always have. We will walk along the beach, we will still go to the cinema and I will cringe when you say in a loud voice how disgusting a certain scene is. We will have our flat white coffees extra hot and laugh, argue and just chat. We will go swimming at Pac Bay pool and you will say how freezing the water is and then not want to get out. We will play card games and Rummyking over and over again as you always want to win and boy you can play till midnight and never tire of playing. So competitive Mum! We will sit on our bench at Korora Beach and gaze at that beautiful ocean and sip wine and just be together. We will go to Latitude our favourite place and eat calamari None of these things and many more will change because you will always be with me I will always hear your voice with that cute accent. I will see you unexpectedly here and there You were always so youthful and beautifully groomed you never looked old. I will feel those special hugs you gave me and hear those encouraging words you would say when I was low as you put your arm around me and say, “this will pass and all will be well again”. And I felt better

“Don’t seek approval from others in what you say in how you act instead live life to impress yourself. Go through life believing in yourself.” These were your words

Mum you believed in me and for that I am so grateful. You were always there for me in my very up and down emotional life. Do you remember when I was around 28 or so, I had gone through a very traumatic event and I was working part time in Lane Cove. You and Daddy drove in those days maybe an hour and a half to bring me a home-made salad sandwich to make sure I had a healthy lunch. A simple act of absolute unconditional love which you gave so freely. you never had any selfish thoughts or actions which is why you are loved so dearly. I will never forget that.

Nor the many times you were there for me. Mumushu I loved being with you I loved your ways your accent so proud of how many people warmed to you whether it be the local butcher who gave you ham for free, the young girl who worked at the post office you shouted coffee to at a local cafe cause you thought she was good at her job People loved you because you were so genuine so caring and so witty and fun. Your passion for life and for nature was inspiring you were so happy to see the beauty of a flower a lake a sunset a view. I am honoured to be your daughter and so happy for the love and memories I have of you from a little girl till now.

Remember when we would wake at 3 am make all these cakes and drive over an hour to Market Street Sydney to deliver them to what was then the very prestige food hall in David Jones Food Glorious Food. You were a natural entertainer and were famous for those cakes then and in Coffs.

We would book a luxury hotel in Sydney and tell them it was your birthday and laughed when we were presented with champagne and chocolates and sat on the balcony overlooking the harbour bridge. The time we took you to Fort Denison to dinner and you said it was like a dream with all the fairy lights and being in the middle of the harbour and you were so happy so passionate.

Rodney Phil and I had such incredible fun learning how to play Mahjong with you. Listening to you explain a Chinese board game with a Polish accent to us was hysterically funny and those 7 years of playing with you was one of the very best memories I have. I was so proud of you and you brightened our weekly nights of playing with you.

You were my rock, my best friend, my confidant. I will always hold you in my heart. I will always talk to you. I love you

John—Czesia’s Husband

I met Jen a while back. 1975 actually.  I think I impressed her enough to take her daughter out   Not sure in all the years that followed but I have to say she was the best mother in law a guy could ever have

Jen and I shared a trait and that was competitiveness.   We would play cards Rummyking and would be fiercely intent to win. Occasionally we would go to a club when we were on holidays at the Gold Coast and play the pokies.   What a laugh we had playing and having a drink.   She was great fun and loved a little gamble every now and then. One night we were a little tipsy coming home and I said Jesus Jen u r walking like a crab. She laughed and laughed when I explained she was walking sideways.

We bantered over many things.  Jen was always happy.  Easy going and generous.   Her and Stan were an incredible help to me through my time of cancer and were always there.

I taught Jen some great Ockerisms and would smile when she’d say.  Ok Johnny let’s hit the road. Or that cost me a few bucks. She loved the term She’ll be apples! She was a good student and was learning the lingo fairly quickly.

We will all miss you Jen xx

Tributes from Jenny’s Grandchildren

Laura, Charles and Sharon

Wendy: Thank you for your beautiful tributes, your tears and your laughter—very precious memories.

Shortly we will reverently commit the body of your beloved mother, nanna and friend, Jenny, to the earth, an element of life that both she and Stan loved. You will remember with gratitude Jenny’s deep love for you—her loving care for her husband, Stan; and her unconditional love for her daughters and son-in-laws, Maria and Noel, Czesia and John and, of course, her adoration and love for her grandchildren, Laura, Rachel, Charles and Sharon, and her love for her great granddaughters, Elodie and Althea.

As family and friends, I know you will be forever grateful for Jenny’s kindness, integrity and charm and be inspired by the respect that she showed to everyone she met.

Aside from being only five foot nothing and having a Polish accent, Jenny wasn’t your usual, conventional old woman—she was young at heart and will be remembered for her innate sense of style, grace and elegance—with a very natural flair for beauty while being extremely humble and modest. She will be remembered for her capacity to integrate the Aussie slang and how she rolled with other people’s humour in good spirit.

You will miss Jenny’s cooking—in particular, her magnificent cakes. You will smile when you think of her laughter and love of champagne… and her quirky, fun dancing. You’ll laugh at her truth telling ways that, while embarrassing at times, were generally true. And, to get the whole picture, just on occasion she could be irritable and irascible…but she always came back with a smile and counted her blessings.

Jenny was innovative, resilient, passionate and optimistic; she was selfless, caring and so very kind. She loved you all.

Jenny—she has been and always will be greatly loved.

It is time to say goodbye to a wonderful woman. May Jenny rest in peace.

Lower the Coffin

I would like to invite you to come forward and place a rose on her coffin. During this time, you may want to offer a silent wish or blessing for Jenny and for Stan.

Let us leave this place in quietness of spirit conscious of the things that really matter in life. May you remember Jenny and Stan with a smile knowing their love is always with you. Thank you for being here today. May peace be with you.

Music – Celine Dion – Goodbye