It is so hard to talk when one's heart is so full of hurt and sorrow, one's brain is a swirl of memories and emotions and one's body is numb, outer worldly and the over-riding thought is "This can't be happening. Shirley can't leave us for ever.'
How does one encapsulate 52 years of married life to a woman one loved, and continues to love, in a few words? So many people have said, "I have no words!" But the strength of the emotion says it all. Still, even though as I and the family weep and mourn, there is a need to speak of her and to pay tribute to her memory.
I first remember Shirley as teenagers in Habonim in South Africa. One of a happy crowd at camp at Nahoon and Leaches Bay, singing parodies with the "Pops" and in the chavurah in Johannesburg on Friday nights where we took turns to walk her home to Kensington, quite a way from where we met. The reward was something good from Mrs. Lederman's well stocked fridge. But Shirley and I only got close and fell in love when she got back from a year in London and I from four years in Israel in November 1953.
We found that we shared so many interests and enjoyed to go out together to concerts, theatre, dance recitals, galleries and restaurants. We had a close circle of friends with whom we would socialize and with whom we spent many cheerful and happy hours. Shirley and I got engaged in '56 and married at the Wolmarans Street Shul on Sunday, 6th January 1957, fifty two and a half years ago as I write this.
I cannot imagine these past five decades without Shirley. We left South Africa in '58 and lived in Paris for two years in one room. Not easy but not too difficult when you are 25 years old. We went to London for one year and stayed for 38. Somebody suggested an entry for the Guinness Book of Records for procrastination but we did have an interesting time. We raised three children, Jon, Gideon and Timna, to whom we always remained close, to this very day. A family unit in which Shirley took great pride. There were occasions when work took me away from home for extended periods that must have been quite difficult but Shirley never complained.
The many messages that we have received all mention her warmth and hospitality. She worked on the principle that there was always food for a meal and that accommodating friends and relatives for longer or shorter periods was a matter of attitude rather than space. Once in Stanmore we coped with the overflow with a tent in the garden, in London with an empty neighbour's house and in New Delhi we had six Israeli backpackers and a monkey camped in our lounge. Nobody was turned away. Essentially kind and gentle, modest to a fault, yet with a quick wit and sharp sense of humour and known to speak her mind with remarkable sharp frankness.
I remember Shirley asking her mother for advice on the preparation of some recipe. "Don't worry," she was told, "when the time comes you'll know how." Lily Lederman was a wise woman and really knew her daughter. When the time came Shirley became an excellent cook with dishes that were a gastronomic delight but which she always dismissed as not being anything special. She passed the skill on to our three children all of whom are excellent cooks in their own right but who all claim that they do not have that "special Mummy dust."
Shirley was always a private person who was at her best in small groups. Her circle of close friends was not large but the many people who knew her liked her and enjoyed her company. Her true joy was always the children and the grandchildren. When Daniel, Jon and Vered's eldest, was learning to talk, they tried to teach him to say 'Granny' and 'Grandpa' but all he could manage was 'Gooney' and 'Peppa.' To this day it is how all the grandchildren, Tomer, Yael and Gideon and Lynnís two, Ella and Maya, refer to us. Many of the photographs that we have been looking at over the past few weeks show Shirley reading to her grandchildren and having them completely enthralled.
Shirley was always healthy and if anybody needed care it was usually me. That care and support was always there, without question. We were all shocked when in October 2007 Shirley was diagnosed with lymphoma that first appeared as lump on her neck. Initially the prognosis was good as it appeared to be a relatively benign lymphoma that responded well to treatment. However while still under treatment a more aggressive lymphoma developed and a series of chemotherapy treatments began. Shirley did not respond well and for eighteen months suffered nausea, fatigue and growing weakness as the lymphoma did not respond to treatment. Thank goodness the pain was well controlled. The scans showed increasing damage to her lungs that made her breathing laboured and difficult. The final two weeks in hospital she was kept on near 100% oxygen and increasing strength of morphine. Jon, Gideon, Timna, Vered and I kept a twenty-four hour vigil at her bedside and the grandchildren, relatives and friends all came to be with her. She quietly slipped away just after 02.30 on Monday morning, 29th June (7 Tammuz 5769).
We were devastated. While appreciating that her long months of suffering were over we have to come to terms with a life and world without our beloved Shirley. As wife, mother and grandmother to us, to the family at large and to the many people who knew her, she will be missed. Will the gaping hole in our lives ever be filled? Will the pain we feel ever be assuaged? She now lies on a beautiful slope in the Judean Hills at Kibbutz Ma'aleh Hahamisha. We will always love her and treasure her memory.
Rest in peace my Shirl.
SHIRLEY, MY SHIRL, MY LOVE
Dov (David) Seligman
Copyright © 2009 Jon Seligman. All Rights Reserved.