Shelly was a lifelong friend who passed away too soon for all of us who knew her. There is a feeling of profound loss for this unique woman who left her mark on this world and touched the hearts of so many.
Although Shelly was quite a bit older than me, older than my own mother in fact, I still thought of her as my friend. To Shelly, age was not an issue in relationships; she had the ability to create deep bonds with all types of people, no matter their age, level of observance, material wealth, background or status. She had a special gift, a quality that allowed everyone who knew her to feel valued and connected.
For me, Shelly was also the first single mom I ever encountered – I met her when I was just a child. In our close knit community Shelly and her two children became part of our small circle of friends, our extended family.
Interestingly enough, I never thought about Shelly being a single mom when I was younger. She clearly did not allow her marital status to define who she was and she certainly never allowed her son and daughter to use it as an excuse. Their family was simply Shelly and the kids, different than ours but in no way “less” of a family unit.
Mind you, this was a time when divorce and blended families were not found in every third to fifth home in town. Divorce was virtually unheard of when and where I grew up. As I became a teenager, divorce became more prevalent but still did not affect the majority of people I knew.
Shelly’s children did everything the other kids in our neighborhood did with little regard to the fact that they were the only ones from a single parent home. Their home was always filled with guests; they went to sleepaway camp, were counselors in our local youth group and held summer jobs, just like everyone else. They attended the local Jewish day school, went away to Israel for their “gap year” and earned college degrees from private universities.
Although their father was not a part of their daily lives, I do recall hearing of family trips to visit with him that included “mom.” Never did I hear a negative or spiteful word said about the children’s father. Since I did not know much about divorce in those years, I just assumed that this was the “norm.” I learned later on how exceptional this family really was.
As much as her status as a single mom seemed inconsequential in so many ways, Shelly worked hard to maintain her family and to balance the many responsibilities she had as a single mom. This was a major influence on me when I found myself a single mother of two small children, a girl and a boy.
Shelly had been there throughout my youth; she was there for most of my major milestones in life – as an excited young bride, a new mother, my son’s brit milah – she was just always there. Fortunately for me she was also there during my divorce; I actually lived in the same apartment building as her.
Suddenly our relationship metamorphosed; my friend’s mom and my mother’s friend now became my confidant and mentor. She became a support system for me at a time in my life that others simply could not relate to. I truly believe that it was Hashem’s hand that placed us both in that very condominium complex when I needed her most. Physically and emotionally she was there for me, helping me to see the light in what felt like darkness.