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A Short Bio of Shirley – Part 2

A Short Bio of Shirley – Part 2

University life begins for Shirley in February 1993 in beautiful Stellenbosch. She’s eighteen and life looks more promising.

Shirley in Stellenbosch

Shirley in Stellenbosch

Shirley moves into a residence and then shares a flat with Loren. The two become like sisters. Years later Loren and I chat about those years over coffee.

 “Oh, Thy,” Loren says, “We laughed such a lot. What an amazing sense of humour! “The other thing we did was sleep – or at least Shirley did. I had to work my butt off. But she would hardly open a book and still cream her subjects, especially English and Psychology. Cum laude, no less – I found it so frustrating! What did amaze me though was her strange taste in men. And the other big thing for her was to be on Prozac for two years.” Our doctor prescribed this because of her battle with depression, as well as counselling. She did the first though hating the pills but went only once for the second.  .

She found these new experiences strange and alarming. They stirred up and added to buried fears. It was not long before she was thinking: “There you are – I always knew it – there’s something very wrong with me.”

Of those years, Shirley later writes:

“Somehow I managed to miss discovering how very much God loves me. I kept interrogating myself. It seemed that, instead of setting me free, my faith was causing me feelings of failure, guilt and unworthiness. For a long time, I struggled to keep these inside. Surely then the logical thing to do was to leave the church and religion behind?”

Shirley’s wedding is on 16 December 1998. She met him ‘falling through the air,’ as she put it. They were at the same sky-diving club. (Shirls is wearing the cerise suit).

Shirley Skydiving

The wedding is absolutely beautiful – at Delaire, a wine farm just north of Stellenbosch at sunset.

Shirley, the beautiful bride

Very soon the two of them move to Johannesburg to take up promotions – they work in the IT industry. Not long after that they move to London, again to better prospects.

During the build-up to the wedding, Shirley is particularly unsettled – rattled, and uncertain – more fragile than usual. And needs more support.  While we’re filling little boxes with chocolates for the guests one afternoon Shirley has a terribly frightening meltdown. Her mood blackens to the point where she feels as if she is sinking into a dark, sooty-black pit. I try and try – but I can’t reach her. This is the worst despair I have ever seen. Fear threatens to panic my soul. Helplessly, I stroke her back – very tentatively – as I sit beside her. I do not know what else to do. I hang on to the belief that marriage with someone there to supply her chronic sense of need is the answer.

After five and a half years of struggle the marriage breaks up.

Totally Alone on the beach

Totally alone. Sellobost Sand, Hebrides, after her divorce.

Shirley stays on in London, then takes herself off for a three week holiday in New Zealand, exploring in a hired car. Her adventures include her first tattoo:

First Tattoo

Sometime later, alone on Dunedin Beach she decides that “God hasn’t heard from me in a long time.” So she prays, thinking that “perhaps He might want to hear from me again.”

Dunedin Beach

Shirls on Dunedin Beach

Back in England, she finds a job in Bracknell near Reading, buys a car and a house. Not too long afterwards she joins Greyfriars church. Her struggles continue. She longs for a husband and children and tries online dating through a Christian website. One of the things that make her feel good is holidays and she lives from one to the next.

Diving in the Red Sea

Diving in the Red Sea. Shirley called the shark Bob.

Skiing in Europe After Christmas

Skiing in Europe after Christmas

But life goes pear-shaped again and again. Depression continues to raise its ugly head. Again and again she rejects the idea of a Psychiatric assessment and anti-depressants and insists all will come right with the aid of a counsellor.

After a bitterly sad year (2012) she considers packing it all in and coming back to our garden flat in Cape Town to find herself and start all over again. Her life has been tattooed with misery and pain. She does wonder though whether starting again will be the answer or whether, in the end, she may feel just as bad. It would mean that she carries the root of the problem with her. The disappointment of that would be far too much to bear.

Then, in April 2013, she bumps her leg in the office…..   


A Short Bio of Shirley – Part 1

A Short Bio of Shirley – Part 1

In 1970 Brian and I decide it’s time to start a family. But we can’t fall pregnant. The five years that follow are tough. In the end we put our names down for adoption. Two more years of heart-anguish go by.

Then an amazed gynaecologist has to admit we might be pregnant. “I can’t believe it, I just can’t believe this!” he says. “Go away,” he says gently, “and come back in two months and then we’ll know.”

So, after a very long two months, we come back. And, shaking his head, he has to admit, “You really are pregnant, four whole months pregnant.”

When Shirley is born in 1975 no baby could have been more loved or welcome.  A pastor friend says, “You haven’t lived until you’ve had a child.” How right he is!  

As a little child, Shirley is a delight. She loves to chatter, learns very quickly and likes to do things for herself. She loves cheesy bread, but vehemently rejects banana custard and pawpaw. She never runs short of ideas, to the point of sucking three dummies (pacifiers?) at once, always with a mischievous twinkle in her large green-brown eyes.

Shirley as a toddler with dummy in mouth

At bedtime she loves the stories I make up which stretches my imagination big time. When she is out of line – like taking a liking to dog biscuits – a stern voice is all that is necessary.

During Shirley’s teen years, our youth group becomes her brothers and sisters. We produce a musical together. We sell boerewors rolls every Saturday until we have enough money for the group to fly from Pretoria to Cape Town for four days’ holiday with no sleep.

In Cape Town - Shirley is in front on the left
In Cape Town – Shirley is in front on the left

Shirley is born with only two – not three – blood vessels in her umbilical cord. This suggests to our paediatrician there could be trouble ahead. I dismiss such a thought as absurd. At no point does God say He is giving us a perfect baby, but I assume it. So I never follow up the two-blood-vessel story and its possible implications.

In time a shadow of concern does creep ever so slowly into my heart. School days bring the catty interchanges of little girls. This is distressing for most of them, but Shirley goes to pieces. I am always comforting, holding her on my lap and gently drying the very many tears.  Her troubles are extreme and intense. Eventually I do have to admit that Shirley really struggles. I can’t put my finger on it, but it’s not how it should be. I become incredibly concerned about her. 

I remember being on the beach on holiday at Scottburgh. Nine-year-old Shirley takes off her thick glasses. She doesn’t want to lose them in the sea.

The day Shirley got her first glasses
The day Shirley got her first glasses

There is a moment when I look up to see her coming up from the water, totally lost. I see my child as so lost and alone. She just can’t see where we are. I run to fetch her, aching for her and how she must feel.

From then on, pics of Shirley utterly alone always stirred up an ache in me. Perhaps this is because they suggest the intense loneliness and isolation she experiences as a result of her psychological challenges. Her deep insecurity, poor self-image, and battle to find relationships satisfying whisper that she is in trouble and that anguish lies ahead. Tears drench each new challenge.

I know something is amiss, although I can’t put my finger on it. Along with hers, my distress grows too. I know this is when my pain for her began – pain that lasted for a very long time.

As a family we move to Cape Town on New Year’s Day, 1991. It proves to be a very long, very sad journey. Shirley is devastated. No matter where she turns, she sees nothing but loss. She was probably going to get provincial colours for netball. To be part of the school’s debating team … to sit on the junior city council of Pretoria … to get distinctions for all her subjects in matric. She was almost certainly going to be a prefect. She’s also lost her extended family, her netball team friends; youth group pals and worst of all, Brendan her brand-new first boyfriend. She depended upon her relationships to survive and now they were almost all gone. Loss is just everywhere.  

Some weeks later, Shirley finds herself in the playground of Westerford High in Newlands. It’s a beautiful setting because of the Cape Mountains, lawns and ancient chestnut trees. But Shirley continues to yearn for the people back home that energise her and bring her to life. The school psychologist says she’s mourning her brother and sisters.

Shingwedzi - Kruger National Park - With Michelle
Shingwedzi – Kruger National Park – With Michelle

In her Art class, Shirley paints a huge, sad face – her face. She makes the eyes green so that they swim in pain. She paints huge cracks in the face. And she fills some of the cracks with a chaotic jangle of musical notes to document her anguish.

Shirley paints a huge sad face

I’m very sad to see Shirley so extremely unhappy. But I’m not surprised. Even before we left Pretoria, I was worried sick about how she would manage the move. Almost every week, I end up holding her close as she lies sobbing in my arms. I do what mothers do – pour out love and care unreservedly. But she needs a professional counsellor. Tragically, not one of us realises that.

 Her heart is awash with pain. And her thoughts are very dark:

“I can’t do this. I can’t see a single thing to live for. All I do is flounder in pain.”

Meet Thy – Who wrote the book

Meet Thy – Who wrote the book

The next bio gives a bit of my background : Thy:

Thy at the beach

As I said, Brian and I met on a blind date. I can’t remember if I explained my name to him, as I usually do whenever I meet someone new. I say, “My name’s Thy.”

“What?” they ask, often close to staring. “Yes, its short for ‘Thyra’ – I’m named after the Norwegian Goddess of war.” Adding that doesn’t improve things much. And I’m not sure I have my facts correct, but just maybe God gave the name to enable me to break the ice and start conversation!

It’s strange that someone else in our families lost his father at two or three years of age. That was my father. He was also two or three years old when he lost his Dad. My Dad was the youngest of six children. His Norwegian father, after sailing for Norway, had gone ashore in Saldanha Bay only to meet and lose his heart to a Miss Kotze. He never left. Instead he married her but, sadly, died before he could reach a ripe old age. For my father there was a double whammy in store in that he then lost his mother – at about thirteen. And so it is probably true to say he brought himself up. 

When he married my mother, the youngest of five children, he insisted they wait until they had a hundred pounds in the bank before they had children. On cue, my mother gave birth – but what a surprise when we turned out to be twins! My father was over the moon to have a son and poured himself into him from then on. I think he wanted him to have everything he himself never had. 

We grew up on a small holding with Muscovy ducks, turkeys, a flourishing vegetable garden and a succession of dogs and cats. Our home was not a happy one – my father believed he had been overlooked for promotion a number of times. He became bitter and withdrawn and spoke little. There was no fun in our home. I did three things: began painting in oils, cried myself to sleep in my pillow and made sure I read my Bible every night. This, my mother taught me and it was a wonderfully significant thing she did for me.  

It was a relief to go to teachers’ training college. I was determined to live in Res and have a social life. And I loved teaching. But it was a big thing to leave home and I was very insecure and unsure of myself.

That blind date I mentioned earlier with Brian became a relationship, going to church together, playing tennis and writing real letters whenever he was in camp and we couldn’t see each other. We were both studying, but in my case it was a BA at Wits, at the same time as the teaching diploma of those days – to teach high school.

It was in church one night that I too, in response to a visiting speaker (a different one!) committed myself to Jesus. This was also the biggest thing that ever happened to me.


We were married in 1968, when we were both 22, which seems so young now. When Brian became a curate in 1970 I gave up teaching to support him full time in every way I could.

Thy and Brian Getting Married

So I ran the Sunday school, the ladies work and served on the church council. In 1982, after being asked to read Mary’s part in a message for Radio Pulpit, I was invited to make programmes for them. For about 17 years I created and presented music programmes, children’s stories most of which I wrote myself, and magazine programmes. I did a lot of interviewing, especially for a programme called “Spotlight.” Hearing people’s stories did a lot to shape and grow my own faith.  

 Some of us love to keep many balls in the air at the same time and I’ve always been happiest when I can do that. One of the “balls” has been oil painting, in the holidays when alone on my Dad’s small holding with no friends nearby. Another ”ball” near to my heart has been training Sunday school teachers in seminars, and with booklets, etc. I was also drawn in to studying Christian Education online at an American university. After a master’s degree I also did a doctorate, and taught masters students on line for seven years.

My love of people led me into counselling and small group work. Not surprisingly, the special prayer applied to me, in that know-yourself seminar, reads as follows:

“Lord, help me to keep …. Oops! There goes a butterfly!  …. my mind on one thing at a time.”

But, all along, what I longed for more than anything was to have children. Imagine our joy when after five years of struggling, treatments, hopes and disappointments, Shirley was born in 1975. I made the decision then always to make her my top priority. And think I did.  

Welcome To My Blog

Welcome To My Blog

I’ve been looking forward to having a place where we can chat about Shirley’s (and therefore my) journey with cancer. As I journey on one of the things I’d like to share is my experience with grief.

To provide more background to the book, I open the blog with three short bios:

  • Meet Shirley’s Dad Brian. You might want to say something to him?
  • Meet me – Thy – who wrote the book. I’d love to hear from you.
  • A Short bio of Shirley – comments are welcome.


Who was Shirley really?  Let’s start with her Dad:

Brian’s arrival more than seventy years ago was such a joy to his mother and father. Their oldest boy – Ian – had turned six, so it had been a long wait. Hopes had been followed by disappointments, which were followed by new hopes and disappointments but now, at last, Peggy cuddled the baby for whom they had longed.

But only too soon, tragedy struck. Ian and Brian had gone down the road to the bus stop to meet Daddy. Alec misstepped and fell and rolled under the wheels of the bus. He was rushed to hospital but did not live long.

How much of this the boys saw I don’t know. Brian was not yet three but he does remember people, very upset, milling around until the ambulance came.

Huge changes followed. There was no money and Peggy moved into a flat in Hillbrow and had to go out to work. Her self-confidence, always at low ebb, was knocked for six.

Granny, who came to South Africa when nine years old and never lost her Scottish accent, moved in next-door. The extended family all helped. Brian remembers holidays, all paid for, by train to Durban.

The boys were sent to church. So it was that, with the visit of a special speaker, eleven year old Brian committed himself to follow Jesus. If losing his Dad was a big thing, this was the second and the biggest thing ever to happen to him.

In fact, it very much determined his future. In time he fixed his eyes on becoming a pastor and also completing an academic career.

 He always worked hard – at school, in the bank where he began his working career and in his studies, at night, with Unisa. He says it was Thy’s crunchies that got him through his three degrees but Thy will not take the credit for his success in any way.

In her first year at teachers’ training college Thy came into the picture via a blind date This was arranged by her friend’s boyfriend who, in turn, had become friends with Brian in the military gym where they sweated and worked for ten months.

For Brian, serving God through focused dedication to his work always remained his priority. Although he pastored a church and started another while in Pretoria – nineteen years of unhesitating hard work – it became more and more obvious as the years went by that his main gifting was in organisation, administration and committee work.

When we moved from Pretoria to Cape Town and he joined the team at St James Church, Kenilworth, Brian stepped into a job tailor-made for him – organisation and administration. Few people really thrive at doing this and, therefore, in time he quite naturally took on this line of service for his whole denomination and became their chief administrative officer.

Although retired now he still comes alive when he has work to do for his denomination’s pension fund. Don’t get me wrong, because of his love for watching sport, he watches every ball hit, chased, batted, grabbed, skied high, clubbed etc. on TV that he can, no matter who is playing or that it’s the last five minutes of a game. In fact, he loves TV! 

Brian Relaxing At Home

At a know-yourself personality course we were given the prayers that would suit each of us best. I still smile at each of ours. Brian’s is, “Lord, teach me to become laid back and relaxed and help me to do that from 11.42 am tomorrow morning!”