As the last day of shiva dawns, I thought it might be fitting to enter here the words I spoke at Sheila's funeral. I wrote them with hope for comfort for us all. Thank you for your prayers for Sheila and your support for both of us. (See below.)
Lee Mondshein March 11, 2018
- Loving Memories of My Wife, Sheila Mondshein -
I wrote these notes in a quiet, meditative state. I would like to share them with you in that mode, as I read them to you.
Sheila has been the sterling core of my life. “Sterling” is always the term that first comes to mind when I search for words to describe my wife . Sheila has a pure, shining, modest soul that has endured undimmed throughout her life, and throughout her illness. For all our fifty years together, I have been privileged to witness her selfless devotion to others as well as to me.
I will frame Sheila’s story in reverse chronological order, for reasons that will become clear. So to begin, I want to thank you for being here to support my wife and me also, with your presence and your love.
Traveling in a retrospective direction, I would like to take just a few minutes to sketch a small bit of Sheila’s work. My aim is most certainly not to articulate a resume, but rather to provide a framework to illuminate her character, to clarify what traits she has brought to her pro bono work of the past two decades, and what, in her character, drives her to do it. . For the past 18 or so years, since “retiring” from her supervisory work at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, Sheila’s primary activities in the legal profession have been her teaching and her pro bono work on behalf of the Newton in the areas of fair housing and the area of human rights.
Sheila has always had a very strong sense of individual fairness and community justice, which has naturally been combined with a sense of balance --- an attention to avoiding the extremes of zealousness on one hand, or coldness on the other. She is often the person in the middle, between competing parties and interests, exerting herself to getting things done productively. Long before society began to bifurcate, she instinctively worked to enable our Newton community to be economically as well as culturally diverse, in balanced ways that avoided the poles of neglect vs. unproductive zealotry on the other. She has always believed in energetically doing the right thing, in a calming but dedicated way.
In 2011, the Mayor of Newton, Setti Warren presented her with the Excellence in Housing Award, which said: “In recognition of your outstanding leadership and contribution to affordable housing through the advancement of fair housing in Newton.” Until her illness forced her aside, she was immersed in advocating and initiating an objective citywide assessment that hopefully will help guide and enhance the City’s planning efforts in commercial and residential development.
Several years ago, because of the effectiveness of her legal and other advice to Newton City Hall, Sheila was appointed by the Mayor to be the founding chairperson of the Newton Fair Housing Committee, as well as a member of the executive committee of the Human Rights Commission.
Prior to, as well as parallel to, this type of work, Sheila has been a tireless, mentoring adjunct professor of law for a dozen years at New England School of Law (and occasionally at Suffolk and Roger Williams) , aiming to educate and inspire young people to carry on her work.
In these difficult weeks and days of Sheila’s illness, I have experienced my role to be that of both husband and spiritual midwife, witnessing and assisting Sheila’s spiritual birth. I feel to some extent that I have witnessed not Sheila’s expiration, so much as her first spiritual respiration.
Time is short, indeed, sometimes much shorter than we think. I would like now to try to condense a universe of beauty into a few, inadequate words about Sheila.
Sheila has been a loving, giving, energetic person, a straight-arrow. Whatever Sheila promises to do, she does, whatever the cost to herself.
Sheila deeply loves and appreciates our many friends -- embracing you as family, and feeling embraced. Sheila has been a devoted friend, a transparent person; I would say, limpid -- what you see is what you get.
Sheila has loved learning; has been an enquiring reader and a sensitive listener.
She has joyously hosted beautiful dinners as a tribute to her friends.
Sheila has possessed a strong, unwavering dedication to doing what is right, while not trampling on the views and needs present in the larger context.
Sheila has a sweet, gentle, selfless, thoughtful, reflective soul.
Sheila has inspired me from the very outset. Her best friend and my roommate were engaged to be married. I learned about her many fine qualities from that roommate. I fell in love with Sheila very quickly, from the good report of her --- and just kept falling in love.
Sheila prayed earnestly for life and, given the purity of her spirit, I believe that her prayers were answered in a deep way: she departed with serenity --- she was embraced by me as she passed away, while we both slept --- in the middle the night of the Sabbath of rest.
As I watched the sunset out the window of Sheila’s room at the end of the Sabbath, it spoke a clear message — telling me so much about Sheila’s passing. Some ancients, having only a dim conception of the earth and the larger universe thought the sun died at the end of the day; they were wrong. We now see clearly, with our scientific wisdom, that the sun is not dying or passing away, is not moving into some mysterious dimension.
In truth, the sun maintains its full life and energy. It is we who are temporarily moving away from its radiance. Yet, we know that we shall surely again receive the blessings it bestows.
Sheila has been my sun. Although I can’t grasp how, I feel her presence and radiance beyond the horizon --- and I will treasure that radiance forever.