Miriam Field: a Eulogy

My Eulogy for My Sister Miriam

By Harold Shattock

At my time of life I have had to prepare a number of eulogies. This one, for my beloved sister, Miriam, has been the easiest I can remember. The reason for this is that there is so much that is good that can be said about her, and nothing of the opposite.

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There is a well-known and obvious truism: “You can choose your friends, but you cannot choose your relations.”

I had two lifelong friends, sadly no longer with us, and I number Miriam alongside them as a lifelong friend as well as my dear sister. Miriam and I go back a long way.

I was born [in 1922] two years after her [1920]. That was 92 years ago.

We had two brothers, Maurice [born, 1912] and David [1916], a few years older than us, three step-sisters, Hilda, Rose, and Nettie, and a step-brother, Joseph. I can give you more details of them when you have an hour or two to spare.

However, with my two parents and a maid, there were 11 of us living over the shop at this time. What a time it was for my mother and father struggling to make a living to keep us all during the time of the post-First World-War depression.

I was told that when we were taken out in the pram together by our older siblings, people constantly stopped us to admire Miriam’s beauty and her gorgeous hair.

For the first 16 years of my life, Miriam was my closest friend and mentor. Most of us are a mixture of good and bad. I am sure that any good qualities I may have, I acquired from Miriam during those formative years.

She was loved by everyone who knew her, and there were very good reasons for this. Not because she was my sister, others share this opinion – she was the kindest, most compassionate person one could imagine. She adored her husband, Stanley, and her hard-working care for him and for their children far exceeded the call of duty. For example, each of them had different tastes in food and she prepared different diets for each of them separately every day.

Miriam showed the greatest fortitude during the Second World War years, when Stanley was away in the Army in Europe, and she cared for the family uncomplainingly. Incidentally, Stanley took part in the invasion of France on D-Day, and he was among the first soldiers to enter a concentration camp. You can imagine what a worrying time this was for Miriam.

Miriam and Stanley, their daughters Marilynne and Sonia and their son Brian were a close constantly loving and devoted family. Miriam adored her grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Miriam always thought more about others than about herself.

She was not particularly religious, but like myself, she had a strong sense of Jewish identity. Miriam, for many years, was an active member of the ladies Guild of WIZO, and with Stanley, of JACS.

Not only that, she was a ‘fun’ person with a great sense of humour and many varied interests. I experienced what a great cook she was when I was bereaved of my late first wife 47 years ago; Miriam had an open house for me to join the family for a meal any time I chose.

She also had a mischievous streak. My earliest memories of her are when she took me to Hebrew classes at our then shul in Catherine Road, Surbiton. I was five years old and she was seven. She did not much care for cheder and occasionally played truant. When she had to take me to cheder her truancy finished, so I suppose I was not very popular with her for these occasions.

When our mother became bedridden, it was Miriam and Stanley who took her into their home, and cared for her until her terminal illness. This was absolutely typical of them.

They had a great relationship with a number of local Jewish families, and they frequently went abroad on holiday together once the children were settled.

They had an eventful and full life with each other. They went to America several times, where they visited family as well as travelling extensively.

After Stanley passed away, Miriam, who had accepted residence in the superb Nightingale home philosophically until then, missed him so much that she started to feel that, having had such a full life, she had had enough and was ready to meet her maker. This feeling intensified as her health deteriorated although she bore her illness and discomforts with the greatest equanimity.

She still maintained her personality, and listened avidly to my wife’s accounts of our activities during our frequent visits. During these months, her hair was dressed, her clothes and self-presentation were impeccable, and our visits were a source of much pleasure to my wife Jeanne and myself. We were much distressed when she became bedridden, and was just aware of our presence. I cannot stress too much how wonderfully Marilynne and Sonia cared for their mother during this sad time, which was a fitting reward for the care she had given to them in earlier years.

To quote Ecclesiastes: “to everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven, a time to be born, and a time to die.” Sadly for us, but as she has wished, Miriam’s time has now come.

When we praise Hashem, as we say Kaddish, we shall be thankful that we can celebrate the life of my dear sister, ayshes chayim (a woman of worth), Miriam, may she rest in peace, Amen.