This story is part of WHYY’s series “COVID-19: Remembering lives we’ve lost” about the everyday people the Philadelphia region has lost to the coronavirus pandemic, the lives they lived, and what they meant to their families, friends and communities.
Shirley Trostle was known in her family as “the Angel.”
The family matriarch smiled constantly, and never had a bad word to say about anyone, her children and grandchildren say.
“She was the sweetest person you could ever meet,” said her daughter Cheryl Emory.
Shirley, who suffered from Alzheimer’s disease in recent years, died from COVID-19 in Wilmington, Delaware on May 17 at the age of 94. Her family remembers her as a family-oriented woman, who taught them kindness and patience, how to have a positive attitude and to take joy in the simple things in life.
Shirley devoted most of her life to her family. After marrying her high school sweetheart, she raised three children as a stay-at-home mother. Her kids say she was a fun mom, who always welcomed their friends to the house or on a trip to the beach.
The family enjoyed talking over dinner, which always consisted of an appetizer, main course and dessert.
“It was that era where families were really close, and you ate dinner together without running around and being on your cell phone,” said Shirley’s son Craig Trostle. “It was very close to the ‘Leave-it-to-Beaver’ type family.”
Shirley’s favorite activity was playing cards, and she participated in various bridge clubs until she was at least 89 or 90, her children say. She also played pinochle with her family every Sunday for 40 years. Cheryl and Craig say they also learned how to play poker at a very young age.
“We only played with pennies, but we had fun,” Craig said.
Shirley’s favorite time of year was Christmas, and she pulled out all the stops for the holiday, preparing for much of the year. Every corner of the house was decorated, and on Christmas day, the family sat for hours and hours as they opened gifts one by one.
The day after Christmas, Shirley began shopping for gifts for the following year, and continued buying items from catalogues throughout the year. She saved every bow, every piece of wrapping paper and had closets full of gifts and ornaments.
The family hopes to have a memorial service around Christmastime if the COVID-19 pandemic has improved by then.
“She’s definitely the matriarch of the family, but also the glue — everyone loved Christmas because Nana loved Christmas,” said Shirley’s grandchild Devynn Emory.
Shirley also enjoyed traveling with her husband Bill, who died in 1990. As a safety engineer, Bill inspected plants all over the world, and he and Shirley lived in London for two years. Craig and Cheryl say living in England was one of the highlights of their parents’ lives, as the pair took the chance to travel Europe extensively.
“My father never knew who she would bring home, because she would venture out and go on tours, and there was always another couple they would meet for dinner,” Cheryl said.
Craig agrees their mother was a people-person.
“She was the type of person that if she got on a bus with a bunch of strangers, by the time they got to their destination, everyone knew my mom,” he said with a laugh.
In her later years, she remained close to her children and grandchildren. Craig frequently went to dinner with his mother at the Charcoal Pit in Wilmington for burgers, fries and ice cream, while Cheryl enjoyed reading and shopping with her mother.
Shirley’s grandchild Devynn, a nurse in Brooklyn, has fond childhood memories of their grandmother. They regularly played cards, and visited Shirley’s shore house on Fenwick Island every summer. Shirley also taught Devynn how to knit, and made clothing for Devynn’s dolls. The pair frequently wrote letters to each other and spoke on the phone constantly.
“My Nana was my best friend, the most important figure in my life. We were very close, and I got a lot of parenting from her and a lot of guidance,” Devynn said. “Every photo I look at from our childhood, it’s me and Nana in the corner holding hands.”
Devynn said their grandmother’s love was unconditional. After Devynn came out as transgender, Shirley was very supportive and her love never wavered. Devynn said their relationship was easy and never complex.
Devynn said Shirley taught them to appreciate the simple things.
“I’m a person who works in three careers, and I’m always moving really fast and moving with a lot of detail and figuring things out with such specificity. She always allowed me to slow down and pause and be in the moment,” said Devynn, who has tried to follow in their grandmother’s footsteps.
“She just could sit for hours and hours, and people-watch and comment on the birds, and appreciate the simple joys. I can definitely make things very complex, so I appreciate that lesson from her.”
As Devynn spoke about their grandmother, the sight of a hawk interrupted their thoughts.
It reminded Devynn of the fact they were the only one allowed to see Shirley before her death. Devynn interpreted the hawk as a sign of their grandmother’s presence.
“The moment she passed, I saw two hawks — which I imagined represented her and I — and over the next few days, as we led up to services, those two hawks would follow me every time I went outside,” Devynn said. “I haven’t seen her in days, but as we were talking about her, she came back.
“I feel like she’s protecting me and guiding me in a different form — and I feel so lucky.”