How one of Australia’s first gay marriages turned into tragedy

When Shelley Godbolt and Zehavit Dehan-Alkobi walked down the aisle on January 9, 2018, it was a very public affair.

Just a month earlier, Australia had legalized same-sex marriage and the couple’s special day was captured on national TV as it was announced as one of the country’s first gay marriages.

For Zehavit, 45, and Shelley, 44, their wedding in front of family and friends was the fulfillment of a 10-year dream to officially tie the knot.

“We had to pinch ourselves, it was so unbelievable,” Zehavit told Daily Mail Australia.

“It was great, everyone was holding rainbow flags and a friend we called Dad walked down the aisle with Shelley,” Zehavit said.

“My son was the ringboy and gave a great speech congratulating Australia on catching up with the world.

“Shelley was ecstatic and so proud.”

But the euphoria of the big day soon turned into tragedy.

Shelley Godbolt, left, and Zehavit Dehan-Alkobi at their wedding, a month after the Australian government legalized same-sex marriage

The couple's special day was on national TV and billed as one of Australia's first same-sex marriages

The couple’s special day was on national TV and billed as one of Australia’s first same-sex marriages

But just five months later, Shelley committed suicide.  In the photo: mourners at her funeral

But just five months later, Shelley committed suicide. In the photo: mourners at her funeral

Just five months after their dream wedding, Shelley took her own life.

Three years later, Zehavit is still trying to figure out why her beloved partner committed suicide.

Shelley left no note, and the messages between them in the hours before she died gave no indication of the tragedy that was to unfold.

“The day she committed suicide, she told me she had a job interview, so she wouldn’t be going to work,” Zehavit said.

‘That morning she gave me a big hug and I thought she was going to break my ribs, I now know it was her who gave me her last hug.

“She didn’t leave a note. I went to work in the morning and she was gone at night.’

Zehavit’s fourteen-year-old son, Leo, came home in the afternoon and found Shelley.

‘The house was dark and strange music was playing. He went upstairs and saw her,’ Zehavit said.

“I rushed home and the whole street was cordoned off and there were police and ambulance everywhere.

“They told me she was dead, and I was just shaking like a leaf.”

Fortunately, Zehavit and Shelley's life continued after the wedding, and they even considered having a child together

Fortunately, Zehavit and Shelley’s life continued after the wedding, and they even considered having a child together

For Shelley, the wedding was a chance for her to be truly proud of who she was.

“Shelley grew up in a small country town and was bullied for being gay, so it was a lifelong dream to get up and be recognized and get married like everyone else,” Zehavit said.

During an interview with the media at the wedding, Zehavit said Shelley spoke about the importance of recognizing her wife as her immediate family because “God forbid anything happened to me, my mom would be the first to get the call.”

Zehavit now looks back on those words with an uncanny sense that Shelley was already planning to end her life.

“It was almost like premeditated,” Zehavit said, remembering the interview.

Zehavit said Shelley's lifelong dream was to get up and get married 'like everyone else'

Zehavit said Shelley’s lifelong dream was to get up and get married ‘like everyone else’

After the wedding, the couple’s life together with Zehavit’s son continued happily – albeit with the usual ups and downs.

They’d talked about having a baby together, and Shelley, who Zehavit said had always felt like a man, was talking about menopause.

“A few weeks before she died, she got excited about trying to have a baby again,” Zehavit said.

“She was looking ahead, so I didn’t feel like it when it happened.”

However, two weeks before Shelley took her own life, she lost her job at the funeral home, which Zehavit says was the turning point.

Shelley felt bullied at work and Zehavit had organized a workplace program for the staff.

After losing her job, Shelley started working in a cafe, which Zehavit said she hated because working as an undertaker was her passion.

Zehavit with her son Leo and Shelley.  Leo found Shelley after she committed suicide at the family home

Zehavit with her son Leo and Shelley. Leo found Shelley after she committed suicide at the family home

But while Zehavit was still reeling from the loss of her wife, the practicalities of life began to take hold.

Zehavit and Leo couldn’t stay at the family home, so they had to find a roof over their heads while dealing with the police.

They stayed with Zehavit’s ex-husband for a week and then in a granny flat with a friend.

“Our lives have changed forever from one day to the next. It was an extremely difficult time, but I had a child, so I had to function for him,” she said.

“We were so lucky to have an amazing community of friends who literally put their lives on hold to help us.

“I was grateful for the support I received, but realized that my journey could have been easier if I had had help from someone outside, because all my friends were grieving too. I think of those people who have lost someone to suicide who don’t have that support.’

Zehavit says she will never get over Shelley's death and keeps herself busy trying to cope

Zehavit says she will never get over Shelley’s death and keeps herself busy trying to cope

During this time, one of her friends lost someone to cancer and Zehavit witnessed the number of aid organizations available to the family.

Losing someone to suicide is unlike any other form of death. You feel so guilty and so angry that you need all the support you can get,” she said.

Zehavit has established a crisis support center called Shelley’s Home, which she says is needed now more than ever as the effects of COVID-19 affect the mental health of more people.

“My vision is to connect people with services that could potentially offer something, such as moving services and temporary Airbnb places, psychological services, food and gas coupons.”

Zehavit also hopes to set up a service where people can see experts such as insurance specialists and psychologists, doctors, accountants, Centrelink and funeral directors under one roof.

For Zehavit, the loss of her soulmate was the shock of her life, and she hopes Shelley’s Home will help ease the trauma for others.

“I’ll never get over what happened,” she said.

“I keep myself busy because if I stop and think about it, I’m probably going crazy.”

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