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Remembering Cicely

Author: Nicola Rattray, St Christopher's Hospice, and Dr Fiona Randall
05 August 2015

On 23 June 2015, 120 people gathered at St Christopher’s to remember Dame Cicely Saunders, and to celebrate her life and many achievements ten years since she died at the hospice she founded.

Participants came from as far afield as the Shetland Isles and Uganda, and ten renowned speakers shared some fascinating recollections of our founder, followed by an update on St Christopher’s current direction delivered by our Joint Chief Executive Shaun O’Leary and Heather Richardson and a thanksgiving service presided over by Spiritual Care Lead Dr Andrew Goodhead and St Christopher’s former Chaplain, Len Lunn.   

Speakers who were introduced by hospice trustee Dr Tyrrell Evans and led by Dr Mary Baines included Professor Irene Higginson, Dr Anne Merriman, Dr Colin Murray Parkes, Cicely’s Goddaughter, Rosemary Burch, a Clinical Nurse Specialist, and Drs Tom West and Gill Ford, both of whom trained as doctors alongside Cicely Saunders.   

Cicely’s love of music was demonstrated by some fine playing of the Lark Ascending by Damian Falkowski, the violinist and family friend who played at her funeral and that of her husband.

A number of those in the audience have sent us their reflections on Remembering Cicely. These will be published as an ehospice series over the next few days, beginning today.

Reflection by Dr Fiona Randall

Although entitled 'Remembering Cicely', what impressed me most was that it was a day of giving thanks for her and all that she achieved, both directly and through the people she inspired by personal contact.

It was good to hear the different ways in which people knew her, each with their very personal insights into her character and great strengths. I recall how good it was to be together, especially at St Christopher's, with so many old friends.

It was great to see Mary, Tom and others who taught us so much. It was also moving to be among that group of us for whom palliative medicine became a possible medical career simply because of the work of Dame Cicely. Many of us were the first generation of doctors who pursued 'palliative medicine' as a first choice of medical career, even though there was no such specialty when we went to St Christopher's to learn.

So what I will remember most from a personal perspective is a sense I felt, in the thanksgiving service on that day, of great thankfulness for what Dame Cicely gave me – the ability to follow a truly fulfilling medical career in the care of the dying, a career which used all of my 'talents' and energies, whilst rewarding so greatly at a human level. I also felt some sadness because of the thought that that group of people will probably not gather again, and it is likely that I will not see many of them again, since so many of us have retired.

Someone recently asked me if there is a 'memorial' to Dame Cicely. I explained that a physical memorial is not needed, for the real and living memorial is the work of the great many people she inspired, work which has changed patient care so very much for the better. And so many of those people gathered at St Christopher's this June to remember, be thankful, and to celebrate together.

This article was originally published on the St Christopher's Hospice Website and appears here with permission. Follow the series on ehospice this week.
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