Should you or your family ever need end of life care, she was one of your guardian angels, whose pioneering work in hospice care is now common practice all over the world.
Born in North London on June 22nd 1918, when Cicely was a young woman she studied politics and economics at St. Anne’s College at Oxford. But when World War ll broke out Cicely switched to nursing, graduating from the Nightingale Training School in 1944 and she became a Red Cross nurse.
After the war, Cicely returned to St. Anne’s College at Oxford where she completed her studies in medical social work. But soon afterward, she had a profound life changing experience that would lead to modern hospice care.
At a London hospital, Cicely was caring for David Tasma, a 40 year old Holocaust survivor who was dying of cancer.
Because of the Holocaust, he had no family or friends to visit him, only Cicely. As the two became close, she listened to him describe the needs of dying patients, needs the medical establishment often callously ignored.
“I was already thinking I must do something about the dying,” Cicely told the Times of London in 2005. “He said he had a bit of money to leave – and that he would like to help set up a home for the dying. ‘I’ll be a window in your home’ was how he put it.”
David left Cicely 500 pounds and it would take her nearly 20 more years before she could open St. Christopher’s Hospice in 1967, after she had long done the additional fund raising to pay for it.
By that time, to have a greater influence on the lives of dying patients and their families and to command the respect of doctors, Cicely had graduated from St. Thomas Medical School and at the age of 39, became a doctor in 1957.
Her goal was for hospitals to eliminate the cold often indifferent treatment dying patients had for centuries endured and replace it with cordial and sensitive treatment from staff, comfortable and well-lit settings and a home-like atmosphere.
Cicely also insisted upon a sharp reduction in unnecessary pain killers, instead keeping those pain killers at levels in part selected by the patients so they could be comfortable and attentive instead of drugged out zombies.
Cicely’s hospice care became very popular in Britain, and as she wrote the first of her several books in 1960, “Care of the Dying,” and traveled widely to educate hospital administrators and doctors and nursing staffs, hospice care began to catch on all over the world.
In Cicely’s personal life, she was so involved in her work; she didn’t marry until she was 62 and married Marian Bohusz Szyszko, an artist whom she met when she bought one of his paintings. After 15 years of marriage, he died under her care in St. Christopher’s Hospice in South London.
Ten years later, on July 14th 2005, at the age of 87 Cicely passed away from cancer under the care of her St. Christopher’s Hospice.
But by that time, millions of dying patients and their families had received compassionate end of life hospice care, and this hospice care has now become common practice in much of the world.