Fortyfive years ago I was busy being a theological college student when Dr. Cicely Saunders and some of her colleagues were invited to come and conduct a seminar on death and dying. I was immensely impressed by what she said, and what she and St. Christopher’s Hospice were evidently doing so that when we were asked where we wanted to go on our final placement I asked if it would be possible for me to go there. This caused a little bit of an upset as “placement” usually meant being placed in a parish, but thankfully someone somewhere decided that this was a suitable place and off I went. Since we were all living as thriftily as possible I did the journey from Salisbury to Sydenham and back on a Mobylette moped.
When the Wigtown Book Festival programme was published I saw that a David Clark had written a biography of Dr. Saunders called “Dr. Cicely Saunders, a Life and Legacy” and I felt I should like to go and hear what he had to say. So off we went on another Wigtown jaunt, but this time a little earlier in the day. The town was much more crowded on this occasion but we were fortunate to find a parking spot within walking distance of the tent in the back garden of the Old Bank Bookshop. I found the talk interesting. The early part of her life I knew vaguely, but learnt much more, and it was interesting to me to hear how her work and ideas have both continued, but have also adapted as the demographic and social character of our lives has changed. Thus, back in the 60s and 70s someone in St. Christopher’s would likely be in the terminal stages of cancer, and cancer would be the cause of death. Nowadays a patient would likely be much older but would be suffering from a number of “morbitities” of which cancer might only be one.
The book blurb gives a good summary of its content and of what the author had to tell us . . .
“Born at the end of World War One into a prosperous London family, Cicely Saunders struggled at school before gaining entry to Oxford University to read Politics, Philosophy and Economics. As World War Two gained momentum, she quit academic study to train as a nurse, thereby igniting her lifelong interest in caring for others. Following a back injury, she became a medical social worker, and then in her late 30s, qualified as a physician. By now her focus was on a hugely neglected area of modern health services: the care of the dying. When she opened the world’s first modern hospice in 1967 a quiet revolution got underway. Education, research, and clinical practice were combined in a model of ‘total care’ for terminally ill patients and their families that quickly had a massive impact. In Cicely Saunders: A Life and Legacy, David Clark draws on interviews, correspondence, and the publications of Cicely Saunders to tell the remarkable story of how she pursued her goals through the complexity of her personal life, the skepticism of others, and the pervasive influence of her religious faith. When she died in 2005, her legacy was firmly established in the growing field of hospice and palliative care, which had now gained global recognition.”
After all this, we stopped on the way home at the Galloway Smokehouse and had an extremely nice supper to round off the day.
David Clark holds a Wellcome Trust Investigator Award and leads the Global Interventions at the End of Life research project. He is Professor of Medical Sociology at the University of Glasgow and founder of the Glasgow End of Life Studies Group.
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