Dame Cicely Mary Saunders — a British Anglican nurse, medical social worker, physician — founded the modern hospice movement in 1967 at St. Christopher's Hospital in London. Concerned about the inadequacy of the care of the dying in hospitals, she revolutionized the way in we care for the ill, the dying, and the bereaved. She helped St. Christopher's become the first hospice to link expert pain and symptom control, compassionate care, teaching, and clinical research.

Her book Beyond the Horizon: A Search for Meaning in Suffering (1990) affords us an opportunity to appreciate her compassion and dedication to the hospice cause. "You matter because you are you," she observed, "and you matter to the end of your life. We will do all we can not only to help you die peacefully, but also to live until you die."

Saunders held more than 25 honorary degrees and received many honours and awards for her work, including the British Medical Association Gold Medal for services to medicine, the Onassis Prize for Services to Humanity, The Raoul Wallenberg Humanitarian Award, and the Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms for Worship Medal. In 1981 Dame Cicely was awarded the prestigious Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion; she gave the award money for construction of a new wing at St. Christopher's.


To honor Saunders's birthday, reflect on her words about what makes suffering bearable:

"Suffering is only intolerable when nobody cares. One continually sees that faith in God and his care is made infinitely easier by faith in someone who has shown kindness and sympathy."

Spiritual Practices

Dr. Robert Twycross, in a tribute to Saunders, wrote that her Christian faith, although not worn on her sleeve, was "a major source of her resilience and dedication." Cicely’s personal watchword, he claimed, must surely have been: 'I am loved, therefore I am.' "

Today, experiment with holding this statement to be utterly and fundamentally true: "I am loved." Suspend disbelief. Imagine, as the poet Kabir says in Robert Bly's paraphrase, "The universe is shot through in all parts by a single sort of love." Notice how holding this belief affects your resilience and your courage to act on your vision of what is possible in the world.