A Busy Life
(February 9, 1921 - February 4, 2014)

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Describing Cicely's personality and achievements is an extremely difficult task because she has, from an early age, always preferred to take the proverbial back seat. This meant that her beliefs and actions were not thrust upon the world, but were advanced delicately, leaving a gentle footprint. Upon meeting her for the first time, she came across as a soft-spoken and sweet person, but calm waters run deep, as we shall see. Her kind and gentle approach to life often left a profound mark on those who knew her well, precisely because of the subtle complexity of her personality.

Cicely was, from a very early age, very spiritually mature, and by age 14 she showed the traits of kindness, compassion, consideration, and generosity. In her relations with others, both in her own age group and in the adult world, she was sophisticated, and in some ways unusual. She had strong humanitarian principles and would sometimes engage in arguments with classmates on topics like animal rights or spiritualism, but more often she preferred to stay silent rather than provoke acrimony. She was attentive to the needs of her parents, and was anxious to please them. Maintaining harmonious relationships was always her paramount goal.

As she grew up, she developed a strong belief in the power of compassionate and positive thinking as a change agent in a troubled world. Her spirit always seemed at its strongest when someone was in need of support. She believed that a higher power would always be there to help and she often invoked it when family or friends were going though a difficult patch. She invariably provided a calm and optimistic shoulder to lean on, and many of her friends frequently reached out to her for comfort. She also had a tremendous reverie for Nature, and never ceased to marvel at the wonders of trees, flowers, sunsets or new-born babies. She drew much of her inner strength from her communion with and love for the natural world.

Her life played out in 4 distinct phases. The "Le Vesinet Years" (age 0 - 14), the troubled "War Years" (age 15 - 27), the "New York Years" (age 28 - 40), and the "Rome Years" (age 41 - 83). An additional chapter of her life was spent in England and New York and presented some challenges which I will describe in the epilogue.

The Le Vesinet Years (1921 - 1935).

Raised by British parents in Paris, in a pretty suburb called Le Vesinet, she absorbed the best of both worlds. She had the self-control and poise of a true Englishwoman, but also the capacity for exuberance more typical of the French. These early years were characterized by close family ties with aunts, uncles and cousins all living on the same street. Her character was forged by a strong and loving mother, a jovial and doting father, her 3 siblings, and intelligent and enterprising relatives. She developed into a kind and caring person, with a love for the arts. She studied piano and violin, performed in a small dance group, experimented with drawing and painting and spent many hours sewing clothes and tapestries (this was a very common occupation in those days). She was diligent in her school and house duties, with a strong sense of commitment to whatever she undertook, and was eager to have a meaningful profession. Then, in 1935, due to political instability in Europe, the Myers family decided to return to England, and this took Cicely's life in a new direction.

The War Years (1936 - 1948)

Cicely's restless nature did not adapt well to the English school system. The lessons either bored or stressed her. She loved the outdoors, and dreamed of being a farm girl, working with horses, and in communion with Nature. She dreamed of travel and adventure. But the imminent prospect of the Second World War compelled her to make difficult choices. After a short stint working on a farm as a land girl in Cornwall, she was inspired by a cousin to train as a nurse. This resonated with the compassionate side of her personality. After training as a General Nurse at King Edward VII hospital in Windsor (Berkshire), she specialized as a psychiatric nurse in York (Yorkshire). These were years of self-denial and uncompromising service to others. She developed a capacity for empathy for the less fortunate, and was driven close to exhaustion by the psychological stress of dealing with the mentally insane. By 1946, she was looking desperately for a way out. She also wanted to spread her wings and satisfy her thirst for adventure. So in 1948 she decided to go to America, with the intention of working as a nurse. Encouraged by close friends from Le Vesinet who were now established in Weston, Connecticut, and who offered her hospitality until she was settled, she boarded a ship to Boston. Thus began a brand new life on the East Coast.

The New York Years (1949 - 1961)

This period of her life was initially not easy. After some time, she found work in hospitals and sanatoriums in Massachusetts, Connecticut and New York. The work shifts were often grueling, with interminable hours of standing, bending and lifting. Socially, she found herself gravitating towards Europeans, in particular Italians, and she was, quite gratifyingly, courted and wooed by a number of Italian suitors. One of these eligible bachelors was Renzo Nissim, whom she eventually picked as her life companion. The match with Renzo seemed as improbable as it was magical. A shy, Protestant, English woman and an extrovert, secular, Jewish Italian was a daring combination indeed. But they complemented each other, and the liaison led to marriage in 1956. They had an interesting social life, making many friends, and Cicely eventually left her nursing job and became a diligent home keeper. But Renzo was growing weary of New York, and by 1959, both Renzo and Cicely came to the mutual decision, driven partly by nostalgia, to return to Europe.

The Rome Years (1962 - 2004)

This long and exciting period started around 1962, just as Renzo was beginning a new career as a successful painter. For about 2 years they straddled both New York, Rome and London, and finally settled in Rome where Renzo was gaining a foothold in Italian radio. By this time Cicely was completely absorbed by her new occupation: raising her first son Robert, who was born in 1958. In 1965 her second son Martin was born and she dedicated herself wholeheartedly to their welfare and happiness. She often described this period of her life as the happiest and most fulfilling. The vocation of wife and mother was perfect for her personality, as it satisfied her constant need to be of service to others. As her sons grew older and became more independent, she added many socially oriented activities to her schedule. She trained and worked for the Rome Samaritans, and was an active member of Amnesty International. She became a member of various English-speaking churches in Rome where she made friends and was always ready to assist elderly members who needed assistance with transportation or just company.

Life was good and life was full. Every summer would be spent at the seaside with Robert and Martin, frequently joined by family and friends, and many winters were spent in the mountains. She strongly believed in exposing her sons to healthy, outdoor living, and was a strong believer in the benefits of daily exercise. She was a life-long yoga practitioner, and would almost always jog instead of walk to the shops or around the house.

A big turning point came in 1997 when Renzo passed away at the age of 90. Robert and Martin had both left home, and the central focus of her life had disappeared. She continued to be involved with her activities, and even organized an English conversation class with her life-long friend Isabella. But she had time on her hands and the house was big and empty. Then, fortuitously, Robert broke up with his girlfriend and decided to return to his childhood home. Five happy years followed, both for Robert and Cicely, until one night the kitchen ceiling fell in! The weight of 50 years of pigeon guano had brought the plaster ceiling crashing down. This event led to the decision to leave the beautiful home in Via Dehon where the family had lived for 36 years. The choice was made to move back to England.

Epilogue (2005 - 2014)

The first six months in England were spend very happily living with Martin in Oxford, while he directed the renovations of her little two bedroom flat in Weybridge (Surrey). She moved to Weybridge on her birthday on February 9, 2005. Yet Cicely was finding it difficult make new friends, partly due to her lifelong hearing impairment, but mainly because, in many ways, her heart was still in Rome. Then, a few months later, the unexpected happened - Cicely suffered a very serious hemorrhagic stroke! Amazingly, she recovered almost completely, and was back in action 6 months later. But her confidence had been shaken, and Robert, who was now living in New York and had been deeply shocked by this event, decided to commute between New York and Weybridge up to 4 times a year to provide support and companionship for his aging mother. Robert's frequent visits and Martin's proximity gave her a "raison d'être" and 8 successful years followed, during which time she attended the marriage ceremonies of both her sons, and had the pleasure of becoming a grandmother, in 2008, when Martin and Tom's first child Luca was born.

Very gradually, loss of memory started to become a distressing issue for Cicely. All her life she had prided herself in having a busy schedule, getting things done, helping people, providing a home for visiting friends and relatives, and now, as mental confusion became ever more prominent, her capacity to be organized diminished, and her happiness declined accordingly. Something had to be done. In early 2013 a decision was made. Robert and Cathy invited her to stay, permanently, in their 3 bedroom apartment in New York. In July 2013, Robert accompanied Cicely to New York and a new phase started. After a few weeks of acclimatization, Cicely settled down to a new routine of daily walks, helping in the kitchen, and sharing meals with Robert and Cathy in front of television.

But the inescapable reality of dementia was looming in the distance, and had already started manifesting with distressing signs. The future was not bright. The solution was unexpected and absolutely amazing. Cicely developed an extremely rare and little understood mucosal melanoma in the nose, and this led to her passing away very peacefully, happily and quietly on February 4th, 2014, five days before her 93rd birthday. Cicely led a charmed and totally unconventional life and has shown, through her example, that living with kindness and generosity, as well as courage and integrity, can lead to a fulfilling life right up to the last hour. She will be missed, but I hope that through the memories and stories of her friends and family she will be kept alive forever.

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