John Sykes Curtis Harvey Center

   for Healing and Stress Reduction

Emily Sander


Emily Sander was born in 1931 and mainly grew up in Radnor, Pa. She graduated first from Vassar College (focusing on psychology), and then from Smith College School of Social Work. Emily was a social worker in child psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital for three decades,including the 1970s and 1980s. She experienced the profound shifts occurring over those thirty years in treatment approaches, the mental and physical needs of patients, and growing bureaucracy. She became acutely aware of the fact that while stress had increased in her lifetime, our knowledge of how to address it had decrease, and she witnessed personally the cost when others facing extreme stress, turned to alcohol and drugs in frustration.

Emily and her husband, Frank, lived in Cambridge for over fifty years. A birthright Quaker, Emily was very active with Quaker communities and causes. She was a longtime member of Friends Meeting at Cambridge, where she served as its Clerk and on many of its committees. She combined a deep spirituality with an eagerness to help the Meeting in so many ways. "Emily understood that people have an infinite element to their being that is beyond death, beyond measure. She really understood that about other people and about herself" said Andy Towl, a longtime member at the Friends Meeting. Much of her life Emily looked for ways to heal and address the needs of others through patient listening, inviting others facing troubles over to tea, and participating in clearness and support committees through the Friends Meeting at Cambridge.

Emily immersed herself in healing arts, from gardening at all times of days and night to painting in her later years.
Emily didn't start painting until her 60s, but quickly made up for lost time, plunging into one class after another. Emily produced over 300 watercolor paintings, in a range of different styles. She often painted during trips with her husband, in places like Italy, India and the coast of Maine, and she loved experimenting with different color palettes. She had a number of showings of her work in the Boston area and gave several of her paintings to local hospitals, including Mass General Hospital. "You immediately knew which pictures were Emily's" said Marian Parry, one of Emily's art teachers. "There was a wonderful dreamlike, romantic but surrealistic quality, and her color sense was very exciting and wonderful. Emily was very courageous as an artist. If something interested her, she just waded right in and succeeded"

Emily loved the outdoors and was an avid gardener. Emily had a wonderful eye for different types of plants and flowers and an encyclopedic memory for their Latin names, and reveled in the peace and serenity of gardens and gardening. In the serenity of gardens, Emily rose to a different plane. "We both have such fond memories of Emily gardening at night, her slender, determined figure raking or mulching at 9 or 10 pm, however dark it might be" said Dorian and Judy Bowman, Emily's next-door neighbors. "We speculated from time to time about her reasons: No other time with a busy career and family? But that did not explain the phenomenon after she retired and the children had flown. The cool of the evening? No — she persisted spring and fall. "Ultimately we came to a settled, if inarticulate, conviction that it must be another manifestation of what seemed to us, in 30 years of sharing that shady space, Emily's enduring habit of quietly taking care of the world and the people around her. Her warmth and concern for others showed up in many simple helpful acts, from collecting our mail when we were away to shoveling our sidewalks while we slept."

Emily was a nurturing and loving wife, mother, sibling and grandmother. In addition to deep caring and selflessness, Emily brought great listening skills — so many felt that they had a uniquely close relationship with her — and a real sense of fun. She believed in her children, deeply heard their visions and helped to manifest them. In the last phase of her life, when she had been diagnosed with brain cancer, Emily was always wise about balancing what was and was not known about medicine by western doctors. Emily embodied the notion of walking the spiritual path with practical feet. She brought an openness and willingness to experiment, integrating the best of Eastern and Western approaches to healing. Emily combined the best of western medicine, with body work (including acupuncture, chiropody, jin jin jitsu and swimming) and spirit work (including aromatherapy, prayer, music, and quotations from many different religious traditions) to maximize her treatment and her quality of life. Emily used herbal treatments and focused on her diet in an effort to strengthen her immune system and seek out approaches that might in turn help others. And in the last weeks of her life when it was clear that extending her life would not bring Emily greater happiness, she turned to hospice. Emily passed away on June 5, 2010, after a valiant battle, but most amazing to those who were close to her was the way that her death was as spiritual as her life. She passed away in her home, surrounded by her beautiful art and her loving family, the light streaming through her window, and the Sudbury River gracefully flowing by outside. She didn't need drugs or pain killers and had a tremendous sense of peace.

Emily spent much of her life caring for others, whether it was family members, members of Friends Meeting at Cambridge, neighbors, prison inmates, or patients at Mass General Hospital. Her last months on this earth were no different as her concerns centered around the needs of others — the nurses caring for her, her family, or others in her circle. Emily's wishes in her last months were about healing and the chance to alleviate the types of stresses and real pressures that people faced. Her desire was to create a place where anyone could come to see the many healing sources available to them, to learn how to heal, and to find a rich stream of healing wisdom from which to drink. Emily believed that while many healing approaches required expertise, there were many sources of powerful healing, from touch, to art, to creating a healing garden, that were available to all. Making this information known and available was Emily's last wish.

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