Bernadette Meade, DO ’79January 9, 2019
“During my third year at Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine, I sat with
my first dying patient, a courageous elderly man. I just sat with him. I was struck
by how peaceful he was. Before he died, he woke up, and thanked me. That moment planted
a seed. I’ve watered that seed ever since. . . . In medicine, we’re taught to cure,
that death is the enemy. In hospice, we celebrate the lives of our patients and help
them on the journey to their death, to prevent suffering and to help them with their
fears. Death is the end point. But the journey is about living. You can be a healer
up to their very last breath . . . . Dying is an intimate part of one’s life. You
can’t escape it. Tragically, it can happen way before you think it should. It’s an
honor to be invited into that intimate journey. It’s sacred work. Death is a one-time
experience—for the person doing it, and for their family. Hospice workers are a courageous
group. They hold people up. They see what can be done, in a good way, in a sad time.
There’s lots of work to be done when you are dying. We face our mortality. . . .
I’ve been in hospice for a couple of decades. I’m asked why I’m not sad all the time.
Sure, there is sadness, but there are so many gifts that I’ve been given. I have so
many stories of my interactions with the dying. They know they are not alone in their
journey; that rekindles my soul. . . . Throughout my career, I’ve worn multiple hats:
internal medicine with geriatric patients, medical director of a nursing home, and
medical director of a hospice program. I love older people. They have taught me so
much. In Wyoming, they taught me about the history of war, and just surviving amidst
life’s challenges. In Philadelphia, my African-American patients taught me the history
of slavery. . . . Hospice work has made me reflect more on my own living. The dying
have taught me that the best testament to them was to live my life, and to live it
even better. You have to recharge your batteries. I take time to write in a journal.
I’m a big-time gardener who loves to work in the dirt. I try to inspire people to
embrace joy—and not waste their lives waiting for something to happen. I laugh a lot.
. . . What I need to do now is have a better work/life balance. I’m 65. So I’ve moved
cross-country to Massachusetts from Wyoming. I’m taking time off to figure out what
my next chapter will be. I have an extensive bucket list. It’s time to get back to