When I worked in the Philippines we Franciscans used to refer to those who were nearing death as being “in the pre-departure area.” Perhaps it was our way of denying death or preparing ourselves to accept the fact that one of our Franciscan brothers was nearing it. If I recall, it was a retired priest who started that “pre-departure” tag, based on the way the Manila Airport passengers were moved into a special gate area before boarding.
The “pre-departure” tag keeps coming into my mind whenever there is someone close to me entering into the final stages of life.
Because my sister Dorothy is becoming weaker and weaker, thinner and thinner, I find myself thinking of her as being in the “pre-departure” area. She just prepared her “Do Not Resuscitate” order to take to her doctor. While Dottie loves life, she wants only palliative care when the time comes. She understands that the incurable form of lupus from which she suffers is sapping her life. Dottie now depends on oxygen because the disease is attacking her lungs.
I visit Dottie every Sunday, often joining another one of our sisters in taking her out to supper. My other sister is also a Eucharistic minister and brings Communion regularly, since they live only a short distance apart. Dottie eats as much as she can, but even with nutritional supplements and good medical care it is obvious she is losing the fight.
It is tough to see a loved one slowly dying. Dottie is very intelligent and has a clear sense that she is nearing the end of life. At 80, Dottie has a quick mind and sharp memory. Her faith is strong. It sustained her in raising four children, burying her husband and working hard until she retired a year or two ago. Yet, when she talks of dying, it is difficult for all of us to accept what lies ahead.
At this stage in life, Dottie clearly recognizes that our faith is the most precious gift we received from our parents. The challenge of being in the “pre-departure area” is to live that faith to the fullest, relying on the Lord to strengthen us for our passover to new life.
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