With Christmas rapidly approaching Arlene wished to have daily visits from family and friends. Michael felt at times that he was arranging the schedule for a dignitary, because there literally were dozens of requests. Arlene, in a very real sense, was dying the way she had lived her life. Attentive to each and every visitor, she continued to have that rare gift that made everyone believe that they were her best friend. She was by nature and temperament a giver, and even cancer could not rob her of who she was. In the summer realizing that her time was limited, she had earmarked all of her most prized possessions for those who held the most important portions of her heart. Each of the children and grandchildren, as well as Michael, had been given a gift and an accompanying note.
Three days before Christmas the physical changes became more noticeable. Unlike her normal outgoing personality ,she would at times withdrew from conversation, and have periodic bouts of staring into space. She often would have no recollection of these periods, and up to now she would always bounce back. On December 22nd she called out to Michael who was in the kitchen making himself a cup of coffee. She screamed ”Michael, Michael where are you?” He rushed to the bedroom and when he entered she said “Donny and Danny were just here.I saw them and they talked to me.” Michael immediately realized that visions and hallucinations were part and parcel of the process. He did not deny their presence, and accepting that they had been there seemed to comfort Arlene. He gently stroked her arm ,and softly spoke as she repeated the story over and over again..She was having difficulty swallowing, so he pressed the control of the hospital bed and raised her head. He coated her lips which had become rather dry, and placed a few tiny ice chips in her mouth. The pain had become constant, and she required increasing amounts of morphine.
Fortunately between long bouts of sleep she would awaken, and would always inquire about the date. Michael had requested his friend Father Ray Aumack to visit the morning of December 22nd to perform the anointing of the sick. Arlene was conscious, and immediately recognized Father Ray. Amazingly she was able to actually have a short conversation with him, and as he anointed her she seemed peaceful Outside the room Fr Ray put his hand on Michael’s shoulder and asked’How are you holding up? “ “As usual I naively thought that knowing she was going to die would help ,but it really doesn’t. I don’t want her to suffer, but the thought of going on without her is impossible at this time.” Fr Ray did not feel the need to shower Michel with any pat phrases but said’ I am always available to you Michael ,and when she dies I would be honored to be one of the concelebrants at the funeral mass.”.Michael embraced his dear friend and said”Thanks Father I certainly would love to have you on the altar.”Saying those words was another step in the realization that his emotional anchor was slipping away. She had been his rock through the tremendous pain and confusion of losing his mother and brothers in such sudden deaths, She had been there to comfort him two years ago when his father died, and it was hard to imagine life without her. Arlene had been his haven for love and understanding, and probably in a few days she would be physically gone. He walked Fr Ray out and went back to the bedroom .Arlene had slipped into a deep sleep. He sat on the bed holding her hand for the next few hours.
Christmas eve mass had always been one of the highlights of the season for the McNallys ,and even though Arlene was in and out of a coma Michael decided to have the Popes Christmas eve Mass on the widescreen Tv.The hospice nurse Mary Anne Ryan had coffee with Michael that morning ,and he asked her “how long do you think she has.?” He was aware of all of the indicators of immediate death, but respected the opinion of someone who dealt with this daily” Michael you know it is always difficult to be precise ,but seeing her this morning I believe it may be sometime today. “They chatted for a bit and Michael excused himself, and went to the bedroom and found the channel which had on the Pope’s Mass.He responded to every part of the liturgy as is if he was actually present at St Peters ,and at times being aware that hearing was the last faculty to go spoke regularly to Arlene during the liturgy. She, like he, was a great fan of the current Pope, and he hoped that she could hear the loving words of the pope during his sermon. As the liturgy progressed her breathing became more and more shallow. Mary Anne, also an Irish Catholic, had entered the room and crossed herself as she sat in the chair nearest to the bed. Just before the kiss of peace Michel heard a few sounds that he knew were indicative of the final moments. At the kiss of peace he touched her face ,and placed a kiss on both cheeks. Arlene appeared to exhale, and there was a long breath and then silence. Mary Anne rose from the chair and listened for a pulse and a heartbeat, She turned to Michael and said “She’s ‘gone. “Michael collapsed in uncontrollable sobs, and Maryi Anne cradled him and adsorbed his tears.