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Loving Dad

We weren't prepared. Neither was Dad. But he taught us about dying with dignity—and a sense of humor.

Photo of Dad

— Reneé Comet

En español | So fast. So hard. So terribly unexpected.

A long weekend in Phoenix to escape Inauguration craziness and spend time with my parents turned into a deathwatch for my father.

As Barack Obama took the oath of office, becoming the nation's first African American president, I took an oath, too: Mine was to care for Dad.

Surrounded by hospital beds and patients, my brother Len and I stared at the wall-mounted television as a black-suited Obama placed his hand on a Bible. But it was on our pale-blue-gowned Dad—undergoing a liver biopsy—where our fearful hearts were focused. Later, as his fog of anesthesia slowly lifted, we sat beside our father, caressed his face, and prayed.

The diagnosis arrived a few days later: Stage IV pancreatic cancer. Tired of being poked, scanned, and sliced—and two months shy of 87—our dad, Joseph D. Bencomo, chose hospice. We eight siblings chose to help Mom care for him at home.

"When you're watching your father die, does it really matter if there are 24 hours in a day?"

When I'd arrived on Saturday, Dad was walking with a cane, his bum knee acting up again. Three days later, at the hospital, he was using the walker we'd just bought. By Friday, Dad was in a wheelchair. How could the strong, vibrant man who'd always made us laugh, taught us well, and loved us unconditionally become so weak so fast?

I stayed in Phoenix and became the de facto primary caregiver. But within days, my five brothers, two sisters, all the grandkids and great-grandkids travelled a few blocks to thousands of miles to be with Dad.

Time. When you're watching your father die, does it really matter if there are 24 hours in a day? Day or night, I just wanted to soak in his loving warmth, see his silly grin, and give him every ounce of myself.

All of us took turns beside him as he slept, held his hand, kept pillows plumped under his head and legs, and gently placed droplets of painkilling morphine under his tongue. We went sleepless, ate when we could, answered endless calls from extended family, and tried our best to share every remaining minute of Dad's life.

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