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Father’s Day will now hold a new importance in my life due to the events that took place this past weekend. My dad, Bob Branca, passed away Sunday from a short but valiant battle with stage four pancreatic cancer. The thing I will remember most is not his death, but the lesson both my parents taught me as I watched the events unfold in his room in the intensive care unit at Arlington Memorial Hospital.

This last quarter of Dad’s life started to play out Saturday, June 18, with an early morning phone call from my mom. For the record, I hate early morning phone calls. The news that comes from them is usually bad and that was true in this case. Mom told me Dad was in ICU because his blood pressure had dropped overnight. I packed a bag and drove to Arlington. I think if my car had wings it would have taken flight.

Over the course of the weekend, several doctors told my family how the organ systems in my dad’s body were shutting down, the latest being the kidneys. Each of them recommended choosing comfort over care for my dad to provide him with the best quality of life for the time he had left – because additional treatment would not help. Cancer had compromised his body, and it was just a matter of time. It was tough to see my mom make that decision, but she knew the reality. She told the doctor she didn’t want to let him go but didn’t want to see him hurt either, and she agreed to hospice care.

I watched as she told my dad the facts about his condition: that he was getting worse and not better. While his ability to speak was gone, he was fully aware of what was happening around him. After she spoke, Dad gave an expression that said to me, “Really, you think I don’t know that already.” Mom asked him if he wanted to go to heaven and he nodded “yes” in reply. In that moment I saw my mom hold his hand and tell him how much she loved him. It was tough to see that unfold right before my eyes.

We all got to be with him in his final moments, and we told him we loved him. Dad was made comfortable and drifted away into sleep. Right before the buzzer on the EKG machine sounded, Mom got up and recited Psalm 23 from the Bible.

It states, “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

Once she finished, the machine made its final deathly toll, reporting to us in the room that Dad was now in the presence of Christ. The reading of Psalm 23 was powerful in that moment, but Mom spoke further. She prayed and thanked God for her husband of 50 years and the life they had together. That was even more powerful to see. I don’t know if I would have that strength if I was facing the loss of a spouse. I have a whole new admiration for my mom seeing her display such courage. 

As I said in an earlier column, the lesson I have taken from my parents is about what love truly is and the bravery it takes in life’s darkest moments. When my parents vowed in 1972 to love, honor and cherish each other in sickness and in health until they were separated by death, they meant it. It wasn’t a promise taken lightly, but a promise they made not only to themselves but to God. I think they fulfilled that oath as Dad departed at 2:15 p.m. I am extremely proud to be their son. I just hope I can live up to the expectation of my name, Branca. I have big shoes to fill, but I am up for the challenge.

All I ask you all who are reading this is to remember, when you love somebody, don’t take that promise lightly. “I love you” are huge words; remember the weight they carry. Also hug your family and friends a little bit closer for me because you don’t know how long you have together.

Andrew Branca is an award-winning journalist; contact him at andrew@waxahachiesun.com.

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