HOW OUR BLOG BEGAN, in AUGUST 2010: As many of you know, Phil has been struggling with a very complex series of neurological issues for about 5 years. This past spring, the issues became especially intense as a result of an unexpected cognitive decline and a fall on May 15th that resulted in a head injury and further decline. And then, on July 16th things catapulted to unbelievable, as Phil suffered from a severe "electrical storm" in his brain that essentially created a status of brain death for two full days. Inexplicably, the very morning that neurologists and other medical team members were planning removal of life support, Phil began breathing on his own and his brain waves returned to a stable, while still abnormal, level. Since then, each day has been a unique journey. And while he and his body continue to demonstrate a will and capacity to live, he continues to have severe deficits and it is quite uncertain as to the path he will take. As loved ones close in can attest to, it has been tricky to keep up emotionally with all of his changes, and provide the needed support. We can only imagine the hard work Phil has gone through as his brain has taken him through such roller coaster experiences. It is our goal here to keep family and close friends apprised of Phil's ongoing story, and to build connections that honor him.

AND THEN, SEPTEMBER 11, 2010....Dad's remarkable journey alongside us culminated in a gentle, generous death.

And so, my goal here now as his daughter is simply this: to record snippets...pieces of his life that my memory offers back to me, pieces of myself as I learn to live without a dad. I hope all who meander by find life, and hope, and peace.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

four fours makes forty four, twice

hey dad!

 thought i`d stop by to say hi on this my 44th b-day. feel like a newby trying to type on tims kindle, so brief it may have to be!

we are making excellent gains on our backyard again. wish you could see it all unfold, or even better yet, join in the fray. i never saw you working all the projects on the georgia property, but i know your sons come by the passion honestly. your love of wood, and all the possible accomplishments that can be birthed from the wielding of it. the courage and optimism you demonsrtrated when you took on cabinetmaking was...well i guess i would have to think on the proper adjective to describe it. at the time i was shaken by your choice to leave behind life as a professor, the work i knew you`d longed to do since i was a teenager interrogating you about what work you would do upon always had such confidence as you described your desire to build engineering skills into the lives of Christian youth. by the time you moved to cabinet making i was disillusioned, compelled to distance myself from you and from the confusion i felt, the shifting of what i was so sure was right, your right. but even admist all of that smoldering loss, i still i felt these tinges of...okay i have it now...ADMIRATION.  admiration for the way that you released the one good thing and embraced a new good thing. you created another vision for your life. just like that. no ego, no angst. just the warm solid actionable embrace of a new venture that was tangible. karen, there's a pleasure that comes from creating something with your hands, something that endures, a finished product....these were your words when as a young woman i re engaged long enough to question you. you took the time without judgement to explain how as much as you loved your military career, it never afforded you that type of job peace and release, and then I'm sure you added for emphasis the factoid you'd gathered somewhere about how truck drivers have some of the highest reported job satisfaction, because when they drop off a load, they experience completion. which so many jobs don't give you but that making furniture will....

well here i am, the same age you were when you left the military to forge a new life, stumbling through the confusion of a business that doesn't need me in ways that are comfortable or familiar, discovering the visceral pleasure of working with my hands finishing the massive construction projects your engineering sons created with that irresistable designer husband of mine.

ironic, huh!?

you then, me now.

four fours make 44, twice.

ate carrot cake in the dark tonight, twinkling yellow candles, one in each corner, both pups beside me, tim sleeping behind me, windows open in the night breeze, tree branches in my forward vision, uplit by a low slung string of lights, nothing but open possibilities between me and them.

44 is going to be the best year I've had in an age. i feel it in my bones.

sleep well, my dear dad!


Wednesday, September 11, 2013

3 years, today

I'm glad to meet you here today but the time that I really wish I would have reached out to you was the night of Daniel and Jessica's wedding.

The day was amazing.  I'd like to tell you all about it, how precious the time together was, and how poignant our sense of loss to not be able to share it with you.  True to the Bruce way, we were not able any of us to be open with each other or the public about how much we missed having you in our midst.  Not with our words, anyway.  But at times I looked around and every moment seemed to be a silent testament to who you have been in each of our lives. Particular moments at the Vaughn's lovely farm when I looked around and just felt, how do i say it, an indescribable type of -- full.  I still see the crisp details in those moments but in time, they will fade to a sensation I will always carry with me.  I've only had a few of them in my life.  I'm glad this day created them, because every year your son and his wife celebrate their marriage, I'll be reminded to ponder these moments.

We're at the Vaughn's lovely farm. Country music floating in the air, Charlyn's famous barbeque served by the best caterer a lifetime of friendships can find.  The not-so-random random silverware gingerly washed, wrapped, and stacked. Abundance of wildflowers everywhere, lush green grass, moist air how is it not hot in Virginia in July?, constant summer sheen on my desert-adapted face.  The biggest picnic table, a relic of Georgia days lovingly re-purposed by David and Daniel just for this event.  Filled with the people who knew you, lived years on end with you as a part of each day, can't believe we're all here together and doing this thing without you here to substantiate it but sucking in the presence of kin.  Kids -- your grandkids, alongside Vince Baker's grandkids, can you imagine that! -- fishing off the pier and taking paddle boats around the lake.  Tables adorned with arrangements that your daughter, daughter-in-law, son-in-law (Darren with floral tape! I could not have been more proud), brother, brother-in-law, sister and sister-in-law created with precision and care (and speed!).  Amazing toasts by your sons (their voices project as well as yours!), dancing father daughter mother son, cake cut by your four foot sword, Daniel in your mess dress. photo of you centered amongst the story of your son.   Laughter, joy, swollen tears.  We would have spoken of you to strangers, but it would have been impossible to put you into words.  But you must know, Dad, that you were present in our every motion of love toward each other.  As family, we were Phil Bruce personified: humble and warm, optimistic and innocent, with more than a whisper of Grandpa's dignity and grace.

On to more mundane things.  There's a mouse in our house who won't die.  He actually escaped out of the trap a few nights ago, I kid you not.  He comes out at night to check out our latest fruit and crumb supply.  After escaping with the bait cheese in paw several nights in a row, we're laying in bed and the horrific SNAP sounds and immediately I feel sick. Tim goes to check on the situation, comes soberly in and says "it won't be long now"  (well felt like that -- I think it was more precisely "i'm going to wait about 15 minute before going back to get him" -- later he tells me his chest was still rising and falling underneath the bar!)  and a few more moments pass.  let me tell you how awful it feels for any little creature under your roof to be breathing his last! And then all of a sudden there is this HORRIFIC racket....I feel like I screamed but I hope I wasn't girly about it -- tim rushes out to see what happened and he sees the bugger scampering away and back up the wall and into his hole.  No kidding.  And according to Tim, he was walking with his head held high.  So go figure, I suppose it's time to hire an engineer to build a better mousetrap.

I only bring up the mouse in this moment because I just heard a small racket in the kitchen and I know too much.  No need to go check it out.  I refuse to get any more attached to this crazy creature.  My respect for his survival skills is already through the roof; I don't need to see how cute he is, to boot!  As it is, I refuse to let Tim try again until I am away for the weekend.

Back to my thoughts before the noise..The Vaughn Bruce nuptuals.  Well I know in five years I will wish I would have written down every last detail -- just like I already wish I had documented every word of the autopsy doctor's meeting with us -- but I think I've probably opened myself up as far as I can go in one night.  I hate to admit it, but it is still a bit painful to come here and talk directly to you.  I have to stop and be willing to open myself up to the pain of remembering, and then going to bed the next day to wake up and continue my efforts to live well, without you.  it feels like a release of control that's not in a good way.  Or at least it's in a way that feels confusing, and not possible to assure timely re-containment.  But it would be worse to believe that I didn't have the courage, or the heart.

But once I'm here and settled in, I love it.  I love having a place where I can go to give my heart that extra room to expand.  And I love that it brings me closer to my memories of you.  It reminds me of the times when I would have you all to myself for a few minutes as a kid, in the garage, on a bike with you running beside, or the couple of times we had a meal out just the two of us.  Where people are welcome to listen in to whatever lively conversation we're having, ponder the problems we're solving, but your attention is fully engaged in our dialog.  It was a wonderful way to grow up, to have parts of your dad that you didn't have to share with the Big People.

Much love always,
thank you for being my center.

your daughter

p.s. we love our new dogs.  they've breathed youth and vitality back to a house that had been ailing for awhile.  RIP dear Roxy and Dixie.  You did right by us for many years!!!!   xoxo

p.p.s.  i think i'm going to ask Daniel to help me switch up the photos here.  I'm done seeing you as you were in your final days.  perhaps that's what's causing some of the pain!  I'm ready to see the dad that i knew for the bulk of my life.  it's time to re-balance the scales and weight them as they existed in real time.  your amazing traits carried you through to the end and someday i will be ready to see images that take me back to those deep and precious times together. but for now....bring on the bikes and birthdays and sofa cozies while the books were being read! xoxoxox

Saturday, March 23, 2013

This Week I Sniffed Memories of You

Hey Dad,

I'm avoiding a work email I need to send out, but thought I'd stop by quickly to tell you that I had fun, fond memories of you all week long.  Jonathan was in town to help Tim build this cool new wall that will define the modern, minimalist-style space of our new Arcadia Courtyard.  I wanted to be out and about in all the hubbub but not enmeshed in their process.  So I stained the pillars of last year's project, the deck off the west side of the office (dubbed affectionately and ironically by Ulisses as "The Lobby" when it was nothing but a pile of mud and rotting plywood planks).

The smell of the stain took me back to my early childhood.

To images of you handcrafting wooden boxes whose open-air windows showcased 3x5 index cards containing Bible verses you were committing to memory.

Thank you for sharing your handiwork with a curious girl too young to do anything but get in the way.

I never felt discarded by you.  I wonder how much patience that required.  I'll never know -- because you never let on that I was anything but a delight to have around.

Thanks for embedding your kind and practical father-goodness deep within me.  So deep you've even captured the ancient smell centers of my brain.


Thursday, March 7, 2013

today I meet the smartest man in the world


It was an unbelievable day, sitting down with a world renowned neuropathologist to discuss the results of your autopsy.

which were, in the end


Your brain.  The part of you that held your soul and released it to us one word, one action at a time.  Distilled to its smallest possible form.  Studied at 40,000 levels of magnification.  And even then, the cause of your crushing life closure is ultimately unknown.  

September 12, 2010.  The scientist sits at his desk.  Another day, another slide.  Slips it into his microscope.   As your cells come into focus, things begin to get interesting.  An infection, yes.  How cool!  Incredibly rare.  But the specific pattern your cells display?  He's never seen it before.  And yet, there it is, present in multiple eloquent places in your brain.  Even though they take up a tiny fraction of the total mass of your brain, their look is so distinctive, he knows as soon as he sees them he's stumbled onto something that demands an explanation.  Since there's no one to call and consult with (pathologists don't specialize in infections because they'd have nothing to do), he turns to his computer to tackle the literature reviews.  What he finds is sitting next to impossible.  And just like that, you become a file he'll never forget.

Well, Dad, perhaps eventually I'll spell out every last detail in the event they don't keep medical records where you are.  But tonight I'll keep it brief.  He only found ONE OTHER CASE that totally matches yours!  Imagine that!  Only two of you, in all the known world.  But if that isn't wild enough, the next fact is truly beyond belief.  The other guy's cellular changes were caused by a viral the logical conclusion is that yours would have been caused by a virus, too. But your brain tissue contained. no. viral. organisms.

Cause of death?  A viral infection of the brain.

Inconclusive because....?!?............. no virus was present in your brain.

Well dad, what can I say?  Your status as the Ultimate Medical Mystery lives on. No one could figure you out as your life was leaving us in all those dramatic fits and starts.  And now that all your secrets have been laid bare, we are, acutely, none the wiser.    You were unknowable in life, and now you are enduringly unknowable in death.

It almost feels magical, this space you take up in our world.

I wish you were here with me tonight....we'd both be enjoying the fitting irony of it all.

p.s. You will never leave the inbox of the smartest man in the world.  How do I know?  Because he said so himself as he put down his rubber band and paper clips, shook our hands, and walked us out the door.  Well done, dad! Your science-nerd daughters are very, very proud.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

2 Years, Tomorrow

Hi Dad,

Tomorrow, or actually it's already tomorrow, ends the second year that we have been here and you have been there.  I'm still not all that invested in afterlife daydreams -- just what exactly IS dad doing with all his free time?! --  preferring instead to focus on ways in which my life is muted without you here with me.

Example one.  We're driving with J & B to Colorado -- Durango of all places -- and I had no idea the depth of my exclusive childhood connection:  Colorado = Dad.  It doesn't hit me until several days into our trip and we're making the trek over the mountains from Durango to Telluride.  I see the grandeur of the terrain...the heights, the sheer dropoffs, the carpet of evergreen trees...and I see you, in memory form, as a type of overlay that brings a haze of present tense into each scene.  Had I chosen to write them down, stories of "You in Colorado" would have filled all the empty spaces of our car.  It was physically painful, in an odd sort of way.

Example two.  We have a puppy.  You'd laugh with Tim and me, watching her antics.  Clearly, at 3 and 1/2 pounds, she's no German Shepherd.  Not a real dog.  More like part rodent, part feline, part bat, and last and least, part dog.  Despite the combo, I know you'd approve and though she's just a pet and not a child, there's a tiny part of me that thinks the experience of bringing her into the human world would be fuller, if you could share it with me.

Well, I think I'd like to copy down a story that I would have read to you, perhaps at your birthday gathering later this month, that would have made you smile:



Monday, July 2, 2012

it's just a regular day

Hi Dad,

It's just a regular day today.  My heart isn't hurting especially much for you right now, which is perhaps why it's possible for me to set aside a few moments and connect with you.  Life is so normal now, compared to how it was when you were sick, or right after you died.  So when waves of missing you come over me, i feel somewhat surprised and it feels foreign to "lean into it" like I had no choice but to do during all those months of intense grieving.  I think of this space, and how I'd like to meet you here, but then I decide just to wait passively until the wave passes.

It's interesting, how your other children are faring.  I wish we could each of us experience more closeness together through our grieving, but the path is so personal, and each of us is so different from the other!  And each of us experienced your illness and death so differently.  Perhaps in the years to come we will feel more common ground in our sense of missing you.

This week coming up is the 4th of July.  I think perhaps it will be the first time every single one of us has been together since your memorial service in Phoenix.

The room will feel empty without you.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

november 1

hi dad.

you'd love to hear that i'm doing something completely new.


i'm writing a novel. 50,000 words in 30 days.  or at least that's the idea.

i know it's just a little thing.  but because of the fluid life that tim has taught me to live, such a black-and-white goal feels completely foreign to me.

if you were here, you'd give me courage.  tell me that a goal is a good thing.  but that it has no bearing on my worth.  go for it, just don't freak out about it.

ok well that last sentence is your ideas, my words.

i wish i could read each chapter to you as they roll off the presses.  because you'd listen carefully, innocently, always with a smile.  no fear.

i hope my sense of you doesn't fade with time.

hugs to you,