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.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

SEPTEMBER 11: a fitting day for dad to die

i thought i would be able to sleep tonight without coming here to wrap up my day. but, apparently meeting you here through my posts has become an elemental part of my daily routine. perhaps i will need some time to pass before i can know and share with you impressions that are close to my heart, but it seems best to state a few things simply to you, my dear family and friends.

tonight, at 10:40 pm, our dad slipped away from us. each of us in the room -- mom, cheryl, jonathan, bethany, tim and me, along with our nurse laura -- experienced his passing in our own unique way. likely tomorrow I will discover some of their perspectives -- perhaps they are completely different from my own. but for me, i must say, i experienced his death as gentle, generous, dignified and, yes, with a bit of dad's signature twinkle!

* gentle, because it wasn't sudden or traumatic in any way. his final breaths came intermittently, with long pauses in between, for about 30 minutes. we had time to adjust. there were no gasps or ragged, wheezing labored efforts, no heaving chest; it was...well...different than any other type of breathing mishaps he's had. It felt purposeful. and not scary to me, or him, in the least.

* generous, because all of us were able to be in the room together. while this may not have been by dad's specific choosing, i do feel inclined to think it was by design. why not just by chance? well, today contained the only 12 hour window of time since his icu "brain death" days in july, when mom and all of us kids (minus the military one) have been together in the same room with him. without going crazy on the math, i'd say there were about 119 other 12-hour windows that could have been given to our family for his passing. some of which, were only mom or me present with dad. or dad in his room, all alone. how strange and wonderful, i had projected in an earlier post, it would be to have us all together in the same room wishing him well as he enters eternity.  it was both of these sensations, and more.  strange, wonderful, and most merciful to all.

* dignified. dad, all this time, and despite intensive levels of cognitive decline and emotional strain, has always had a presence about him that others beyond our family have noted. lots of different descriptors that they used, nurses, doctors, therapists, visitors, to explain their experience with him....but i've delighted in their efforts to put their sense of him into words. because no matter what words they use (fascinating, intelligent, cute, precious, adorable, mysterious, inspiring), i always see an overlay of dignity; like his father, he was always gracious in every setting. eager to express appreciation at your presence.  a true military diplomat.  and even though his ability to interpret his environment became diminished over the past few weeks and months, his sense of dignity remained. i can't describe the dignity within his death tonight; perhaps tomorrow i can gather some sibling support on this one and get back to you.  tim says it was quiet dignity.

* with a bit of dad's signature twinkle. at the end, when his breaths became intermittent, we didn't know when (or if) they would resume. and as they continued to return, time after time, they gradually began to morph into breathing i'd never seen before. had this happened just once or twice, i could have handled it by quickly stashing the experience away in a distant, vague memory bank. but as these intermittent breaths continued i began to get a bit disoriented: what is happening here?  cheryl's imagery mid-way through provided an immedate visual for me to hold on to. and then, all of a sudden, i saw the sparkle in it all. his breathing made it appear he was running. running, my laser-beam-heaven-focused sister recommended, straight to the gates of heaven.  as soon as she said it, i could see it. the eager over-exertion that forces one to slow down just for a few moments to catch one's breath.  but not for long, as something worth the effort is right before your eyes... a big wide ribbon that you're straining to break, so you can know the race is won. run dad! we promise we're not that far behind.

it wasn't hard to imagine the twinkle in his eyes & i've seen it, against all odds, all the way to the end; surely it was there tonight.

so, so much yet to accomplish in the celebration of dad's life and the putting of his body to rest. I want to officially thank each of you for your ongoing support of me and my siblings as we have shared dad's journey with you.  i feel we have a few days, yes and perhaps weeks and beyond, to process what we have  experienced.  I welcome you to sign off, and return to your normal routines.  or, if you'd just assume stay and participate with us in our process of embracing our dad's passing, we welcome you to stay on. 

Based on the speed with which i have raced to my laptop each evening, i can only imagine that this form of community will continue to play a key role in my life as the reality of what we've lived through comes to settle in my soul.


brother daniel and i are planning to collect your individual memories and impressions, and integrate them into the upcoming celebration of dad's life.  if you have any photos to share, feel free to send them via email to me at  if you have words to share, feel free to post them here or email them to me.  and for any snailmailers, our address is 60 East Vernon Avenue, Phoenix, AZ 85004. 


has my gratitude to you for your connection to me and my siblings been apparent in my posts and responses to your comments?  has my need and appreciation for your love and support been clearly expressed?  if you could spend time with me physically in the same room, i feel as though you would see it oozing out my pores.  you'd feel it in my hugs, you'd see it in my eyes.  without you here, my ability to be present as i was with my dad, day after day, week after week, would not have been possible. 

so once again, i thank you with all my heart for keeping me and my family in your heart.
xoxoxoxoxoxoxoxox always and forever,


  1. Karen, I cannot thank you enough for so beautifully and so eloquently putting Phil's final steps of his journey to words. I experienced a real, visual shift in my mind's eye as I litterally saw him pausing to gather the strength and the breath to make that final dash to the finish line. "I'm coming, Lord!" Open arms waiting.

    I love you so much. Each of you Bruces/Richards/Rices are so precious to me. You each delight my hear in a million ways!

    Thanks be to God that we are all part of the same race and will, by God's amazing grace, spend all of eternity celebrating in God's glorious kingdom together. "To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord"

    Phil, I love brother. Thank you for loving me so well. You hold a special place in my heart that can never be filled by anyone else. Say Hi to Mom and Dad for me.

    Memory Eternal!

  2. Karen, it has been a priviledge to have been able to follow along on this journey with you and Cheryl and your family. You have beautifully documented this experience and we feel like we have been there with you...we will continue to keep all of you in our prayers as you face the next step of planning the celebration of Phil's life. Your dad was very very blessed to have such a supportive and loving family and it truly was divinely planned that you were all able to be with him when he passed so peacefully into eternity. May you continue to experience peace during this time of processing and planning.
    Blessings on all of you, Randy and Tracy

  3. Karen,
    I was so sad today to come in and not be greeted by your family but I know that your dad is at peace and experiencing the glory of heaven that I can only imagine. Thank you for allowing me to care for him, it was an honor! I love how you talk about your Dad, his amazing spirit and the twinkle that was in his eye even at the end.I will be praying for your family.
    Love, Paige

  4. gail,
    it truly was a pausing, and a gathering of strength. i'm so glad you can see the powerful scene in your mind's eye. i can't wait to be with you, and to thank you in person for all you have done for me in the pouring out of your love and goodness.

    amazing grace is a beautiful thing to behold.


    randy and tracy,
    tahhh, how grateful we are for your continued prayers, and your wishes for PEACE. you both are such an important part of tim's and my love of all things canadian. how good i feel as a little sis knowing my big sis has such a fun and present friend in you.


    you have meant so much to me, my mom, and without a doubt my dad as well, as you have so effectively cared for him and us these past weeks. how do i place words into a comment when seeing you in action would say it all?

    tim sometimes finds the pefect way to describe my global, word-less impressions:

    "paige has a knowlegeable, gentle presence and compassion. this makes her well suited for her job. when we were struggling with the unknown, it was reassuring to have her experienced, compassionate eyes in dad's room encouraging us. each of these God-given nurses and assistants every day helped us to navigate the scary parts. we began to see past our fears and trust their words, their eyes, their conscientous approach to dad's care. their strength became our own."

    THANK YOU, THANK YOU, paige, laura, shan-tay, and all of your many kind and capable co-workers, dr. butler, doctor williams. these past weeks, we have soaked up dad in a way that would not have been possible if you had not been there alongside us each step of the way.

  5. Karen and all,
    So sorry to hear of Phil's passing but what a glorious day for all in the knowledge that he is now in Heaven with not only his Heavenly Father but with his earthly father and mother as well. What a wonderful celebration banquet they must all be having today. Karen, your words, your perceptions, your ability and willingness to share this very private and difficult journey has been a wonderful gift to each of us. Thank you for sharing this. You are a very eloquent writer and I am sure your dad would be so honored to read all that you have written about his journey as well as that or your entire family. I will stay close by and await your future posts. May God continue to shine his light on you and your family during this dark time. God's peace to all of you. Bonita

  6. Precious Niece Karen, and all the family,

    Your tender, eloquent words reached us this morning, just after arriving back in America, that your dad--my sister's devoted husband of 44 years and 8 days-- finished his race, and awaits us in heaven. I have no profound words to equal yours, in response, only sad tears because he is greatly missed, and happy tears because he is with the Lord he spent his life loving, serving, and sharing--in fact, my own faith journey includes him and his wife and parents praying me 'into the kingdom' nearly 4 decades ago.

    Your 'big sister' comments are SO true for me too, regarding my big sister Patty, your mom. From early childhood, it seemed all was well when she was there with me.

    My mind and emotions ferry back to the day in 1966 she introduced me to her handsome cadet who carried Proverbs in his pocket. Wow. And to the summer I stayed with them at Pilot training in GA...and at assignment in OK...and Test Pilot school in OH...and Washington D.C. Ahhh, the memories, funny and poignant,spanning 4 decades, are etched permanently, wonderfully, on my heart. One day soon I may be able to process them all and share them with you.

    Meanwhile, THANK YOU, dear Karen, for keeping us informed enlightened and inspired along Phil's journey. Your dad would be so proud of your supreme efforts to communicate your thoughts and his status with us all, and the amazing spiritual insights God has given you along the way. John and I feel privileged to have had that dinner with him and your mom and you, the night before his fall, and the couple days afterward. We don't understand God's timing but we trust His goodness and wisdom in all things.

    SO thankful for the blessing, the gift, of that window of time-- your togetherness around his bedside as he was ushered into eternity. i'm thankful for the privilege of knowing and loving my brother-in-law Phil Bruce and for the assurance we will see him again.

    Blessings and love,
    Aunt Sandi

  7. Karen, Thank you for giving us such a beautiful poetic description of dad's final night. Reading it brought back to mind the vivid experience like I was there again. I must say I had not planned on being there for the finale, but how fitting for him to have a team there to cheer him along the last steps to the finish line. It brings tears to my eyes as I picture the scene of those who welcomed him on the other side. Truely he saw a strong reason to break into a sprint for the final steps into eternity. I can just imagine the excitement with which he embraced his mom and dad -- I remember how much they meant to him and the devotion he gave to them in their final months. Reunion must be supremely precious.

  8. I just wanted to share the words of a hymn that has been stuck in my head all day since the moment he passed.

    Safe in the arms of Jesus,
    Safe on His gentle breast;
    There by His love o’ershaded,
    Sweetly my soul shall rest.
    Hark! ’tis the voice of angels
    Borne in a song to me,
    Over the fields of glory,
    Over the jasper sea.
    Safe in the arms of Jesus,
    Safe on His gentle breast;
    There by His love o’ershaded,
    Sweetly my soul shall rest.

    Safe in the arms of Jesus,
    Safe from corroding care,
    Safe from the world’s temptations;
    Sin cannot harm me there.
    Free from the blight of sorrow,
    Free from my doubts and fears;
    Only a few more trials,
    Only a few more tears!
    Jesus, my heart’s dear Refuge,
    Jesus has died for me;
    Firm on the Rock of Ages
    Ever my trust shall be.
    Here let me wait with patience,
    Wait till the night is o’er;
    Wait till I see the morning
    Break on the golden shore.

  9. oh my goodness, my dear family. bonita, auntie sandi, jonathan, bethany, amy, jen, alice, brenna, nicole, emily, kelly: thank you for your heartfelt words, giving such love and support the whole day long. the more that images of heaven, reunion, memories spanning decades, and sunrises over golden shores are brought before us, the better we prepare to embrace our new reality.


  10. Cheryl, Karen, Jonathan, Daniel and Aunt Patty,

    I was so sorry to hear yesterday about your dad/Uncle Phil. I am thankful that his passing was dignified and peaceful in the end, but I'm sure the loss is staggering, to say the very least. I'm thankful for the precious time you had together as a family around his bedside. What treasured memories. Our hearts and prayers are with you guys as you walk through the days ahead. We love you!

    Joel and Megan

  11. Your dad is in the top on my list of people to get to know in heaven! All of this amazing love and support pouring out for him and the family! I can't wait to tell him what a treasure it was to be part of his journey through your eyes, and tell him what he already knows about how wonderful a job he did as your father. Please give my kindest and warmest regards to you family.


    I just wanted to send you my condolences, Rachael has kept me updated on your dad's health, and informed me of his passing. Very sorry for your loss Karen. It's nice to know your strong faith is providing some comfort at this difficult and sad time.
    Big hug,


    thank you bob. how cool for me that rachael was my dad's final visitor. what an amazing friend she is, and how wonderful that she has you supporting everything and everyone she cares about.

  13. more facebook love:


    september 12: Hi Karen, So sorry to hear about your Dad's health. I know how much it must mean to him to have all of you around in these last days - What a blessing! Dave and my prayers are with you and Tim and your family at this time.

    september 14

    we are so sorry for your loss at this time. Please know that we will keep you in our thoughts and prayers. Your post is such a tribute to your wonderful dad.

    Karen, Tim, what a joy to hear from you. We had not heard of your Dad's passing until right now. My memories were brief regarding him other than a confident man of God who dearly loved his family. I believe there might have been a visit while at Bolling, but what a while back. We are at the age when our greatest treasures are the testimonies of children and grandchildren honoring the Lord. He was, you are blessed. Serving together with you, Pastor Bob and Sylvia.

    I wish I could be there for the services and stuff -- your parents are very special people to me and I'm quite sure to anyone who has/had the privilege of getting to know them. And may I add to the many who have thanked you for writing your blog. It really helped feel like we were there with your wonderful dad instead of miles and miles away. Please give my love to your family. I'm praying God's love stays wrapped securely around you all -- well, it always is, but I guess I should say that you FEEL His love wrapped tightly around you!

    Hi Karen..I know it's been awhile since we have personally spoken, but I've been praying for you and your family through this journey. You will continue to be in our prayers. Thank you for sharing your blog with us all. Blessings to you. Lisa

    Karen, so sorry for your loss, thoughts and prayers for you and your family. Jeanine

    So sorry to hear about your Dad, Karen. I just read the first page of your blog (with the past few days on it). Wow...what beautiful writing and beautiful memories you created. I look forward to reading more about your father. Kelly

    I'm so sorry to hear this. I have such fond memories of your parents - he was a beautiful man. Praying for you and your family... Beth

    I am very sorry to hear this and we will continue to pray for you and the whole family. Bryan

    Thoughts and prayers with you and your family. Melissa

    I have been praying for you all since I saw your post on September 9th and read your blog posts. I'm so sorry that you had to say goodbye - at least for now. Clark

    Praying for you guys and the whole family. Thanks for blogging through the whole thing.


    a full-hearted thank you to each and every one of you: your support means the world to me!!!