Col. Philip W. Bruce Crosses the Finish Line

I woke up this morning to a text left to me by my sister-in-law, Patty Bruce, Phil’s devoted wife of about 44 years. It said:

“We wanted to share with you – Phil went to be with the Lord tonight at 10:40. We are missing him, but rejoicing in his being in the most excellent place. Love , pctkjb&d”

I have 4 older brothers, Phil is the oldest. I’m his baby sister. He’s been battling a mysterious neurological disease for the last five years and last night, his battle was over. I will miss him tremendously. His daughter, Karen began keeping a journal during his last weeks. After I read her entry from this morning, I knew I wanted to post it here. It is just beautiful. I pray that it will be an enouragement to you. (Please make sure you read the last *)

From Phil’s Journey, September 12, 2010, by Karen Rice:

i thought i would be able to sleep tonight without coming here to wrap up my day. but, apparently this has become an elemental part of my daily routine. apparently i will need some time to pass before i can share with you details 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 there — mom, cheryl, jonathan, bethany, tim and me, [daniel is on his way] along with our nurse laura — experienced his passing in our own unique way. perhaps tomorrow I can discover moments each wishes to share. 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 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. or dad, all alone. how strange and wonderful, i had projected, to have us all together in the same room wishing him well as he enters eternity.

* dignity. 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. could be a lot of different descriptors that they would use to explain their take on him….but i delight in it when they try to put in into words. because no matter what words they say (fascinating, intelligent, cute, precious, adorable, mysterious, inspiring), i always see an overlay of dignity; like his father, he was always appropriate in every setting. 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 get some sibling support on this one and get back to you.

* 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, they gradually began to morph into breathing i’d never seen before once or twice, i could have handled it and stashed iaway in a distant memory bank. but as they continued i began to get a bit disoriented: what is happening here?  cheryl’s imagery 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 really worth the effort is right before your eyes… a big white sash that you’re straining to break, so you can know the race is won. run dad! we promise we’re not that far behihd.

it wasn’t hard to imagine the twinkle in his eyes & we’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 ogoing 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’ve expereriened so far.  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.

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15 Responses to “Col. Philip W. Bruce Crosses the Finish Line”

  1. I just found out about Phil’s homegoing last weekend. My former husband Roy Jones and I were blessed to know Phil, Patty, Cheryl, and Karen when we were teenagers.We attended the same church. I am so sorry to have heard that he was so ill; glad to know that He is whole and healthy and with God in heaven. My deepest condolences to all of the families. I have thought often of the Bruce family. I lost contact with them many years ago. I would like to get back in touch with them. Please ask Patty and Cheryl and Karen to feel free to look for me on facebook.

  2. He was precious … and so are you! 🙂

  3. Precious! Just precious.

    Love the imagery!

  4. Our thoughts and payers are with you during this difficult time.

    Phil was not only my classmate at the Academy but also at the first Prep School class of 1962. Our Prep School 1962 Malamute yearbook says Phil was from Alexandria, VA, in the Ski Club and Methodist Choir.

    For those who do not have a copy of our USAFA 1966 Polaris yearbook, here is what was written about Phil:

    “Faster than an F-104, able to tie up long-distance romances at a single bound, this James Bond of USAFA emerged from the Prep School to join the Class of ’66. After being squadron commander at the Prep School, he finally learned to be just a “doolie.” His ability in sports was demonstrated by being part of the 14th Squadron swimming team when it went to the wing championship, where he received thirteen stitches from the diving board. He was also elected an officer of the ski club his second and first-class years. Phil continued to fight for the manned aircraft and less TDY for TAC pilots. In the future you will find Phil flying F-5s for TAC.”

    It was a distinct pleasure to have Phil as a classmate for 5 years.

    Go Falcons,
    Bernie Amels

  5. I’ve been out of the loop a bit and am just now reading about Phil. I’m so sorry for your loss.

    What a lovely tribute and a gracious blessing to your family that so many were able to be with him as he passed from here to eternity.

    How sweet, “Say hi to Mom and Dad for me.”

    Blessings to you, Mike & your entire family during this time.

  6. May his memory be eternal! Much love to you and your family.

  7. Gail,
    I’m sorry for your loss, happy for your brother’s gain and honored that you’ve shared your family’s journey with us via Twitter and your blog. May you all have sweet days of memories ahead as you gather to remember your brother.

    You’re in my prayers.


  8. Thank you for sharing this profound portion of Karen’s blog. I too am touched by her ability to capture such an intimate time and help us all feel that we were there with you.

    You are in my prayers. I am so grateful for the hope we share that lets us know beyond a doubt that this separation isn’t forever.

    Love you


  9. Dear Gail – thank you for sharing Karen’s writing…she has so eloquently captured the essence of her feelings and the incredible blessings they had to be with Phil for this last dash to Heaven. You’ll likely be hearing from others of Patty’s “cousins” – as we extend to you and all the Bruce family our prayers and sincere condolences for your loss. We’ve all been blessed having known Phil – whether from a distance or up close and front line. Indeed, a wonderful and extraordinary man!

  10. Dear Gail,
    I feel truly privileged to be able to be a part of you and your family’s journey through your writings. I am so very sorry for your loss, yet I am so happy for you that you know you and your brother (and your parents) will meet again in a most wonderful place: before the throne of God!
    In the meantime, I pray that God gives you and your family peace and joy and wonderful thoughts of days spent laughing.

  11. Thank you for sharing your heart with all of us. I remember when my mom entered into heaven seeing that same twinkle and a smile on her face I had only seen in a picture of her when she was a young girl. I’m sure your dad would be very proud of your steadfast faith.

    Praying for you,


  12. Dearest Gail,
    Praying for you and your family and Phil’s as you celebrate the life and love of your dear brother and grieve the temporary separation as you wait to see him again. May God bless you with the comfort and joy only He can give at this time and with many,many,many wonderful “twinkle” memories.

    Blessing on you all,

  13. So beautiful and full of love. It is a great blessing to accompany a loved one to the gate of Heaven.
    Precious to fhe Lord is the death of His saints.

  14. Dearest friend, when I read your tweet just a few moments ago, my first thought was of the precious, unexpected moments of sweetness you had with your brother during your visit a few weeks ago. I am happy for you that you and he had that.

    I regret I never knew Phil. He sounds like quite a remarkable man. He must have been to produce a daughter who could write something like the above.

    What a lovely gift to Phil and his family that God allowed him such an elegant and rich leave-taking…that even in the end he could give them something of himself.

    Praying for you and for the rest of the family as you walk the days of goodbye.

    Memory Eternal.


  15. I left this comment on Karen’s Post:

    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 heart 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!

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