Eulogy for Bruce

We are born and we die. Whether or not we go on after we die is the question of the ages. What does our life mean? That we are loved by God. Where is that meaning held? It is held in the hearts of those who love us. It is played out in the lives of those we come to know.

Our love for Bruce could not prevent his death. If so, he would be alive today, because he was loved by each of us in turn. Our natural feeling at this time is to search ourselves in fear of finding some failing; some action that we could have taken that would have caused him to recover. We ought not to hold that.

“When a friend is carried to his grave, we at once find excuses for every weakness, and palliations of every fault; we recollect a thousand endearments which before glided off our minds without impression, a thousand favors unrepaid, a thousand duties unperformed, and wish, vainly wish for his return, not so much that we may receive, as that we may bestow happiness, and recompense that kindness which before we never understood.”

– Samuel Johnson

His affliction, his devastating weakness, is the same as mine and thousands of others. That Bruce was ultimately unable to elude its grip is a testament to the nature of our enemy: cunning, baffling and powerful.

 Let us not regret the way he died but remember the way he lived.

I will forever be grateful to have known Bruce. I will forever be grateful that Bruce was there at the right times and places in my life:  My first days at University in 1963. During the ups and downs of my courtship with the girl who is still the love of my life. At my marriage. And at my fledgling company when I needed his help. I will forever be grateful for having a friend like him.

I met Bruce when I was 18 years old, a university freshman. We were both pledges of a social fraternity. On the road to becoming active members, he and I met another guy named Ed and we all became fast friends.

From the beginning Bruce was looked up to as the leader of our troika. He was the oldest by a couple years and for me, a Toledo boy straight out of high school, he was the epitome of the urbane east coast preppie.

Solid and self-assured, charming and smart.

He was devilishly handsome, knowledgeable about cars, clothes and girls. It was with Bruce that I made my first visit to New York City and was introduced to some of its pleasures.

He was like a big brother to me.  He was Holden Caulfield and Mr. Lucky rolled into one.

For all his urbanity, Bruce was always tremendously solicitous of friends and would listen patiently to school problems, girl problems and whatever else. Another friend from those days, remembered Bruce as “very put together”. He said “The Bruce I knew could have done anything.”

As the sixties wore on the halcyon days became fewer and fewer. These were times of expanding options and consciousness.

Before decisions that seemed good at the time took us apart, Bruce was a groomsman at my wedding. We still have the sterling silver candlesticks and platter that he gave us.

Ed remembers that Bruce, for as down to earth as he was, had the soul of a true spiritual seeker. When the college offered a course in Comparative religion – unusual for a public university in those days – Bruce was among the first to register for it.

Of the three of us, Ed was the only one to complete his degree at that time, and, graduating with an ROTC commission did a tour of duty in the Army. I had a deferment, but Bruce was vulnerable to the draft and on leaving school at that time, joined a National Guard Unit back in his home state of New Jersey.

Ed often joked that due to Bruce’s service with the guard during the civil disturbances in Newark, Bruce got shot at more than most guys who went to Viet Nam.

Another fraternity brother who was also from New Jersey spent a lot of time with Bruce during his time back home. Bruce was a frequent visitor at his home, and Goody told me the other night that his Mom adored Bruce. “Bruce was always doing things for people – if he could help you in any way he would. He fixed practically every appliance in my Mom’s home – broken lamps, toasters – even her TV.”

My life path took me away from Toledo, even as Bruce returned. A decade or more elapsed before I would return to Toledo and renew our friendship. We remained in touch over the years meeting for lunches and getting together from time to time. Bruce was sober in those days, and I was not. He saved a chair for me in the rooms, and when I had finally had enough of me in January of 1989, he was there.

All his friends speak of his kindness and sincerity. His openness about his own struggles. His genuine concern for others and offers of friendship. His frankness about his spiritual quest.

Again his ‘handiness’ is often commented on. One friend recalled how Bruce came to his house and ‘tuned’ the exhaust on his Harley Davidson motorcycle so expertly that he didn’t need to take it to the shop. Another spoke to me after the meeting of Bruce’s wood-working skills in carving and finishing a gunstock.

In 1991 I left a family business I had been part of. After a couple of years learning that I was basically unemployable, I ventured to start up a business of my own. At the time Bruce was selling for another company and an arrangement was made whereby he came on board with me, “just to help out”. Soon he became a solid part of what I was doing.

My daughter recalls Bruce at that time as being suave and debonair – classic Bruce.

In one particularly notable deal, Bruce closed a large sale with a German company who had found us on line. The owner of the company came from Germany to visit us and somehow Bruce managed to carry off the illusion that we were a robust international sales company. He decorated the office with German flags and our new customer left happy.

But storm clouds were appearing. Bruce’s struggles with depression were reaching a point where his effectiveness required what I hoped would be a temporary separation. It was not to be. Nonetheless we remained close during a difficult time in his life.

I would be wholly remiss if I did not speak of Bruce’s love of family. How often did he share deeply with me his concerns for, his love and pride of his children? His beautiful daughter and his wonderful son.

How passionately would he describe his hopes and dreams for them, and admit his shortcomings! But overall I have not known; I cannot count among my friends a more devoted and loving father.

Bruce touched many lives. That ultimately he was unable to accept in God and others the love that he showed so many is a great tragedy. Yet I know that he told me in his last letter from Glenbeigh that he was beginning to know his Higher Power.

And I know that Higher Power. And I know that once called upon, He does not leave us, even – especially – when we are unable to carry on as we ought.

The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.

 – Psalm 34:18

And this; another Johnson quote.  He was a man especially intimate with the nature of friendship:

“Let us … make haste to do what we shall certainly at last wish to have done; let us return the caresses of our friends, and endeavour by mutual endearments to heighten that tenderness which is the balm of life. Let us be quick to repent of injuries while repentance may not be barren anguish, and let us open our eyes to every rival excellence, and pay early and willingly those honours which justice will compel us to pay at last.”

Bruce – “May the LORD watch between you and me when we’re unable to see each other.”

– Genesis 31:49

Author: hsderkin

H. Scott Derkin lives with his wife and a scruffy miniature poodle mix on the banks of a river in NW Michigan. By not taking into account his shortcomings, his wife has managed to stay with him for over half a century.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s