In 2005, Kristi Ellis-Brunst married the man of her dreams. A man she calls her "greatest gift" and who was witty, loving, kind-hearted and endearingly old-fashioned.
A man she said she waited 40 years for and even just days before his death, still blushed when she talked about.
“He has a young soul,” Ellis-Brunst, 48, said last week before her husband's death. “We have a lot of fun together.”
On January 15, Todd Brunst, husband and father of five lost his brave battle with cancer after eight years. Brunst leaves behind four adult children, his wife and youngest daughter, 6-year-old Sydney.
2005 was also the year Brunst noticed a lump on his neck. Initially, the 63-year-old Hartland resident was diagnosed with non-hodgkins lymphoma, a slow growing, nonaggressive form of cancer that the newlyweds were told to “watch and wait.”
Over the eight years of their marriage, the couple had battled through more symptoms, several diagnosis, two rounds of chemo treatments, a stem cell transplant and a remission, always trying to hold on to their "normal," Ellis-Brunst said, while raising their young daughter.
And then, in November, after just a year and a half of remission, Todd Brunst experienced a relapse and was given a final diagnosis of just weeks left to live.
“There was no warning,” Ellis-Brunst said. “They said the cancer was back and it was really aggressive this time.”
Just two weeks ago, when word began to spread around the Hartland community of the devastating news, friends, family and even complete strangers rallied around the family.
A fundraiser for the family will take place January 27 from 12 p.m. to 3 p.m. at O’Malley’s Irish Pub that will include a silent auction with dozens of items being donated.
Overwhelmed by the support of the community, Ellis-Brunst became emotional when she spoke about the upcoming event.
“I am brought to tears by the generosity and humbled by the ones I haven’t even met,” she said. “It’s humbling because it makes you wonder if you’ve done enough. It makes you take inventory.”
'A beautiful life together'
When Todd Brunst was considered terminal, he chose to return home from the hospital and spend his final days surrounded by friends and family, enjoying visits from old high school friends who even brought him his favorite Chicago-style pizza to enjoy.
It was time the family was trying to savor to the fullest, according to Ellis- Brunst and just a few days before his death, she says she was amazed at the tenacity of her husband to keep going.
“This man is walking, talking and breathing and carrying on,” Ellis-Brust said. “His will is just so strong. I knew that about him though, he wasn’t going to go out easy.”
Ellis-Brunst spent the final weeks of her husband's life focused on his needs and doing things to help ease his pain such as foot rubs, laughter and jokes, continuing to share the sense of humor they both enjoyed.
"I feel so honored to give back to him and just be there for him," she said. "You just got to think beyond yourself and really be there for someone."
Forcing herself to be strong for her husband and daughter, Ellis-Brunst did admit to feelings of resentment, unfairness and fear that would creep into her days, but says she was very happy for the time she spent with her husband and for the blessing she calls her daughter.
"We just had a beautiful life together and I'm just so scared to see it end," she said, wiping away the tears.
Funeral arrangements for Todd Brunst are pending. Donations for the Brunst family fundraiser are being accepted at the Hartland Chamber of Commerce.