On December 8, 2008, my life changed forever. I had a double sided cerebellar stroke with 2 brain stem compressions. It was not until December 10, 40 hours after my stroke, that surgery was finally done to relieve the pressure. Dr. Piper, the neuro-surgeon from Iowa Methodist hospital in Des Moines, told my wife that surgery was nothing more than an attempt to save my life, but that it would not erase the deficiencies as a result of the stroke. Although she admits that she did not really understand what Dr. Piper had just said, my wife, Laura, agreed to the surgery and the care team performed a decrompessive craniotomy, to hopefully relieve the pressure and allow my brain to function somewhat normally. For those who have followed my blog for the last 14+ years, the surgery was successful, I returned to the church and I now live a relatively normal life, although I do have some pretty severe, though not always visible, defieciencies. I really thought that life could not get any worse than December, 2008. But I was wrong. On October 21, 2023, at 7:24 pm, my wife received a call from a number she did not recognize so she ignored it; but, that person called back immediately. This time, she handed me the phone and I answered. The next words, quite literally, changed me in an instant. It was detective Ed Schack with the Chicago Police Department calling for Laura Mead. I told him that she was not available at the time (I lied), so he stated that he needed to talk to someone related to Brendan Mead. As soon as he said that, I knew that nothing good could follow. I told him that I was his dad, speaking to him on Laura's phone. His next words confirmed my thoughts about the previous words: "I need you to go somewhere so that your wife cannot hear me..." Unfortunatley she heard him say that! The color drained from Laura's face as I headed up stairs. I went into our office upstairs, sat down and got out a sheet of paper to write down what I could. He was very matter of fact, but compassionate. If I live to be a thousand years old, I will never forget the next words out of his mouth: "Brendan's roommate came home from work tonight. He knew that Brendan was home because his phone location showed home. He looked in Brendan's room, but did not see him. The he opened his bedroom door and found Brendan unresponsive. He immediately left the room and called 911. The fire department and emergency crews responded and tried, unsuccessfully, to revive him. I hate to tell you this on the phone, we would normally dispatch police to your home, but since we are in Chicago and you are in Iowa, that is just not really the best way to go. There seems to be no criminal activity, and this appears to be a self-inflicted injury. You understand what I am saying, right?" My head was spinning, but I had to write down some pertinent information. After I hung up with detective Schack, I had the un-enviable task of going downstairs and telling my sweet wife that her son, her oldest child, her only boy, was gone. I listed to her cry, she screamed, she cried out to God. She walked around the living room like a caged tiger, trying to find some sort of relief, but there was none. I held her as she cried for what seemed to be hours. I looked at her and said that we have to tell the girls face to face, we cannot tell them this kind of news on the phone. So, we left at about 8:30 to go to Story City to tell his youngest sister, Madelyn, that her brother was gone. How do we say that? What are the right words? How do we do that? We got about as far as Ames when my wife said that she could not tell this to her girls, and she asked me to take her to Stratford, to her best friend Andrea's house. I turned the car around and drove to Stratford. On the way, I called our church chairman and asked if he could ride with me to tell the girls. Unfortunately, he had suffered a concussion just a few days prior and was not able tp go, but his wife, Amanda, would drive me to Story City and then to Des Moines. Thank God for her willingness! I got to Stratford, and my head began to hurt, what am I going to tell my girls? How am I going to tell them? What do I say? On the way to Story City, I called my son in law, Stephen, and asked him to meet me at his house...I got some bad news about Brendan, and I think it would be best if you were home when I talked to Shaylee. Was that too much to tell him? Was that enough? Was it the right thing to to? To tell my son in law before I told my daughter? Once we got to Timberland Assisted Living, where my daughter was working, in Story City, I heard her voice and started walking toward the voice. As soon as she saw me, the questions started: what did I do? Am I in trouble? Did something happen to mom? I took her by the hand and walked her out to the lobby and had her sit in a chair. I sat opposite her and said the only thing I could think of...exactly what Detective Schack had told me. I said, "There is no easy way to say this. I got a call from the Chicago P.D. tonight. Brendan's roommate came home and could not find him. When he opened his door, he found Brendan unresponsive. The fire department responded and tried to revive him but were unsuccessful..." Immediately the tears, the screaming, the crying came. I held her for a long time. We eventually left the building because we were afraid she would wake the residents. As we went outside, we sat on a bench as she cried some more. After about a half hour, Maddy and I both went to Des Moines to talk to Shaylee. The entire drive there, there was nothing but silence. Maddy texted her boss to tell her what had happened. Her boss was crying, and told her to take the next week off, and more if she needed it, but to know that the entire staff was there for her support. I just held onto her the entire trip to Des Moines. As we approached Shaylee's house, my head started to hurt again. I asked Maddy to stay in the car with Amanda while I went in to talk to Shaylee. When I got into the house, Stephen was already home from work and had prepared her for some bad news (I think he knew what the news was, but did not say anything if he did...) I told Shaylee exactly the same thing I told Maddy, I just repeated the words from detective Schack; my mind was not able to think of anything else. When I told her, her respons was different from her mom and her sister: her lip quivered, her eyes filled with tears, and she held onto Stephen. I left the room to give them time together and I went to get Maddy from the car. As soon as the girls saw each other, the tears started. I have never seen Stephen cry before that night, but, this was different. I stepped outside to give the girls some time together, and to call my brother, my list living brother, to tell him the terrible news. He was speachless; I don't even really remember what he said, I just know that I asked him to let his kids, Michael, Katie and Madline, know what had happened. They were all very close to Brendan. I know that has been a long post, but I want to end it the way I started: does it get any worse than a stroke? Yes! If you don't do anything else today, tell someone close to you that you love them. Not because they don't know it, but because they have probably been told at least once that someone doesn't!
It has been almost 15 years since my stroke, so you would think that, by now, I would be readily prepared for everything that life can throw my way; but, I often forget what it's like to have a simple head cold after my stroke. Now, understand, I am not suggesting that other people don't feel bad when they have a cold; it is just that it is different for a stroke survivor. Maybe some of the other stroke survivors feel the same way: many times when I get a head cold with the congestion, suffy nose, fever, etc., it begins to feel like I'm having a stroke again. For those who don't know what this is like, let me try to explain. I get up at night, whether to go to the bathroom or some other reason, and I feel completely disoriented for a few seconds. Not like I'm groggy, but that I feel the room is spinning, I can't tell which direction I am going, I forget where the bathroom is for an instant, things like that. On the first day of this last cold, I was going down