A Nomad’s Notes: In memory of Mike Brewer

On Sunday night, as I typed up notes for work, I saw a Facebook post from Julie Brewer of Leland announcing her husband, Mike Brewer, who became a local legend for living out his dreams while receiving palliative care, had passed away.

I cried hard as if I had lost an immediate family member. Both times I interviewed the Brewers I left feeling as if I had just visited family or friends.

I first heard about Mike when my editor let me know she’d received an email from Lower Cape Fear Hospice about a man who’d knocked an item off his bucket list in the form of flight. I told her I wanted the story.

So on Jan. 22, I drove up to Leland to talk to Mike and Julie about the experience. I could not have felt more welcome at a home than if they had put out sheets and a pillow and invited me to stay the night. Julie’s resilience and excitement shone through in everything she told me.

She told me about Mikes’ diagnoses of tworare autoimmune disorders: scleroderma and mix connective tissue disease, interstitial lung disease and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease and stage four prostate cancer. She told me about his road to maintaining his quality of life, including chemotherapy and radiation.

But even more than that, she told me about the thrills Mike was able to enjoy thanks to Julie and Lower Cape Fear Hospice.

As soon as Mike received his diagnosis, Julie said, she told him it was time to make a bucket list. And even though Mike was a quiet guy, she convinced him to put two items on his list: to fly and to meet Eddie Van Halen.

Cape Fear Lower Hospice was able to schedule a helicopter tour with High Tide Helicopters in Oak Island on New Year’s Eve. That Saturday, Mike, Julie, their 17-year-old son Zackery and their tour guide, pilot Jessica Ward, took to the skies to give Mike a view he’d never seen before, which he described to me as, and I quote, “pretty awesome.”

The highlight of the flight was spotting a whale in the waters, which I’m told by my mom, the Internet and the TV show “The Office” is far rarer in the Atlantic Ocean than on the West Coast.

I believe with all my heart God put that whale in the Brewers’ view for Mike. Nothing will convince me otherwise.

During the interview, Mike was quiet, which I expected and understood. But when he did speak, he was incredibly kind and strong, and his wise words stuck with me, so much so that I still have my recording of the interview.

After I learned of his passing, I listened to his voice once more. Words like, “If it wasn’t for family, this would’ve done been over, as far as I’m concerned. You have to have family in your life to … they’ve just got to be there, or you’re not going to make it through anything. ... But that’s been my saving grace,” and “But stop and just soak everything in every once in a while and just take a minute for yourself. You don’t have to take it for anybody else but yourself.”

I remembered that after that first interview with the family, I knew deep down someone would find a way for Mike to meet Eddie. There was no way they wouldn’t.

I was proven right a few weeks later when Julie told me the hospice was working to bring Mike and the music legend together somehow.

Like I said, deep down I knew it would happen. But I still shouted with excitement in our office’s conference room when Julie told me it was a go. I’m sure my coworkers were wondering what I was yelling about.

It meant another interview with the Brewer family in February, and I swooned over this dream come true.

Julie said the pair talked between 20 and 30 minutes. Mike was obviously excited, she said, but also characteristically calm. She said the two talked about their family and cancer, as Van Halen is a cancer survivor.

“They were literally two friends talking, just two close friend sitting there chatting,” Julie said. “He asked about myself, asked about Zack, so we kind of peeked our heads over there and Eddie’s face just lit up, just to see Mike’s family.”

Mike told me the experience was “cool,” and that Eddie seemed like he genuinely cared to hear what he had to say about his family. Julie said there was an obvious kinship. I like to think in another life the two would’ve been best friends.

As I took time on Sunday night to reflect on Mike, I also remembered writing a note to the family about how much love I felt for them. I sent it mid-week, probably April 26 or 27.  I’m not sure if it reached Mike, but I like to think no matter what, he’s seen it somehow.

I have never doubted the existence of something beyond all of us on this tiny speck in space, and I believe deep down Mike has found a peace none of us can fathom until we experience it ourselves.

I’m honored to have been able to spend time with a man who couldn’t have made it clearer that his family was the love of his life and he cherished the life he had with them. I pray the Brewers and all of Mike’s family and friends take comfort in remembering the place he had in their lives. I can honestly say Mike and his family have a place in mine.

Lindsay Kriz is a staff writerfor the Beacon. Reach her at 754-6890 or email lkriz@brunswickbeacon.com.