Glen - a survivor against all odds; an example to all.
“Oh no,” my mother exclaimed. “I’ll be right there.”
She came away from our ham radiophone with face pale and eyes in shock.
“You girls will have to stay with your aunt Beatrice. Glen has polio and I have to go help your grandma.” She hurried off to pack a few things.
Even though I was only 11, I knew that polio was serious. People who had polio often died and when they did not, they were crippled for life. I felt sad for Glen. At 16, he was very athletic and loved to go outside the log house his dad built on their modest farm and kick the ball around with his older brothers. Sometimes, he would hoist me or my younger sister onto his bike handles and drive us down the gravel road that stretched out in front of the house towards town. How I loved the crackle of the pebbles beneath the tires.
When mom returned home at the end of the week, it was not good news that she brought with her.
“Glen is very sick,” she said. “He is in the hospital and chances are he might not make it.” She looked haggard and I gave her a hug although I knew that I couldn’t change Glen’s diagnosis by that small gesture. Despite how she felt she still smiled at me and gave me a hug back.
The next few weeks were spent in hopes and prayer and phone calls back and forth between mom and grandma. Finally, mom said we would all go to visit Glen. He had pulled through and would live.
“Now, remember girls,” mom said as we drove the 90 miles to the big city and the hospital where Glen was to call home for the next few years, “be friendly and don’t stare. Glen is paralyzed and can’t move but we don’t want to make him feel bad.”
We nodded our heads vigorously. Even though Glen was also a big tease, we loved him and we wanted him back as the Glen we knew.
In the hospital, Glen was lying pale on his bed and even though paralyzed, he could still talk and smile. It was odd to not see him gallivanting around as we were so accustomed. But his cheerfulness and impish Irish mischievousness still shone through.
“Glen never complains,” my grandma told my mom one day months later. And that was true. On the many visits that we made he was always joking and smiling.
He never regained the use of his legs and could never walk or run again but he did have the use of one arm and hand, could turn his head, move his shoulders and had partial use of the other arm. The wheelchair became his mode of transport and we became accustomed to seeing him thus at all the family gatherings.
Glen was never a sorrowful cripple but finished high school and went on to do College courses and became an accountant. He married Jenny, his nurse, and even learned to drive a car with special controls built in.
We were all pleased when he and Jenny had their first baby - about the same time that I had my first child. Glen smiled throughout the birth of the next 2 babies as well. They bought a house and sent their kids off to school and then to College. Glen never complained or asked for sympathy but was always there to joke and laugh and enjoy life along with the rest of us. Jenny was there for him and encouraged him to do things for himself as much as possible.
Years passed by as they usually do and in his early 60’s Glen got sick again. He had cancer. This time he did not make it through. The many operations he had to undergo and the toll of the polio had weakened his body.
Nevertheless, he had lived a full life and kept his spirits high to set an example for the rest of us who may have, on the occasion, felt sorry for ourselves or depressed. His life was perhaps more meaningful than he might have known due to those lives he touched in passing.
For his memorial service I wrote a poem:
GLEN – IN MEMORIUM
Deep in space
A star shone
And it was bright
Until some cloud,
Unsolid though it was,
I knew it wasn’t gone
But blinking still:
A lovely being - you!
And when the clouds
I know I’ll find
Not less the shine
But greater brilliancy
Through having won.