By Trudi Belrose
Glen Slater normally has a jam-packed life, or he did pre-COVID. An advocate for People First Huntsville, he also volunteered at a seniors’ luncheon, and swam a couple of times a week. He would let loose after all that hard work on Wednesday evenings when he joined the guys at the On The Docks Pub for open mic night.
Glen lives the life of a normal guy, but sometimes people don’t see this because of the wheelchair he uses. There are others though, who see past the chair and embrace Glen for the funny, enthusiastic and supportive guy he is, and gain one of those valuable friendships we all need to get us through rough days like the ones COVID-19 has brought.
One of the friends Glen made at open mic night is local musician Michael ‘Mighty Lopez’ Phillips. When asked about his friendship with Glen, Mike says, “Sean Cotton [the host of open mic night at On the Docks Pub]and I often talk about how we feel like healers in a way, community therapists, by sharing the love of music. It’s such a joy to watch people come alive, whether they can sing or not, as they belt out their favorite song, Sean and I backing them up, prodding them onward. That’s where I met Glen. He was already a regular when I moved to town four years ago and started sitting in at the pub. The obvious pleasure he gets out of singing, the trance he falls into watching somebody else sing a song he knows, it’s incredibly rewarding to be a part of that. Music is that connection between humanity and the divine, tribal and primal.”
Mike and Glen’s shared love of music grew into a friendship. “After a year or so of chatting at the pub, Glen invited me to his birthday party and it was clear he considered me a friend, as I did him,” Mike recalls. “Shortly thereafter we made plans to see a concert at Rama, something we’ve done twice now. I try to get him tickets to the Muskoka Rock Choir at the Algonquin Theatre every season, and he’s come out to the legion to see my band play. He’s kinda become my biggest fan, and who doesn’t love that support!”
Much like everyone else, Glen’s world became much smaller when COVID-19 resulted in a state of emergency and all those things stopped. When asked how he feels about having to stay home, Glen talks about what he misses: “Swimming, the pub. I haven’t been to the pub for awhile, drinking pop, seeing Mike, Sean and Dan. I miss those guys. I miss singing, I had a nice time. It’s good.”
Even though he is missing those social connections, Glen focuses on the positive. “I got a nice house, [I] help do laundry, people visit me outside.” Glen calls the visits where people drop by and talk to him through the window of his sun porch ‘window visits’.
His friend Mike has been dropping by for window visits to help keep each other’s spirits up. “The isolation of this pandemic has been hard on people. I’m sure everyone is experiencing some mental distress issues of varying degrees. I know us performers are being deprived not only of our livelihoods, but our means of expression. I’ve often said what little mental health I can claim comes from connecting with people through music. It’s my therapy. Unfortunately, live performance, as we knew it, will be slow to recover.”
For Mike, reaching out is more important than ever during COVID-19. “I heard through a mutual friend that Glen was having a hard time coping with the lack of social activity, so I made a point of dropping by to say hi. It’s important that we take care of each other through these times. If there’s a silver lining to any of this it’s a strong feeling of community, people with nowhere to go and nothing to do but chat with their neighbors. Huntsville is a great community that I’m so proud to be a part of. Glen and the people I’ve met around him are a huge part of that.”
Some of the people around Glen are friends from his social events, colleagues from his volunteer activities and paid staff. While friends and colleagues add the colour and spirit to Glen’s life, he uses paid staff to help him navigate the community. It’s important to Glen that staff find ways to help him feel confident he can safely access things like the library, pub, and of course the hot tub. And more importantly, that they ensure he is a full participant in the things he does. Rather than just doing things for Glen, staff find ways to help him be independent by giving him the information and tools to help him use his voice to make choices for himself. Staff model for other community members how to see past the chair and treat Glen with the respect every adult is entitled to in our community. Ultimately, it means staff making sure Glen is the hero of his own story and not them.
So what will life look like for Glen in the coming months? It’s difficult to say these days. Fortunately, the musicians in our community have come together to lift our spirits with social distancing concerts after months of dealing with COVID-19. Glen was in the crowd at the fairgrounds to cheer his buddies on during the drive-in Tragically Hip tribute. Rock on, Glen.
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