A tribute to my friend Glen
When you strip away everything that doesn’t really matter, you are left with people. Family. Friends. Other humans. Connections between us, some deep and long, some fleeting but remarkable. And every now and then, if you are really lucky, you get a friendship that is both deep and remarkable, which changes you forever, which fills your life with laughter and stories, and makes you a better person for knowing the other. That’s how it was with my friend Glen.
Five weeks ago Glen passed away, aged 39, and the world is a sadder place for it. But in writing about him, and writing a tribute to him, I am determined to find something I can hold onto, a fragment of goodness and hope that I can carry with me in the years ahead, as I grow older, and as his tiny daughter grows up.
I have put off writing this particular post for a while. I guess it was because deep down I thought writing it would mean that I have accepted that one of my dearest friends has left us. Even as I write this I get a shiver all over my body. I still don’t want it to be true.
Firstly, let me tell you a little bit about Kleanthis Kostandinos Lamaris or as everyone came to know him ‘Glen’.
When I moved to Cheadle Hulme (a village located in Greater Manchester, England) aged eight, Glen was the first person I met. We were both at Summer School for a week. When I clapped eyes on him, the first thing I thought was, “Wow, this kid must be at least five years older than me.” Glen was of Greek Cypriot descent and was a man mountain of a child, although it turned out we were the same age.
All that week I laughed and played and felt very much at home, all thanks to Glen. Even though I was only eight years old, I had already been to six schools, as my Dad moved around a lot with work. So change was something I was getting quite used to, but I can honestly say that no one has ever made me feel so comfortable so quickly. This was a particular gift of his.
Although we went to different junior schools, we ended up at the same senior school at 11, by which time Glen had grown a hairy chest and beard. I was still waiting for my first facial hair. Glen’s appearance made him different to other first years, so he was at first a target for some of the older kids in school. But that didn’t last long as he stood up for himself and literally sent them flying. He only did it to defend himself and his brother and he never had to do it again.
One of the greatest lessons he taught me was, “Just because you can, it doesn’t mean you have to”. As a teenager that took some self-control. There were many times over the next 10 years when people wanted to test themselves against him. I always thought this was foolish as his hands were huge, I mean like shovels. But he never once gave into their mocking and immaturity. He was a already a man in every sense of the word.
During our teenage years, eight of us formed a bond of friendship which is still as strong today, even if we don’t see each other nearly as often as we should.
Some of us went off to Uni and others chose to learn a trade. Glen decided to learn carpentry and eventually became a joiner. It was something he truly loved doing. I have never met a harder-working man. He would finish his shift and then drop everything to help put some wooden floors down, install kitchens or hang doors for a friend.
Glen wasn’t perfect, and I’m glad. His imperfections were some of his best parts, and they made us laugh until tears streamed down our faces. He could never get musical lyrics or famous sayings correct, but the Glen version was always funnier, and those are now moments that I will now treasure forever.
He even found time to be a Slimming World Consultant. This is something I know he adored. He loved helping and motivating others and seeing them fulfill goals they didn’t think were possible.
The greatest test of faith came when he and his wife Cheryl tried for what seemed an eternity to have a child. They never wavered from the fact that they would be parents. His strength and belief was immense. They waited 12 years until their determination and persistence eventually paid off and little Sophia was born. He was the proudest of Dads.
Soon after Sophia’s birth Glen fell ill. As his condition worsened it came to light that he needed a liver transplant. As he waited for a donated liver, he deteriorated to the point were he was unable to work or drive. He focused on the silver lining that he got to spend every waking moment with Sophia. She was everything to him.
The last time I spent time with Glen was at a close friend’s wedding, where Glen was one of the two best men. If I’m honest, he looked terrible that day. But he had a job to do and what a fine job he did. I found out later that he had told Cheryl that morning that if doing his best man’s speech for his best friend was the last thing he did then he would be happy. It turned out that it was to be the last thing he did. Later that night he was admitted to hospital and that was the last I ever saw of him.
So how do you find any sort of hope in a story like this? Well, at first I struggled. I just couldn’t believe that such an amazing person had gone. I have thought about little else over the past few weeks and the ‘frailty of life’ has become very prominent in my thoughts, along with recognising how precious my family and friends are to me.
At a time I could barely concentrate on work, I had the realisation that what we do is actually more important than ever. I want to enjoy my family and friends whilst they are here, I want us to create a life we love and help others do the same. We don’t know how long we have and we take so many great things for granted.
This in turn got me thinking about what ‘Doing What You Love’ really means. This question comes up a lot but there isn’t one easy answer.
Over the years I have changed my mind several times about how best to define it. Is it a mindset? I believe so. Is it an attitude? Yes. But what Glen’s passing reminded me is that it also has to be authentic. Doing What You Love means something very different to each and every one one of us. It is a unique acceptance of everything we are. And it is not until we truly accept who we are and recognise what makes us happy that we can hope to achieve it.
Glen did this with ease. He was the man he was born to be. He was kind, hugely generous, funny, caring, loving and many things more. He was a husband, father, brother, uncle, friend and confidante. He touched the lives of so many by just being himself and doing it his way. I will always remember him as a wonderful friend and most importantly of all a ‘Gentle-man’.
Glen, I love you and I miss you but I am also very glad to call you my friend, and grateful for the clarity you have given me in recent days.
Rest In Peace, buddy.
And to you – please don’t let your life slip by, or waste it doing things that don’t make you happy. Enjoy your friends and family, and all the gifts this world has to offer.
Until next time,
PS – Glen didn’t get a liver donated in time, but he might have done had one more person been signed up to the national organ donation register. Please take a moment to sign yourself up and offer the greatest gift to someone else after you have gone. Did you know one person’s donated organs can save the lives of up to EIGHT people? That’s amazing. If you live in a country where organ donation is on an opt-in basis as it is here, I’d really encourage you to consider registering as a donor too. It only takes a minute and it could literally save someone’s life. You can sign up here: UK / USA / Australia / Google for other countries!