Man sits in front of lit candle

Threads of Life family member Joe Legge lit a candle on behalf of all those who cope with life-altering injuries. Candles were also lit on behalf of families coping in the aftermath of fatalities, represented by Virginia Campeau, and those affected by occupational disease, represented by Shawna Harroun.

Candles were glowing across the country as Threads of Life’s first virtual Reflections Ceremony joined hearts and memories on an October afternoon. You could almost feel the warmth from all those flames on kitchen tables, desks, mantels and window sills from coast to coast.

The Reflections Ceremony is the traditional opening to every Threads of Life family forum, an opportunity to unite family members and guests in honouring changed lives. For 2020, since in-person family forums weren’t possible, staff did all they could to replicate the ceremony online.

Guest speakers representing Canada’s health and safety system spoke of the pain and courage of those participating in the ceremony, but also of the need to prevent future tragedies.

“Events like this drive us even harder to prevent further tragedies in the workplace,” said Jeff Dirksen, Assistant Director for Claims Operations with the Saskatchewan WCB. “They are also an opportunity to commit ourselves to doing everything possible to ensure our workplaces are safe, so that each worker has the opportunity to come home to their loved ones at the end of the work day,” he said.

“We can make our workplaces healthier and safer,” added Elizabeth Witmer, Chair of the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board in Ontario. To those affected by tragedy, Witmer said, “I hope you will feel that others are trying to understand … our hearts are with you; our compassion is with you.”

Stuart MacLean, CEO of the Workers’ Compensation Board of Nova Scotia expressed his personal commitment to ending workplace injuries, illnesses and deaths. He added that as Chair of the Board for the Association of Workers’ Compensation Boards of Canada, he knows that commitment is shared by all the compensation boards across the country. He also emphasized the connections that are created through Threads of Life.

“The most important thing is that the people on this call need the support of each other. They need to understand the potential and just how things can be a little bit better,” MacLean said. “It’s where we go from here that’s really important.”

Threads of Life family member Bill Stunt illustrated the truth of all these points as he shared the story of his son Karl, who died after being struck on the head while working on a ski lift. Karl was not a risk-taker, Bill explained, but had just started this job and hadn’t been properly trained. Bill talked about the long road of grief and healing his family has travelled. Today, Bill is the chair of the Threads of Life board of directors, as well as a volunteer speaker.

The centerpiece of the Reflections Ceremony was the moving presentation of photos and names of those affected by work-related fatalities, life-altering injuries and occupational disease. Read by Executive Director Shirley Hickman and Family Support Manager Karen Lapierre Pitts, the names included those whose tragedies occurred just months ago, and those whose journey stretches across years and decades. Through the ceremony, all these families share their journey and travel together.

The ceremony honoured more than 70 families, but it represented thousands more whose lives are changed forever by illness, injury and death. The candles lit at the start of the ceremony, Shirley explained, are a symbol of hope and healing for all of those individuals and families.

“Darkness cannot overcome light, but light can always prevail in the dark,” Shirley said. “The candle flame brings warmth where there wasn’t before. The candle’s flame always reaches upward and its brightness gives us a source of strength and guidance.”

Susan Haldane