By Rose Wilson

A man smiles while hugging his dog. They are seated in the cab of a vehicle.

Justin Wilson with his favourite boy Charlie

June 21st, 2013 is a day that our family will never forget. It was a beautiful, sunny Friday and it was George’s and my 33rd wedding anniversary. I had just returned home from work for the day but George wasn’t arriving home for a few hours yet. I began puttering around the kitchen when suddenly an OPP officer showed up at our front door with news that no parent should ever hear. The officer asked if I had a son Justin and I replied yes. He informed me Justin had been in an accident. Thinking he meant a car accident, I asked what hospital Justin was at. He replied and said ‘I am sorry but Justin was in a workplace accident and passed away this morning.’ Well I think I ran to the backyard which is on Lake Simcoe, and stood on the dock ready to jump in and start swimming and never stop.

Justin was 29 years old, single, and working for a contracting company at a graphite mine in Kearney, Ontario. On the day of the accident, two turbines had been removed from the roof and insulation was applied to the open holes. The crew was in the process of removing metal sheathing to cover the holes when Justin stepped onto and through the insulation and fell 60 feet to the floor of the building. He was killed by the resulting massive trauma. Our family was changed forever.

Justin was our second-born. He has a sister Alicia who is two years older than him. Growing up they were like any other siblings, bickering, then the next minute they were the best of friends. They always had each other’s backs. Justin’s favourite sport was soccer. He began playing from the young age of four and continued into his adult years on a men’s league. He enjoyed playing the positions of forward or midfield. We as a family travelled many miles across Canada to tournaments, as far as Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and PEI. We made many wonderful family memories and close friends along the way.

Justin had a very kind heart. He always thought of others and cared for many, especially the elderly, like his grandparents. He would visit his grandmother often, just popping in to say “ok gran let’s go to Tim’s for a cup of tea” or “let’s go to Wendy’s for a burger.” I always said Justin would have been best in the culinary arts – he loved cooking and was excellent in the kitchen. He made many lovely meals for us and our guests.

After such unexpected tragedy, families often turn to people with similar experiences for grief support. Trying to navigate through such intense emotions does not come naturally, obviously. This is when our family heard of Threads of Life, which dedicates their time and efforts to support families after a workplace fatality, life-altering injury, or occupational disease. Since these situations are preventable, it is important to bring awareness to workplace safety, so that other families do not have to deal with such tragic loss.

The most unfortunate thing about a workplace illness, injury or death is that typically, awareness is not sought until it affects one directly, whether it’s a family member, friend or an acquaintance. Living in the Barrie area, our family has been fortunate enough to be surrounded by the most wonderful friends and family, who have continuously offered support while we have been navigating through the profound stages of grief over the last 10 years.

The Steps for Life walk in Barrie always has the most profound impact on our family. The outpouring of kindness as participants gather for the walk around Lakeshore Drive in Barrie to bring awareness to workplace injuries, illness and tragedies is truly great. Every year, aside from when the walk was cancelled due to COVID, we have more and more team members and supporters. The bright T-shirts along with the large group of walkers, help to show support for families that have been impacted along with the mission, vision and values that Threads of Life aims to achieve.

We hope to continue spreading awareness for workplace safety and the Threads of Life organization through the annual Steps for Life walk. Many families like ours rely heavily on the programs offered to assist them through their grief and loss. Over the years, Thread of Life has not only become a heavily relied upon organization for individuals in need but, through the programs, many people have become each other’s family of support. Grief is a universal experience, although it affects everyone differently. Especially when a loss is sudden and traumatic, coping in the aftermath can seem impossibly difficult. It can certainly help when those searching so desperately for comfort during a period of such deep loss can connect with those who are on the same path to healing or already further along in their healing journey.