Calendar with dates highlighted

Canada celebrated its 150th anniversary in 2017. We heard of events we could participate in, events we could celebrate with, opportunities to explore our national parks, a website dedicated to 150 years of history, Canada 150 Ambassadors. There were 150 ParticipACTION activities we were each encouraged to try. Who knew there were that many ways we could be active?  How many of those special events or ceremonies did you or your family participate in?

We all love to celebrate special times and events. Now we are into December, when society puts a lot of emphasis and advertising into special days and events. The season of Christmas is upon us – it is a full season, as the commercials start before Hallowe’en. You go into a store and what do you see – tinsel and all kinds of ‘shiny things’ as my granddaughters like to call them, things that take your attention away from the reason you entered the store. We are encouraged to spend. The messages of ‘spend time with family and those you love’ are sprinkled in here and there. Those ones resonate closest to my heart. Then, I am left with the question – how do I include all my family in that message? Some I get to spend physical time with and some I hold in my heart. For many families across Canada, travel is not even an option, so further loneliness and longing can happen. The messages that society gives us, cause me to soul search and constantly reflect. It seems for so many that Christmas ends with a particular day, December 25. For me, I try to keep the meaning alive during the rest of the year.

How do we define family? For myself, it’s those who are close to me year-round. That includes friends who have come into my life and have supported our family at various times. I do not get to spend a particular day with them; neither do I think that I should call them on December 25. I should call them when we both have time to share. Our family was never the family that attempted to run from home to home on December 25, but to stay put and share with those closest to us. Well, that seems to bring me right back to the question, how do we celebrate special days, such as Christmas, New Year’s Day, Family Day or Valentine’s Day, Canada Day, birthdays when there is a significant emptiness in the heart? How do I fill that space? For myself, I do not try to fill the empty space, but use it to share Tim’s love with others. Does that make it easier? I do not have that answer.

I do believe there is something about not trying to avoid the pain of grief – but to work with it. When I feel the warm tears trickle down my cheeks, I try not to wipe away, but embrace their warmth and recall the very fond memories of times shared. Love never dies.

Let us get back to Canada and the celebration of the 150 years.  Today I was wondering, how many Canadian families have been affected by workplace tragedies in those years? Canada has participated in wars which have left many families with a vacant seat at the table. As Canadians, we appreciate the sacrifice that they made that allows us to have the culture we currently live with. We honour their lives when we pause and reflect on Remembrance Day. Their families reflect on many days. We are grateful for their service and for the many Canadians in the military today, who protect and serve our country.

We are thankful for the firefighters, who have fought forest fires, keeping our communities and home safe. Police officers, willing to work in a variety of very dangerous conditions to protect us. We reflect that without the farmers we would have no food on our table. Farmers live with many dangers, and may not have the opportunities for health and safety training, that working for a larger company may offer. While technology may have made their daily job easier, have they been able to keep up with understanding the risks? When we sit down to a fish dinner, do we realize that the fishing industry is one of the most deadly industries in Canada? There are the long distance truckers who are away from their family for days at a time, in order that we can have fresh produce year around, or on-time parts for the  automotive industries. The list goes on. Workers in construction who build our railroads, roads, bridges, homes, hospitals and shopping malls. Those who work in the oil and gas industries. Many of those workers leave their family members at home for weeks at a time, travel across different provinces, all in order that we can heat our homes, drive our cars, and have the transportation methods we enjoy. Those who work in retail, the medical systems, office buildings. Perhaps we think those are safe workplaces. Are they?

How Canada has grown and changed in the past 150 years, thanks to each worker and the many that gave their lives! Thank you to their families who have continued to support this country.

When I reflect on just my life – what are my experiences with work-related tragedies? Where did they start? My Dad suffered severe injuries when bomb shrapnel hit him in the chest during World War 2. Was that the beginning of my understanding? He never talked about it; I only occasionally saw the scars. Two weeks after we were married, Bob, my husband, was struck across the face and nose by a flying piece of cast iron. This caused him several eye surgeries, months off work and a change of career.  A year or so before Tim died, a close friend, who had young children, called up to say she needed help. Two police officers had just shared that her husband, a long distance truck driver, had died when another transport truck veered onto the wrong side of the road and directly into his truck.  I did not realize at the time that I would in the coming years become a founding member of a club, that wants no new members.

Over time, that is just what happened. Threads of Life came to be. Organizations and other families realized that what was missing was the family supports that may be so valuable to help each other along on our journeys. In addition, our voice for awareness and prevention has become a significant part of health and safety training.

As Canada completes the end of its 150 year as a country, we know that while we are so fortunate and have so much, Canada has much more to offer to each family. The education of our youth is so important. While health and safety awareness is built into the curriculum from kindergarten through to graduation. Is that enough? Not likely. More awareness needs to continue. Employers need to ensure that workers are safe. Worksites need to be closely looked at for risks and hazards.

What does Canada have to look forward to in the next 50 years? Many things will change. Let us hope that includes a reduction in workplace injuries, illnesses and deaths. We can bring our vision alive.

I am very grateful to each of you, for your companionship on this journey. Without the support of so many employers, organizations and mostly the family members, Threads of Life would not be about to start our 15th year of being able to support family members living with life-altering injury, occupational diseases or outcome of fatal injuries and allowing our very personal stories to be heard as part of the much needed awareness. This is still the club that no one wants to belong to, however, when tragedy occurs, they are very grateful to find a soft and welcoming spot to land. Threads of Life is your organization.

Shirley Hickman
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