Sam Kuris, gives a smile while he attends to the barbecue.

Sam loved to barbecue

by Shelly Kuris

My daughter wrote a poem when she was 11. She was just 7 years old when she lost her father, my husband.

“When I close my eyes at night,
I make a wish with all my might,
that my dad will come home safe to me,
do you think that could ever be?”

Sam and I met at Fleming College in Lindsay Ontario. Although neither of us ended up working in the fields we trained in, it was a worthwhile experience because we met and fell in love. It was always Sam’s dream to go out west and after saving for a year, we packed up our belongings and headed out.

We settled in the Vancouver area and actually arrived the night of the Stanley Cup riots, so it was an interesting introduction to the city. Despite our respective families saying “we will see you in six months”, we settled, married, bought a house and had three beautiful children.

Although money was tight, we did a lot of things together as a family and life was good. When we first moved out west, Sam worked in construction. Eventually he got his welding ticket and later trained to be a Millwright, which is an industrial mechanic. He loved his job and enjoyed spending time with us. Just after our youngest was born, we bought a larger fixer-upper in the country and Sam loved our little piece of land, even though it was a lot of work and further out of the city for him to travel to work.

The day that Sam died started like any other. It was a Saturday and Sam was going to work to move equipment out of a warehouse with a fellow employee. The company was closing down their local warehouse site to save money. The warehouse sat on a very large, valuable piece of land that was being sold. Sam kissed me goodbye as he left and told me to call him, as he did every morning. That day I had an appointment with my daughter downtown and a number of errands to run. I left my oldest at home with our youngest while I did my errands. Before I left, Sam called me to tell me that things were going well and they had one more piece of equipment to move and then they would be breaking for breakfast. That was the last time I spoke to my husband.

The piece of equipment they were moving was a wrapper, a very large and heavy piece of equipment. When it was installed it had an eye on the top and was set in place with a crane. After installation, the eye was removed. The shut-down budget did not include the cost of bringing in a crane.

As a grocery warehouse, the plant had a number of forklifts that were used to pick orders. The plant had a partial exemption for seatbelts when order picking, for efficiency. Since all the forklifts at the plant had a safety feature that prevented them from operating without buckling the seatbelt, the seatbelts were disabled. Sam and his partner Mike used two forklifts in tandem, because the machine was too heavy to lift with one. They lifted the wrapper a couple inches off the floor and slowly moved across the warehouse floor towards the loading dock. Part-way across the floor, there was a seam in the concrete and when the forklifts drove over the seam, the load shifted. Sam’s forklift spun out. In accordance with the forklift training manual, Sam did not jump. Instead, he held on as the forklift spun around and he remained in the cab. Then the forklift tipped and only then, did Sam fall out and the machine landed on him, the roof of the forklift crushing his skull.

Sam and I shared a cell phone and he had it with him. Although the accident happened at approximately 10 am, I continued to do my errands, oblivious to what had happened. The police came to the door twice before I came home and my oldest, Jack, answered the door. I remember being relieved when I pulled up to the house that Sam was not home yet because I had pizza and I didn’t want him waiting for his dinner. When I came in, Jack gave me the card with the police officer’s name on it. Confused, I called and the police officer said she was heading over, telling me nothing. That was when I tried calling Sam on his cell. He didn’t answer. Then I called his friend Mike who he was working with. My husband had this frustrating habit of only putting the first name of his friends in our phone book and I called the wrong Mike. The other Mike just said, “I am so sorry, Shelly”. I remember saying, “Sorry?? Sorry about what?” And then repeating it… and he said “you mean you haven’t heard?” and then the police came to the door and I don’t really remember specifics after that except that it was terrible and shocking and awful and devastating. Jack was 11, Silver was 7 and Liam was just 4.

Afterwards was really hard. There was the practical part. We lived in a house in the country and whenever anything went wrong, Sam would fix it. I used to joke with my train buddies that our new house was like a present, every time we opened it up, we would get a surprise because nothing was simple. Now I had to figure it all out by myself. And being a single parent of three young children, devastated by the loss of their Daddy was not easy either. But the hardest part wasn’t all that. All that was just hard work. And I have never been afraid of hard work. The hardest part was not having him with me, with us. Him kissing me goodbye in the morning before going to work, calling me throughout the day to tell me he loved me, cuddling in bed at night, sharing stories. Doing things together as a family. That is the hardest part.

It is hard to believe it has been 12 years since Sam died. The journey of grief is a long one and it is different for every one of us. After Sam died, sometimes when I saw someone operating a forklift unsafely or without a seatbelt I would stop and tell them about Sam. I guess that was my anger phase. Once I did that and the receptionist asked me if my name was Shelly. She said she would go out and talk to the operator immediately. I thought then that maybe, just maybe, things could change, if she knew who I was without me telling her. Maybe I was making a difference.

My oldest, Jack, struggled a lot in his teens, despite attending many counselling sessions. For a long time he felt guilty because that day he was playing with his brother and didn’t realize something bad had happened when the police came to the door. Now he is in a good place; this year he graduated from an Aviation Flight Management Program and is working towards becoming a commercial airline pilot.

My daughter Silver, who has her Daddy’s personality, which warms my heart, wrote a poem and presented it at a Fallen Workers Day ceremony in BC. She is currently in Concurrent Education at Queens University and while she misses her dad so much, she is strong and resilient and is doing great. Liam, the baby, doesn’t remember as much and will be applying to university soon. As for me, since my life trajectory has changed so much with the loss of Sam, I decided to go back to school to become a nurse and I have been practising for two years now. The plan was to grow old with Sam and I knew I needed something to keep me engaged.

I know that Sam loved us very much and did not go to work that day intending to die on the job. He was a safe worker and had no qualms about refusing unsafe work. I believe that he believed that the worst that could happen that day was the machine would tip; he did not anticipate that the machine would spin. At the end of the day, it is still a tragedy and is one I would not wish on my worst enemy. I connected with Threads of Life approximately four years ago and I have attended Family Forums almost every year since with my daughter. This year, I decided to give back by becoming a member of the Speakers Bureau and sharing our story because even one death or workplace injury is too many.

To quote my daughter’s wish, in her poem, “I would create a workplace, where no-one would get hurt, it would be like magic, do you think it
would work?”