The unforgettable day that changed my life was August 27, 1998. That day, my husband, Dick Van Rooyen was killed while working on Highway 401 with his road construction crew. A young driver who fell asleep at the wheel crashed into Dick as he was placing pylons to change driving lanes. Two policemen informed me of his death and I was in shock. We had been married 36 years and now I was a widow. My grown children and grandchildren were without a father and grandfather. A court case and an inquest the following year brought some safety changes to work performed on highways. I became involved with road safety, first with the Ontario Advisory Group on Road Safety and then with the Sarnia Lambton Safe Roads Committee. My goal was to make drivers aware of their responsibility on the roadways in honour of Dick’s memory. Then, in 2002, I moved to St. Mary’s with my new husband, Fred Webley.
Fred was retired from the building construction field. In the past, he had worked with asbestos, and he suffered from mesothelioma, a work-related lung disease. I became aware of Shirley Hickman and the beginnings of Threads of Life and the travelling LifeQuilt. Fred and I participated in the second Steps for Life walk held on Toronto’s Ward Island. This group understood the value of workplace safety! We felt a kindred spirit with them.
Fred and I became part of the first group to be trained to become Volunteer Family Guides, and later I become a volunteer speaker. The training was heartfelt and meaningful and left me feeling uplifted. The training has proved helpful for the years of connecting with new widows to provide peer support. Because Fred had also become a Volunteer Family Guide, I could discuss my phone calls with him and he became my local support. I also was a speaker at various health and safety meetings and at a few Steps for Life walks.
The highlight of the year was the annual Family Forums; we both loved them. To see old friends again and make new ones, plus to discuss issues at the various workshops were wonderful experiences. It was a place to be supported but also to support others. As we aged, we no longer drove all over the province, and I gave up the role of being a speaker and Volunteer Family Guide. When Fred reached his 80th year, he was hospitalized for a week. Then he enjoyed a few years of relative good health. That changed in the summer of 2020 when COVID was rampant. Fred was diagnosed with cancer and passed away September 20th. I was a widow again, and his family were without a father and grandfather. We had been married for 18 years.
There were no in-person Family Forms during the pandemic, but there were Zoom sessions. It was better than nothing at all and kept us in touch. However, in the fall of 2022, Family Forum in Central Canada again was a reality and I was thrilled to attend it. A member from London, Ontario offered me a ride. This was my first time attending without Fred. It was so gratifying to see my old friends in person, to talk to new ones and to be part of this caring group.
Thankfully, Threads of Life is national in its outreach and offers Family Forums in the Atlantic, Central Canada and in the West. The Threads of Life newsletter contains personal stories of loss and heartbreak but also of courage and resolve after involvement with the Threads of Life volunteers and support. As we honour the organization’s 20th anniversary, my hope is that this wonderful association will continue to offer support along with the many partnerships and the many volunteers.