Two framed photos on a wall. One contains a quilt square with a young man's face encased in outstretched hands. The text reads Tim Hickman, 20, and there is an old newspaper clipping. The other holds two girls' school pictures  in the corner of a plaque that reads "My greatest blessings call me Grandma."

Every day as I work I look at photos of Tim and my granddaughters, and they remind me why I do what I do.

Threads of Life is a charity still in its infancy, but as we enter our 20th year, it is important to reflect on what we have learned from the past and how to plan for the future. So how does an organization like Threads of Life get started? For me it was a commitment to do something positive and productive with my love for our son, Tim. When Tim went to work, Saturday, March 23, 1996, we were all planning how to celebrate his 21st birthday in a couple of days. His friends were planning to celebrate that evening. Never did it cross our minds we would all be gathering in a small hospital waiting room.

When Tim died, our family was cared for with love from our extended family and the many community organizations we were connected with. As the months and years went on, we found the health and safety partners already knew family members would benefit with an opportunity to connect with each other to share stories and experiences. These system partners also knew there was an important missing piece in the prevention of future workplace injuries, illnesses and deaths. That piece is the very personal story so many family members now have. 

In Tim’s youth, his favourite sport was hockey, playing goalie. I was not a good hockey mom and could not understand why he chose that position. So getting a part-time job in a city arena was a natural fit, while still going to college. Tim was not sure what he wanted to do upon graduation, but I am sure it would be something to do with caring for people. He was always there when someone needed something.

Tim is our second child. His older brother, Michael honours Tim in his own way, as does his dad, Bob. Like other families, we each seem to have found our own unique way. Bob and Michael each enjoy woodworking and seeing their projects come to fruition. Michael, a pilot, has shared he reflects on Tim’s life when he is flying and helping others. Our family has grown and we are fortunate to have Sandra as our daughter-in-law. I think of her as a daughter. We are blessed to be able to watch our granddaughters Hailey and Jocelyn grow and they are now both teenagers. They both hear the safety messages often. We did encourage safety with our boys also, however we were not prepared when tragedy hit home. Our granddaughters learn of Tim’s life through the stories we share. They do or say something funny, and we say ‘uncle Tim may have done the same’.

In the late 1990s all the Canadian health and safety partners were exploring how to decrease injuries, particularly to young workers. Our family was invited to participate in a couple of those meetings and slowly awareness grew that the voice of family members had a place. Together we met and developed the vision and mission statements for an organization. 

Each of the provincial WCBs reached out to a few family members of young workers who’d been injured or killed at work. In spring 2003 we met in Toronto to explore what they felt would benefit their own family and others. Out of that meeting grew Threads of Life – the Association for Workplace Family Tragedy Support.

Since 1996 I have had so many opportunities. I have met family members who, like our family, felt not just the grief of a death, injury or illness, but the many, many challenges of the unknown system of investigations and the legal process. I see those family members learn to honour their grief productively, find healthy ways to cope, and many become volunteers to ensure the organization is here for other family members. I have met so many passionate system partners and employers, who all believe in our vision. Sometimes my heart feels overwhelmed.

We all know that there is much more to do to ensure that all workers come home safe and well at the end of their shift. Threads of Life’s strategic plan drives us to continue to partner with government and OHS system partners, employers and organizations that share a common vision. We want every Canadian family who has been affected by a workplace tragedy – life-altering injury, occupational disease or fatal injury – to be aware of the programs and services of Threads of Life. We want to ensure that as Threads of Life grows we have our financial and human resources in place to manage. I believe we will if we continue to think as we have since our beginning. I have always reminded our staff and volunteers: it is like building a house – you start with a strong foundation. We have been doing that and will continue to reinforce that foundation.

I have always volunteered since I was a teenager. I enjoy seeing individuals gain new skills and confidence. I continue to volunteer each week at my local hospital as an opportunity to help people in a time of stress. When I get a smile or seem to help them pass some time, that is my reward. Hence, I know and appreciate each volunteer for Threads of Life – no matter what role or time you have.

Daily we hear or feel the passion that our family members and each partner bring. Together we all keep the vision in front of us – Threads of Life will lead and inspire a culture shift as a result of which work-related injuries, illnesses and deaths are morally, socially and economically unacceptable. You have all shown commitment during the past 20 years. You ask what you can do next. We need each of you to help us reach those family members who do not yet know of our programs and services. We have the tools to help you. Please let us know if you have an opportunity. We are on this journey together and I thank each of you.

Shirley Hickman