Western Virtual Family Forum

Each year, families affected by a workplace tragedy from Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, British Columbia, Yukon and Northwest Territories will reunite for a weekend of support and healing at the Western Family Forum. This year, we’ll gather virtually.

When you are coping with a serious workplace injury, an occupational disease, or the aftermath of a workplace fatality, you may be feeling very alone. No one understands what you’re going through. Friends and family think you should get over it, get on with your life, get back to normal. But your normal is gone. We get it.

An open laptop with screen reading Join Us OnlineBy attending the Western Virtual Family Forum, you will gain:
• Greater understanding of your loss and its impact
• Strategies for coping and healing
• A new network of individuals who have had similar experiences
• The assurance that you’re not alone!

In the past, Threads of Life family forums have been in person. For 2021, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, we will host an online event.

The weekend will open with a Reflections Ceremony, offering an opportunity to honour lives forever changed. Workshops are focused on topics that support hope, healing, and ways to cope for families affected by a workplace tragedy.

Each participant can sign up for a combination of sessions. There is no charge to attend, for families in Western Canada affected by workplace tragedy. Sessions are intended for those 14 years of age and older. Please note the times below and that there are two sessions being offered during each time block on Saturday and Sunday. Threads of Life reserves the right to make changes or cancellations as necessary. Session availability is dependant on registration numbers.

Friday, 24 September, 2021

6:00 – 8:00 p.m. MDT

Reflections Ceremony

One of the most moving and impactful features of a Threads of Life Family Forum is our Reflections Ceremony. It is here that we collectively honour our loved ones, injured family members, and those living with an occupational disease. We take time out of our busy lives to reflect on the past and present, so families can move further into their futures.

The ceremony will also include a powerful presentation by one of our Threads of Life family members, sharing their experience of workplace tragedy. 

Saturday, 25 September, 2021

9:00 – 11:30 a.m. MDT

The Spirituality of Loss - Roy Ellis, Therapist/Author

Many of us come to believe that a healthy spiritual life is one free of pain and suffering. But again and again, as we work on growth through our religious faith or our secular or philosophical belief systems, we find ourselves falling back into old patterns and becoming self-disappointed. What if our deepest spirituality occurs exactly where we meet loss and pain? What if the only route to a deep connection with self, community and God/Truth is through the struggles, losses and disturbances of everyday life. If this is the case, growth is not a product of ridding ourselves of problems, but our raw experience of our problems. This workshop invites participants to rethink their ideas about spiritual growth, grief and pain.

Roy Ellis is a therapist, author and speaker in Nova Scotia. Roy brings 30 years of practice working with grief, trauma, sudden loss, He provides frontline support for private, government and community organizations which have experienced an unexpected death, tragedy or workplace disaster. He is the Bereavement Coordinator with the Integrated Palliative Care Service of the Nova Scotia Health Authority where he meets the psycho-spiritual needs of the dying and grieving. He is a Certified Spiritual Care Practitioner (CSCP) with The Canadian Association for Spiritual Care, and received his Masters of Divinity from Queen’s University. Roy has worked extensively with many organizations including Threads of Life, facilitating sessions at family forums, volunteer training, and contributing articles. Learn more at royfellis.com

Music Therapy for Wellness - Mackenzie Costron, Certified Music Therapist and Registered Counselling Therapist

The process of freeing up the future begins by looking back—because how you perceive your past influences how your future unfolds. In this session, you’ll be guided through reflection exercises, accompanied with live music, to help find patterns in what made you feel great (and not so great) in the recent past.

Mackenzie Costron is a Certified Music Therapist with the Canadian Association of Music Therapists and Registered Counselling Therapist with the Nova Scotia College of Counselling Therapists practicing in the Halifax, NS area through Find Your Voice Music Therapy. She specializes in working with mental health, grief, loss, and bereavement with teens, adults and seniors.

12:30 – 3:00 p.m. MDT

Life is a Gift: Finding Happiness After Loss - Karen Lapierre Pitts, Manager, Family Support

Grief and happiness often cause conflict from deep within: happiness after loss can feel like an internal battle. For many of us the ‘happy” word is now difficult to define. While it is normal to have many emotions all at the same time when grieving a life altering loss- it often feels uncomfortable and contradictory. Grief is a messy place; a significant loss is painful, difficult & life changing. It’s normal to struggle with feelings of guilt, anger & bitterness, but what about those moments when you should feel joy or happiness?  It doesn’t seem right anymore. You may be thinking, will I ever feel happy again?

On February 9, 2000, Karen’s family suffered from a traumatic workplace tragedy. Karen has been part of Threads of Life for many years and is currently the organization’s family support manager working directly with families. She is also an active Family Guide and member of the Speaker’s Bureau. Threads of Life helps families heal after they are affected by a workplace fatality, life-altering injury or occupational disease. It is currently working with more than 3,200 family members from across Canada. Threads of Life promotes public awareness and accountability for workplace health and safety. Its mission is to lead and inspire a culture shift where work-related injuries and illnesses are morally, socially and economically unacceptable. Many things have changed in Karen’s family’s life since that fateful day.

When a Workplace Tragedy Hits Home - Wynny Sillito, Family Member, Health & Safety Specialist

This session will explore the impact of workplace tragedy on an entire family or support system as an individual lives with a life-altering injury or occupational illness. We will discuss the effects as they trickle from the worker, who came home from work one day a changed person, to everyone in their family unit. We will discuss the ripple effect tragedy can have through the ill or injured worker to their loved ones, and even through the loved ones to others. The struggles pertaining to everyday life with an injured/ill person and how they can affect any of their relationships. While we can’t change the event itself, we can work together to help one another along the healing journey. This session will include group discussions and sharing, as comfortable.

Wynny Sillito is a Safety Specialist who works to inspire people to believe in the importance of workplace health and safety programs through sharing her personal experiences with workplace safety, or lack thereof. Throughout her career, she has been involved closely with a number of serious workplace incidents, though none more influential than her own personal experience with workplace tragedy.

On a winter day in 2011, Wynny went to work as an EMT-A prepared to save others, but could never have foreseen the events of that day, and how they would change her life forever. In sharing her experiences, Wynny works to educate and empower others to make workplaces safer, to prevent other workers and their families from sharing a similar experience.

5:00 – 7:30 p.m. MDT

Supporting Your Children through Stressful Times - Karen Simmonds, Grief Educator

Yes, you can play outside today; No, we can’t have friends over; Yes, you have to wear a mask; No, you are not going to the school today; No, there will be no birthday party; Yes, parks are open; No, parks are closed; Yes, we will get back to normal again; No, we do not know when!!

Children are not immune to stress and it can appear in many forms. Explosive emotions, anxiety, depression, or fearfulness are just of the few emotions felt by kids of all ages. During our time together we explore how to calm fears, keep the peace and manage stress while deepening your understanding of children’s grief and related behaviours. Please bring your questions and concerns!

Karen is a grief companion and educator whose personal journey and companioning the bereaved have taught her the importance of respecting and honouring the multifaceted needs of those who have experienced loss. Karen is now retired from clinical practice and feels privileged to continue sharing her teachings of the last two decades with others and especially with you here today.

Noticing the Negativity Bias - Shirley Hickman, Executive Director & Sharon Freeman, Coordinator

Our brain is always changing and we have the opportunity to make new pathways in our thinking.  Learn to say “no” and change your brain pathway to create space for a positive emotional state.  We can create a positive emotional state when we are happy, relaxed and curious.  Let’s share ideas and explore our paths.

Shirley Hickman never expected to be leading a national organization dedicated to helping people affected by tragedies in the workplace. Trained as a nurse, she was happily married and raising a family in the late 1990s. That is when tragedy struck, and Shirley’s life, along with her family’s, were changed forever. Since that time, she has focused on making a difference in workplace health and safety. In 2003, Shirley co-founded Threads of Life and is currently the Executive Director. Shirley is also the proud grandma of two amazing young girls.

Sharon has been involved with Threads of Life since the death of her stepdaughter Amanda Peat in 2000. Sharon works for Threads of Life as a Coordinator and is also an active volunteer in her community as well as with Threads of Life as a founding member, speaker, and volunteer family guide.

Sunday, 26 September 2021

9:00 – 11:30 a.m. MDT

How To Talk To Strangers About Threads of Life - Susan Haldane, Manager Communications and Marketing

Are you shy or hesitant when it comes to talking to friends, neighbours or strangers about your involvement in Threads of Life? In this session we’ll tackle the “elevator pitch”, a quick formula for getting those important messages out. Together we’ll figure out what you can say to help spread the word to other families who may need support, and to potential Threads of Life volunteers and partners.

A journalism graduate and former newspaper reporter, Susan worked in communications, marketing, and product and program development for Ontario’s workplace health and safety associations for 17 years and joined Threads of Life in 2012 as the Communications & Marketing Manager. Susan lives near North Bay, Ontario, where she operates a farm with her husband.

Yoga and Self-Care - Morgan Story, Yoga Instructor, Reiki Practitioner, Yoga Studio Owner

Join us for a gentle healing yoga flow, where we move the body to release physical tension in the mind and body.  As well as learn different healing tools and techniques that assist in removing emotional blockages and balancing emotions.

Morgan Story is a certified yoga instructor who gained her 500h certification through Blue Heron Yoga Studio in 2015. She has also since then furthered her yoga education by taking some additional certifications including Yoga For seniors, Reiki level 1 and 2, among many other workshops. She has recently opened up her own Yoga Studio in Guelph Ontario called Karma Yoga Studio. Morgan also helps certify yoga instructors at Yoga City Mississauga in teaching the courses on Meditation, Ayurveda and Seniors Yoga. She has a strong passion for self care and teaching it to others.

12:30 – 3:00 p.m. MDT

Listen from your Heart, Not your Ears. - Shirley Hickman, Executive Director & Kelley Thompson, Administrator

We have intimate wisdom to improve our most important relationships and make genuine connections with people through the art of listening. By avoiding letting anger, anxiety, and fear of being hurt impede our ability to listen, we can transform what is inside our heart and within the space around us.

Shirley Hickman never expected to be leading a national organization dedicated to helping people affected by tragedies in the workplace. Trained as a nurse, she was happily married and raising a family in the late 1990s. That is when tragedy struck, and Shirley’s life, along with her family’s, were changed forever. Since that time, she has focused on making a difference in workplace health and safety. In 2003, Shirley co-founded Threads of Life and is currently the Executive Director. Shirley is also the proud grandma of two amazing young girls.

Kelley was born and raised in London, Ontario where she lives with her husband and two children and works as an Administrative Assistant at the Threads of Life London office. She is the friendly voice on the other end of the phone when you call! Kelley has a background in retail management and training and in her spare time actively volunteers with Girl Guides of Canada and the Salvation Army Christmas Hamper program in London.

Men Only - Darrin Parkin, Spiritual Care Clinician

Men often experience grief differently than women, sometimes because there is an expectation that men remain “strong,” keeping their feelings to themselves. Despite this social expectation, men still need to grieve and express their feelings, typically in settings that are safe, supportive, and judgment-free. This workshop will provide such an environment, offering a safe setting for men to explore their experiences of loss and grief and to support one another. There will be some questions to guide the conversation, but the participants’ stories will provide the main focus of our time together.

Darrin Parkin is the Spiritual Care Clinician at the High River General Hospital serving patients, residents, families and staff members during times of health crisis. He has been a Hospice and end of life and bereavement Chaplain, and for many years was a Prison Chaplain in Alberta as well as a college instructor and conference speaker.

You’re not alone. Join other families of workplace tragedy who “get it.”