Woman smilingShe is a traveler. She is a helper. She is a lover of people.

Elisa is also a mother. One of her children, her son, Jeremy Bowley, died Aug. 1, 2013. He was working with a crew setting up a wedding tent on the rain-soaked lawn of a farmhouse, when a pole for the tent contacted an overhead power line.

We have the honour of telling her story and her journey as a volunteer with Threads of Life.

HOW DID YOU FIRST COME TO KNOW ABOUT THREADS OF LIFE?

I was talking with the Ministry of Labour about their package of information and brochure about Threads of Life. I was not in the right headspace as Jeremy was killed Aug 1 and we moved on Aug 31. I desperately needed help, someone I could talk to who would fully understand what I was going through, so I filled in the questionnaire. I immediately got a one-on-one match with a Volunteer Family Guide (VFG) and found out about the November Family Forum. It was coming up quickly so I signed up for that too.

TELL ME ABOUT YOUR LOSS AND HOW FINDING THREADS OF LIFE HELPED YOU.

Jeremy died in a workplace tragedy, something that was 100 per cent preventable. Nothing made sense to me, and I had so many mixed feelings. My brain was foggy at that time, so learning about Threads of Life could have easily fallen through the cracks. I knew I was desperate for help and Threads of Life became my second family.

TELL ME ABOUT YOUR EXPERIENCES IN THREADS OF LIFE.

When I decided that a VFG match would be helpful, the coordinator advised there was another mom whose son had died, that lived not far from me. I knew we would talk by phone so it provided privacy and the space I needed.

The first phone call was longer than intended and I did so much crying because this mom and I understood one another. We connected instantly and that was such a relief. It felt like someone else, a mom, knows what I am really going through, and I could share all my emotional struggles with her. My family and friends are amazing, however they are not a mother whose son died; I shouldn’t expect them to understand.

After a couple of months I attended the Family Forum. I hoped my daughter might come along since she lost her brother, however she was not ready, and I could not make her ready. My husband Karl is very supportive, but was unable to attend, so I went alone. The moment I arrived in the parking lot I sat and cried, trying to figure out if I could really handle this emotional situation, let alone in the presence of strangers. Then, I heard a knock on my window and a woman was standing there who was also attending the Forum. She asked me if she could sit with me and then we went in to register together.

That instant I realized this stranger wanted to be there for me during this difficult time. Initially I tried to protect myself but during the Forum I began to open up because I felt safe. The best part was being able to meet my VFG, and we finally got to hug.

A memorable moment for me at that Forum was when I heard the keynote speaker on the Saturday. It was so impactful, and I knew that I wanted to become a Speakers Bureau member. I was fortunate to meet Shirley Hickman this weekend, and since I was so lost with the legal side of things, Shirley offered to e-mail me information along with contacts following the Forum. It was amazing, I got more out of that one weekend than the three months since Jeremy’s death.

WHEN DID YOU START VOLUNTEERING?

My volunteer journey began as the Family Spokesperson at the 2014 London Steps for Life Walk. This organization became my passion, so it was a no-brainer for me to help with London’s Steps for Life and join the committee.

I quickly learned that Threads of Life has a support system for not only its family members, but also its volunteers and this was important to me. This lead me to complete the Speakers Bureau training in 2016 and the Volunteer Family Guide Training in 2019.

WHY DO YOU VOLUNTEER FOR THREADS OF LIFE?

A few reasons — Help, Impact and Educate. In 2014, I was the spokesperson who shared our story for the first time while Members of Parliament, along with my family, and walk participants listened. I could tell from the MPs’ tears, they understood the anguish I was trying to express, and I hoped it could help lead to changes. This was a big moment for me. That same day, a gentleman told me his grandson had also been killed in a workplace tragedy and he said more people needed to hear my story so these deaths would end. The seed was planted, and I trained with the Speakers Bureau in January 2016.

I may never know if people are impacted by my talks, but I want to give Jeremy a voice and let people know about this organization. My goal is to speak with high school students to educate them; and although students might think I’m too passionate, they will be given the chance to hear they have rights and can refuse unsafe work I only wish Jeremy could have heard a similar message.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVOURITE MEMORY ABOUT YOUR WORK AS A VOLUNTEER?

Oh my! I did VFG Training in February of 2019. I was matched soon after with a mom whose son had died, however she lives in a different province and I was concerned as to how this could work. The first call was heart-wrenching and the mom said to me that people will listen for the first bit, but after time, they get tired of hearing you talk about your dead child. This mom appreciated being able to talk to me about her son and as someone who knows the journey that lay ahead, I happily listened. Even more than that, I learned that we had a deeper connection as our boys share the same birth date and they were involved in similar career paths. It was an uncanny moment that assured me that I would be okay to support this mom.

HOW MANY DIFFERENT PEOPLE HAVE YOU HAD THE OPPORTUNITY TO HELP AS A VFG?

This is my first match since receiving training. I was worried at the beginning about who I could be matched with, however this mom and I are connected in so many ways. She knows I am just a message away.

WHAT ARE THE DIFFICULTIES AND ADVANTAGES WITH TRYING TO SUPPORT SOMEONE FROM A DISTANCE?

It was not as hard as I thought. I still allowed myself to cry even though it was easy to hide behind the phone. I am a people-person so helping is not negative but rather quite therapeutic for me. The negatives never presented themselves like I thought they would. My hope is to one day meet this special mom.

WHAT OTHER COMMUNITY/VOLUNTEERING DO YOU DO?

Threads of Life is my main volunteering. But I have volunteered with the Canadian Cancer Society’s Relay For Life; Ark Aid Street Mission; Salvation Army; Isaiah Project Mission trips and in various capacities with Western University.

Zaria Cornwall
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