Photo of woman and man with wearing glassess, smiles and with bright white hair.Learning new things and having a project underway are two of the key motivations for Marj Deyell as one of Threads of Life’s long-time volunteers. Marj comes from a family of teachers, so learning is an important part of her life. And she loves to have a project on the go, so she appreciates tackling a new task – whether preparing a presentation or leading a workshop.

Marj’s first volunteer role was as a member of the Speaker’s Bureau, which she joined in 2006. While her start was a bit rocky – she did many presentations, got “a bit overwhelmed” and got sick – ultimately she feels volunteering to share her story as a Threads of Life speaker has been good for her, and helped her to honour and remember her son John, who was just 23 when he was killed on the job at a worksite in Detroit. John was a mechanical engineering technician, working for a millwright firm. He was helping to unload a large conveyor system, when the head fell off the deck of the truck, crushing him underneath.

“I think being a speaker has been good for me,” Marj says. “It im­proved my confidence. I liked just being around young people, and speaking to co-op students. Some classes that I would go into, gave me a glimpse back into what John maybe would have been like.”

In the years since, Marj has been involved in many of Threads of Life’s volunteer programs. She was a member of the board of directors, involved with Steps for Life, and became a Volunteer Family Guide. She completed advanced training for facilitation skills and has since led workshops both in person and online through FamiliesConnect.

Facilitating an online session can be challenging, Marj says. “In per­son you can read peoples’ body language a lot better, and if you feel like somebody needs a hug, then you’re there to do it.” But online presents opportunities to meet and learn without having to drive somewhere, especially into a city which she prefers to avoid. And through FamiliesConnect and other online sessions, she’s met and connected with people across the country.

Marj also volunteers with Bereaved Families, sits on the board of directors for a non-profit housing organization, runs a book club and helps with catering for local events in her community. She quilts, participates in aquafit classes and reads a lot, so her days are full. While her volunteer roles have evolved over the years, Marj believes the experience has been positive and has helped her heal and become a better person.

“I think when you go to different events, you see the new families – even what they look like – and you realize how far you’ve come,” she says. “It’s certainly helped in our healing. It’s not that you don’t miss John because I miss him every day, but overall, volunteering has been a very good experience.”

Susan Haldane