Natural reserve landscape from north of finland

We have all heard that “no one can understand or appreciate the path that others walk, unless we have walked it ourselves”. I can see the sense to that statement, but not sure that I totally agree.

I witness compassion daily in our Threads of Life family members. I believe there truly is an appreciation and acceptance that whether we are living with the effects of a life-altering injury, occupational disease or outcome of a fatal injury, our lives are forever changed – just by doing what we truly believe we should be doing. We went to school and as children dreamed of becoming – well that dream may have changed many times. We all hear the children – doctor, teacher, scientist, work in a store, design a magazine, travel – so many choices, depending upon what stage of life they are at. What a dream – to become what we want to become. I wanted to be a nurse. From a young age, I knew I wanted to work with patients at their bedside, not take advance education to work with doctors or to teach, but to be with the people.

I met Bob while in training and we married the year after my graduation. Our dream was to buy a home and start a family. Life had a different plan. Two weeks after, I arrived home from work to find Bob sitting with red paint on his face. “What happened”, I asked. He worked at a cast iron factory, and explained that a piece of equipment had broken and flown across his face, breaking his nose. He had gone to the doctor and been treated. It turned out that he also had an eye injury – a retina that became detached. The initial treatment back then was flat-on-your-back bed rest. That didn’t work, so he had eye surgery a couple of times and eventually was sent to Toronto for what was new in the late 1960s – laser surgery to re-attach the retina. Eventually all worked out, however, Bob now only had vision in one eye and had to retrain for a new career as an electrical technician. All of that took a great deal of time and financial strain, so some of our dreams for the future already had to be revisited. We were grateful as the injury could certainly have been worse, but this was and is truly life-altering.

A few years later, Bob and I were blessed with the birth of two sons. Later we decided to become foster parents. Over the years, we cared for many children, many with physical or mental health issues. We learned a lot. One young baby, Joshua, came to us when he was well enough to leave the hospital after being born very prematurely with multiple health issues. At one point the doctors shared with us that the only reason this baby survived past the age of one, was the love our family gave to him. Our boys would take him outside and shoot basketballs while he sat in his chair. He would learn to laugh and enjoy so many aspects of life that we all take for granted. He was non-verbal, but certainly developed skills to share his mind with others – would say his two cents worth during the church sermon and somehow we got to know what Joshua was thinking or wanting. A very unique and loving individual who lived with us for his 15 years, dying as he lived – with love and dignity. His death was about five years after Tim died. Joshua had given us a daily reason to get up and keep on trying.

It was after this time in our lives, that Threads of Life started to take form. When our partner organizations were helping us develop the vision and mission for Threads of Life, I wondered, how would I be able to understand the family members living with Life-altering injury or occupational disease? Well, I truly didn’t need to look far.  When in conversation with each of you or as staff we develop a program, I do try to reflect on the family members of our three streams – what we have in common and how we can journey forward on our individual paths in a healthy manner.


Shirley Hickman