By Fran DeFilippis
2002 was a chaotic year. I was tossed like a raggedy doll into a world of mayhem and loss when my husband died in a workplace tragedy. My first contact in this unfamiliar world was the supervisor from the Ministry of Labour. Michael walked me through the logistics of the investigation, the court proceedings, and the inquest. He recognized how isolated I felt and invited me to reach out to Shirley Hickman, who was, at the time, working towards establishing an organization that would support victims of workplace tragedies.
Shirley and I met in the pouring rain during the first Steps for Life walk on the Toronto Island originally known as the Mnisiing Island of the First peoples of this territory. The day was cold, wet, and miserable, yet I found comfort within a small group of individuals who had the courage to gather, knowing the emotional turmoil we all carried within us. This was the beginning of my journey with Threads of Life.
During this time, I have met amazing humans with deep scars, who despite their own pain have provided a space to hold emotions that are sometimes too difficult to comprehend. A space where love and hate live side by side. Elizabeth, a Volunteer Family Guide, walked with me during the inquest and surrounded me with courage to take each step, slowly and carefully. Her calmness and wisdom grounded me, and I am grateful for her ongoing support.
There are many others I have met through Threads of Life who have touched my heart with compassion, honesty, and trust. This sacred space has invited me to unpack the layers of emotions that have formed throughout the years and has supported my healing as I walk this unfamiliar journey. Being surrounded by others who understand, I found the courage to publicly share my personal story with others to advocate for a safer working environment through the Speakers Bureau. Additionally, the unpacking of my own story has offered me the opportunity to support other families who have experienced a similar tragedy as a Volunteer Family Guide. This is a place no one wants to be, yet finding Threads of Life has influenced how I can live in this place with love and compassion.
In my personal life, I have developed intimate relationships and have discovered meaningful roles. This journey is hard, knotted with complicated emotions that cannot be classified and labeled, but invites us as humans to live entangled lives with transformative experiences shaping who we are, at this time, in this moment.
The feeling of uneasiness covered me last year. A blanket of sorts. A heavy, rough, itchy, sweaty blanket. The uncomfortable feeling of the past, filled with pungent reminders of once was and no longer remains. Yes, time has passed, over 20 years since my love tragically died. A moment frozen in time. The pandemic intensified feelings of loss: the lack of control, having no voice and feeling incarcerated in both mind and body. Time moved slowly, capturing a journey of participating forces: moments of love and unspoken loneliness, joy and sorrow, celebration, and grief.
My journey will never end, however has transformed, moved, and changed who I am. Many of us have sat together in the silent paradox of love and sadness. This is a sacred place of caring, listening, sharing, respect and passion. I am grateful for Threads of Life and those who have the courage to hold, move and gently push each other while we advocate for change from our hearts.