Letter: A mother’s thoughts on National Day of Mourning

A time to honour all workers and loved ones who have become a workplace statistic

To the Expositor:

This is a day we honour all workers and loved ones who have become a workplace statistic, be it by a fatality, a life-altering injury or occupational disease. The declaration of April 28 as the Day of Mourning began here in Canada. In 1984, unions in Sudbury, Ontario, adopted the day as one to publicly acknowledge workplace injuries, illnesses and deaths. The Canadian Labour Congress held its first day of remembrance in 1986. The date of April 28 was chosen to reflect the anniversary of the day Ontario passed the Workers’ Compensation Act in 1914. It is a day where flags fly at half-mast, and we hold ceremonies across the country to recognize the lives needlessly lost, and the tremendous suffering of those left in the wake of workplace tragedy. In the years since, more than 100 other countries have also adopted the observance known widely as Workers’ Memorial Day.

I lost my son Brent Wade, 22 years of age, to a workplace fatality on Tuesday, November 9, 1999.

Two policemen that I knew met with me. It was so very difficult for them to deliver the message that no parent ever wants to hear. I was totally unprepared for the news I received that day. It was sudden and unexpected. My world as I knew it came crashing down around me. A voice inside me was yelling out, “This cannot be true! You have the wrong person!” Why him not me? A parent is to go before their child. He was coming home on Friday bringing his new girlfriend home for his sisters and I to meet. This cannot be happening. You just want it to be a bad dream that you will wake up from and everything will be as it was. But no, the reality was quick to sink in with family and friends surrounding my girls and I to support us, with funeral arrangements to be made and then his funeral and his burial. Then eventually everyone went back to their daily routines and I was left alone with my reality that my son went to work one day and did not return home. The cost of a job should not be your life.

The emptiness, the heart-wrenching pain is beyond what anyone can imagine unless they have travelled the same road. The rollercoaster ride of emotions, the weakness and vulnerability I felt, the lack of ability to concentrate, the lack of purpose, the lack of hope were all intertwined in the initial part of my grief journey. The question ‘why?’ will never be answered but one thing for certain I will do whatever I can to validate Brent’s life and to honor him by telling his story surrounding how he became a workplace statistic. When I do public presentations through the wonderful organization I belong to, The Threads of Life, I hope to raise awareness of the extreme importance of workplace safety. Even if only one or two people “get” the message and become more diligent, then Brent’s death has not been for nothing. Near misses need to be looked at as a high potential for death or life altering injury, or illness, they need to be reported to management and then followed up to ensure the danger no longer exists.

The incidence of young workers being killed or injured on the job during their first few months on a job is still far too high. One, is one too many. Our young adults entering the work force need to be reminded to be aware of their workplace surroundings, the risks and hazards of the job, to ask questions if they are uncertain about anything and most of all that they have the right to refuse unsafe work. Anything I can do to help prevent someone else from being on this grief journey, I will do. Brent was to be part of our future for many years to come, he was to be married and have a family, he was to be there to walk my girls down the aisle for their weddings. Now this is just a “should have been,” “would have been” and “could have been,” if only the almost misses had of been attended to. It took Brent’s death plus three others to bring about changes at the site of his death. Why?

These losses I am talking about with a fatality also happen with those living with life-altering injuries and or occupational diseases. There is such a loss of quality of life, along with financial changes which inadvertently bring about social and economic changes. Their world has drastically changed as well. Roles of family members have to change to accommodate what the injured person can no longer do. 

Workplace tragedies, be it a fatality, life-altering injury or occupational disease, have a life long rippling affect on families and the family dynamics. One workplace tragedy affects the family as a whole. No one’s lives are the same, they are forever changed and everyone has to find a new normal.

Our workers are the back bone of society. They are our future. They are our happiness as a family.

It is difficult for us to realize how vital each and every family member is to one another to give us the totality of a family until one is missing. We take so much for granted and think it will never happen to us. But remember, it can happen to you. It happened to me. 

It is through faith, hope and the support of many that I was able to grow and continue to grow as I go through my forever grief journey. 

It is through the loss of our loved ones, through workplace tragedies, that recommendations and changes have been made. These recommendations have been made so the living can live and work in safer workplaces. Know that your losses have hopefully not been for nothing.

As the poem states: “I could have saved a life that day, but I chose to look the other way.”

The life you save could be your own or the life of a loved one. Health and safety is everyone’s responsibility.

On April 28, join one of the hundreds of ceremonies across the country, or light your own candle in honour and reflection of the thousands of lives forever changed, and renew your commitment to workplace health and safety and ending such needless suffering.

You will be remembered and are forever in our hearts.

Joanne Wade