Op-Ed: Day of Mourning thoughts from the bereaved mother of a young worker

National Day of Mourning, 

April 28, 2020

This is a day to remember and honor our men and women living with a life-altering injury, an occupational disease or who have been killed on the job. It is a day to remember all those families impacted by workplace tragedies.

For these families, their lives have been turned upside down, their everyday struggles are many. Their goals, their dreams for the future for themselves, for their children, have been shattered. 

They have lost a sense of normalcy. They live in an unexpected, unwanted world. They did not ask for this unplanned part of life’s journey that sent them into untravelled territory. They struggle to navigate through the uncharted waters, struggling against the waves of emotions that pull them under until they feel an overwhelming sense of drowning in a sea of depression, pain, frustration, anger, memory problems, a feeling of numbness and always asking, “Why?”

Often, early in the loss, there is a feeling of a lack of purpose and wondering what is life all about. It takes time, understanding, love and support to help heal on this forever journey of grief.

Our workers are the backbone of our society. They are providing for themselves and their families and help keep our economy going.

No one intends to come home from work with a life-altering injury or an occupational disease such as asbestos poisoning.

No one intends to not come home at all.

We may think ourselves invincible, especially our young workers. We may think it could happen to the next guy but not to us. Our young workers are enthusiastic to have a job, make money, please their boss, and are afraid to refuse unsafe work. They may have had inadequate health and safety training and are unaware of the risks of the job. The incidence of death and injury in young workers is high, especially in the first six months of a job. 

Our young workers are our future. Parents should not have to bury their children.

Accidents are preventable: the cost of your job should not be your life. You have the right to say no to unsafe work.

Each of us has a responsibility to due diligence for our own safety and the safety of others.

A quote from a poem says it all: “I could have saved a life today, but I chose to look the other way. And with that act I let him die.” 

My son Brent Wade went to work Tuesday, November 9, 1999 and never came home. He was to be coming home on Friday for a family weekend, which turned out to be his visitation and a funeral service celebrating his life. 

He was working in the construction field at the time of his death in Acton, Ontario. He was driving a fully loaded dump truck, geared down, going up a grade on a bright sunny morning, vision obscured by brush to his right and did not see the oncoming train. There were no bars at this railway crossing. I tried desperately to get bars installed. There had been a number of close calls at this crossing prior to Brent’s death but no one saw the need to fight for bars. The mayor of Acton assured me she was working on it. However, September 28, 2000, not even a year later, three young boys, ages 16 and 17, were travelling to school and they did not see the train. Now there are four crosses at this crossing and now there are bars. Such a senseless waste of four young men’s lives, all because no one took the initiative to correct the problem before a death occurred. 

Through Brent’s death I am a member of Threads of Life, a national charitable organization that supports families impacted by workplace tragedies. I have been a member of this organization since it was founded by Shirley Hickman in London, Ontario in 2003. We are now supporting over 2,000 families across Canada. It is a safe place to be. It is an environment of love, understanding, compassion and friendship. Proactively, as public speakers, we tell our stories about how the loss of our loved one has affected our lives hoping to increase awareness of the importance of health and safety within the workplace and reactively we are volunteer family guides that support family members one on one. Through this organization I have gained hope when hope was lost. It has helped me find inner strength that follows tragedy.  

One death, one life altering injury is one too many.

Remember an almost incident, a piece of machinery or a switch that periodically malfunctions, is an accident waiting to happen; it could eventually lead to a loss of a limb or a death.

It is best practice to be proactive rather than reactive. Early intervention is an act of prevention. Wear your protective equipment, be a leader by example for health and safety at your work.

Come home safe! Come home! You are loved! You are needed by all those who love you!

Joanne Wade