By Shirley Hickman
As we prepared to honour Threads of Life’s 20th anniversary in 2023, we all struggled with language – are we celebrating? Or simply marking a milestone?
Some anniversary dates, like birthdays and wedding dates, bring opportunities to celebrate happy times. A day to spend with friends, share cake and perhaps a glass of wine. They seem exciting and are easy to plan and to offer thanks.
Then we have the other kind of anniversary: those dates that remind us of a very painful moment in time, a moment that changed many lives forever. Perhaps a diagnosis from a physician of a life-changing occupational illness. Perhaps a phone call that ‘there has been an accident at the workplace and….’ The rest of the sentence may vary but the words will always resonate. The beginning of a new journey; a journey of picking up pieces and putting lives back into order. For family members where the worker is now living with a life-altering injury it may mean ongoing therapies and appointments. For those like my family living with our family member not coming home at all – it means learning to cope with the ‘empty chair’.
Yet the word for both the happy and the painful event is the same: ‘anniversary’. I think that plays tricks with our brains – and we have to relearn how to celebrate those good events. This is not easy work.
How does this relate to Threads of Life and our recognition of our 20th year? Is it a celebration?
We recognize that Threads of Life is marking our 20th anniversary. But Threads of Life is an organization no one wants to belong to. For family members, we did not sign up for this experience, although I hear time after time from family members that they are grateful Threads of Life is here for them.
Threads of Life only happened because many dedicated leaders in health and safety organizations knew there was a need. In the late 1990s there was a combined effort across Canada to decrease injuries and deaths, particularly to young workers. The ministries of labour, workers’ compensation boards, health and safety organizations and ministries of education were all working together. There was a combined energy. Our family was invited to be a part of that crusade and we accepted the challenge. We did so with our love for our 20-year-old son Tim and a commitment to do something productive and positive. We continue to do what we can to be a voice to create awareness of workplace injury prevention.
There were many volunteers in the beginning who helped develop Threads of Life’s vision and mission statements, create the values for the organization and start to build the foundation. The vision is still as relevant today as it was 20 years ago. Our mission statement is two-fold: support and prevention. Both halves of the mission continue each year to resonate with the funding partners, community organizations, employers and educators. If you were there at the beginning, please take pride in your role helping to build this vital support organization.
I find it a challenge to come to terms that this year we are recognizing the 20th anniversary of the founding of Threads of Life. I still consider us an infant organization in Canada. While we are actively supporting more than 3,350 current family members, we know there are many more who have not heard that there is this organization of comfort and healing where other family members understand and with no judgement, we can listen to each other.
I do my small part as I continue to see the need. I recognize you all see the need also. Our family members receive support and they provide support to others. Many provide a voice for prevention, with their very personal story shared from the heart, and their commitment to create awareness. Each year, Threads of Life has more support from the community. There is a lot to be grateful for. As we mark this anniversary for our organization, we do not celebrate the fact that it needs to exist, but we do celebrate all the contributions and the healing they have helped to foster.
I give thanks to each family member volunteer, community volunteer, to each funding partner and organization. It takes a village to ensure that the awareness of workplace safety continues to grow across Canada and that everyone comes home well. I am thankful that this foundational support will continue to expand in future years and I know so many of you will continue to be on this journey.
Shirley Hickman is founder and executive director of Threads of Life. She has worked in nursing and social services, and is also a Threads of Life family member.