Grieving together on Day of Mourning

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Photo: Russell and his daughters, contributed by Threads of Life

Special to Ontario Construction News

Cori will never know exactly what happened the day her husband was injured. He was working on a demolition project, and was on a ladder using a pneumatic nail gun to fasten strapping to the underside of a roof. A moment later he was down the ladder, pulled a 3 ¼ inch nail out of his chest, and then collapsed.

No one realized it initially, but the nail had pierced an artery and Russell was bleeding internally. He died in hospital four days later.

Steps for Life holding in-person and virtual events in May

National Day of Mourning, each April 28, is particularly poignant for Cori and all those who have directly experienced a work-related tragedy. Day of Mourning is a time set aside to remember and honour all those like Russell, who are killed or injured on the job in Canada. Every year, roughly 1000 families across this country answer a phone call like the one Cori received, to tell them a loved one is not coming home today, because of a traumatic injury or occupational disease. Thousands more are seriously injured.

Today, Cori is a member of Threads of Life, the Association for Workplace Tragedy Family Support. Threads of Life is a national Canadian charity which supports people who’ve experienced a work-related serious injury, occupational disease or death in their family. The organization offers peer support, opportunities to learn new coping skills, and a network of families who share their experiences and help one another to feel less alone.

While grief is deeply personal, mourning is the more public expression of loss. On April 28 every year, the broader community joins with those personally affected like Cori and her family, to mourn the losses caused by workplace tragedy. Day of Mourning has been observed across Canada and around the world since 1991 when Canada’s Parliament passed the Workers Mourning Day Act making April 28 an official Day of Mourning. The roots of the day go back even further to the 1980s when Canadian labour unions established a day of remembrance.

Day of Mourning is an important day for Threads of Life family members – a time for private remembrance, but also a time when many choose to share their personal stories in order to honour their loved ones and their own experience, and to help others understand the impact of a death, serious injury or illness caused simply by going to work.

Threads of Life will present a short online ceremony on April 28, a time for all those who have experienced a workplace loss, and all those committed to preventing them, to come together in community. Please register at the Threads of Life website to join the ceremony on Zoom. It will offer a chance to reflect on lives forever changed, to light a candle, and to share a name in the chat, of someone you are honouring that day.

Cori has worked hard to find light in the darkness of tragedy. “I was at least able to sit by my husbands’ side and hold his hand and let him know that we were all there,” she says. “He never regained consciousness, but I believe he knew we were there. Some families get that fateful knock on the door from the police and learn that their loved one has been killed and never get the chance to say goodbye. Nothing can ever bring back my husband. My daughters are growing up without their fun-loving father and our future without him is sad, but we are trying to live our best lives and know he would be proud of us.”

She also shares his story, through the Threads of Life speaker’s bureau, in the hope of preventing future tragedies. While the investigation and inquest could not discover exactly what went wrong that day, Cori would like to see better education and training around common power tools like nail guns.

“My wish is to educate people working in the trades as well as people who have these tools in their home, about the dangers of nail guns and how to safely use them,” she says. “No job is ever worth losing your life over.”

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