Gaye Montpetit’s youngest son Michael was 28, passionate about his seismic drilling and roofing jobs, in love and ready to settle down.
“He was a smart guy … my go-to guy. He was going to host the family Christmas that year in Rimbey. Everything was finally going right for him,” said Montpetit, who has called Red Deer home for largely the last 60 years.
Then, in December 2010, she received the call that is every mother’s worst nightmare: Michael had been seriously injured in a work accident in Northern Alberta when the rig he was working on became engaged, catching him between the rig and a vehicle and pushing him for six metres.
He later succumbed to his injuries.
The wave of severe grief that hit Montpetit afterwards was paralyzing.
“I don’t know if he suffered. I don’t know if someone held his hand. … Children should not go before their parents,” she said, choking on the words. “Time stopped. It was like my family stopped with Mike’s passing. … It’s still raw.”
She grieved with friends, filled journal after journal with her thoughts and pain, attended bereavement groups, talked to therapists and counsellors.
But what really made a difference, she said, was discovering the organization Threads of Life, thanks to a pamphlet she received from an Occupational Health and Safety officer.
Threads of Life, a national charity, strives to support Canadian families who have been affected by a workplace fatality, life-altering injury or occupational disease.
“It’s a club that you wish didn’t have to exist that’s made up of people who, when they say, ‘I know how you feel,’ they really do because they’ve been through it themselves,” said Montpetit. “There’s a suddenness to it, a wrongness compared to losing someone who is sick; you’re kind of prepared then.”
Threads of Life was established in 2003 and now serves over 1,700 families, providing links to community support services and one-on-one peer support from trained volunteers, who have experienced their own workplace tragedy. The organization’s mandate also calls for taking action to help prevent similar tragedies to other families.
Montpetit was connected to a woman in northern Ontario who lost her son in a work-related accident. It was these talks, along with the continued support of a few close friends, that “basically saved my own life,” she said.
“She was someone I could phone and vent to, cry with. She’d been there. You just don’t feel like you’re whining when you talk to people who truly understand. … The others try to say look ahead, get on with life, partly because they feel helpless and don’t know what to do, but I don’t want to hear that.”
Threads of Life also helped Montpetit through its annual weekend conferences and its premier fundraiser, the Steps for Life walk, held on the first Sunday of every May.
‘It’s hard but it’s really healing, with everyone there. We have a memory lane section with photos of those we’ve lost and Mike’s photo was at the very beginning,” Montpetit said. “Seeing people stop and read about him … it was touching.”
Donna Trottier, chair of the Red Deer committee for Steps for Life, said the walk resonates with the participants and supports grieving family members.
“It’s paying tribute to the lost loved ones,” she said.
Trottier joined the committee four years ago when the first walk was held in Red Deer.
She said it was her safety consulting business, Tatonga Consulting, that led her to the group.
“We just wanted to be involved with promoting safety in the workplace, another avenue for that.”
It’s grown over the years with over 100 walkers for the snowy 2014 event compared to the 67 in 2013, thanks to more companies showing their support such as Apache and Prime Boiler.
Notre Dame High School students were also heavily involved with fundraising this year. Numbers are still being calculated but it is estimated the Red Deer walk raised over $20,000. Trottier hopes to have more companies involved in the future and increase promotion.
Montpetit agrees that more people, especially in Western Canada where it isn’t as well known, need to be aware of Threads of Life.
“It can just really help. Companies should hand out the pamphlets. Hospitals, too.”