April 26, 2010 § 12 Comments

On April 28th, we will observe a National Day of Mourning as established by the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS).

The purpose of the day is in “commemorating workers whose lives have been lost or injured in the workplace.”  The CCOHS estimates that from 1993-1998, 14,190 people lost their lives due to work related causes.  In my books, those 14,190 deaths that could have been prevented.

On August 10, 2005, a police officer came to my door.  I had just come home from a 4 week trek through Italy and Southern France two weeks earlier to celebrate the end of my degree from the University of Alberta.  I had begun my job search as soon as I was back in the country and had an interview scheduled that day in Edmonton with Enterprise Rent-a-Car.  I never made the interview.

I was just about to step in the shower when the doorbell rang.  I grabbed my housecoat and headed upstairs.  On my doorstep was an RCMP officer.  The next couple of minutes happened as if they were in slow motion.  Every word, every detail is etched in my memory.

“Do you know a Wayne Jacob Peters that was born October 21, 1978?” the RCMP officer asked me.

I looked at him a bit suspiciously as I replied “Yes, I do.  He’s my brother.”

The RCMP officer looked at me and said “I’m sorry, your brother has been in an accident.”

That sentence hung in the air for a moment before settling on my ears.  A million thoughts and questions raced through my head in the ensuing seconds about what could have happened before I answered “Oh my God!  Is he okay?”

I expected to hear that he had been in a bad accident and that we should get to the hospital right away.  Something like “Your brother was hit by a drunk driver and is in critical condition”  was along the lines of what I was preparing myself to hear.

But life doesn’t ever bring us the news we expect.  The RCMP officer looked right into my questioning eyes.  I could see the answer then before he even said the words, but even a split second of warning wasn’t any preparation for what I heard next.

“No he isn’t.  I’m sorry, your brother didn’t make it.”

I can hear those words as though the officer were repeating them in front of me now, they’re still that clear.   I looked at the officer in disbelief and all I could muster was “Are you kidding me?”  Of course, the answer was no.  Wayne Jacob Peters of Millet, Alberta, born October 21, 1978, was found dead the previous evening 90 km north of Slave Lake around 11 pm.

The RCMP officer proceeded to ask if there was anyone he could call for me.  My mom was in BC, but I got a hold of my dad.  He happened to be in Millet.  I now stood on the other side of the news.  Having to repeat the devastating information I had received only minutes earlier to my father was worse than hearing it myself.  As soon as he drove up, he rushed out of his truck and hugged me so hard.  At 23, that’s a lot of emotion to take in in only a few minutes.

After that news and that hug, a part of me shut down for a very long time.  It’s been only in the last month or so that I’ve began to understand the shock and trauma my system was subjected to, and that six years later, I’m finally able to start processing it.

The Workers’ Compensation Board proceeded with an investigation.  Wayne was a chemical engineer working in cathodic protection.  He was checking on a pipeline in Northern Alberta.  On August 9, 2005, he was to meet his coworker back at the motel they were staying at by 7 pm.  When he didn’t show up and wouldn’t answer his cell phone, his coworker knew there was something out of the ordinary.  At 11 pm, Wayne was found dead by the rectifier he had been checking earlier.  He had been electrocuted.

After reading the report from the Worker’s Compensation Board, no one party was at fault.  There had been several factors at play with regards to the voltage going through the rectifier, and the fact that Wayne was performing tasks only intended to be performed by a certified electrician, which he most certainly was not.  Mostly what I got out of reading the report was that his death, this work site “accident” could have been prevented.

Wayne was 25.  He had a bright future as a chemical engineer.  And now he’s one of 14,190 Canadians that died for no particular reason.

I’ve struggled for years with the suddenness of his death.  I tried to tell myself that I was fine, people all over the world go through this too.  I felt like I didn’t have the right to be angry with the rest of the world, after all, there were still people much worse off than I.  But in doing so, I didn’t allow myself to find a way to come to terms with what had happened.  When I heard an ad on the radio for The National Day of Mourning on April 28th, I felt like now I could give it a reason, even if it’s just to put my own mind at ease.  He died so someone else wouldn’t have to.

I often forget just how little it takes to prevent an accident.  Turning off your phone while driving, inspecting your equipment to make sure it’s safe, not performing a task you’re not specifically trained to do even though you may have done it before.  And then something comes up to remind me of Wayne.  And paying attention resurfaces as a priority in every task I perform.

My brother died so you and I wouldn’t have to, at least not from something we could have prevented. So, on April 28th, I’ll be joining people from over 80 other countries around the world not only to remember the dead, but to help protect the living.  I hope you’ll join us too.


The Freedom in Letting Go

January 3, 2010 § 7 Comments

I used to think it was about letting go.  That when people left us, we had to let them go. They were gone.  They were lost.  Maybe they died, maybe they simply fell out of our lives.  My biggest challenge used to be letting go.

Before I moved to Calgary and after my brother died, I lived in his condo for a year.  I was holding on.  I was holding on so tightly.  Had it not been for my mother’s somewhat more than gentle push to get out of Millet, I would’ve stayed.  I would’ve held on.  Because I thought that if I held on tightly enough, it would mean that I wouldn’t ever forget him.  It would mean that I’d never actually have to lose him. And then maybe I wouldn’t have to miss him as much.

A voice inside my head kept telling me that I had to let go.  I had to move on with my life.  In fact that’s what we tend to hear from others trying to offer support, trying to breath some life back into us.  And maybe it is about letting go, at least to an extent.  I couldn’t hold onto what life was.  It couldn’t be the same, no matter how tightly I grasped at what I could.  When I left Millet, I hadn’t let go yet.  My parents and I kept his condo for a good six months, I went back almost every weekend and hung on.

I can’t pinpoint the exact time I began to let go, but I do remember the first time I was able to look at his picture and feel him smiling at me and be able to smile back, not from a place of sorrow, but from a place of happy memory.  I felt like he was telling me that I was okay.  I was through the woods.  I was headed uphill back to what life used to be like.

Today, I picked up his pocket watch.  It stopped ticking a long time ago, and I’ve never bothered to replace the battery.  As I thumbed the texture on the casing, examined the still hands, I realized something.  It is not the ticking of the hands that made the pocket watch a pocket watch.  I’ve carried it with me on occasion even without the ticking hands.  And just as the pocket watch remains what it is, so to does Wayne.  My brother is still my brother.  And I can bring him with me whenever I need to.  It’s not about holding on anymore.  I had to learn to let him go to get to the place that I found he is still here, though he may not tick, he can still exist as whatever I need him to be.

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