I don't want others to experience the same grief of losing a loved one at work
This First Person column is written by Alison Karlene Hodgins, whose father died in a workplace accident just outside of Grande Prairie, Alta. For more information about CBC's First Person stories, please see the FAQ.
One of the last memories I have with my dad is of him expressing gratitude for my safety. We sat together at our cosy kitchen table with food filling the space between us. I held my dad's hand and asked him to pray before we ate. I heard the tears scratch at the back of his throat before I saw them. "Thank you for this food. And … thank you," he said, "for bringing Alison home safe."
"Dad, I'm fine," I whispered, squeezing his hand, tears stinging behind my eyes.
In January 2013, I fell while snowboarding and fractured my spine in France. I was 20 at the time and in complete shock. My mom flew to Europe and helped me travel home to Grande Prairie, Alta., where my dad prepared a medical bed, cooked me healthy food and drove me to appointments. He did whatever he could to help me heal.
My dad was my best friend, but he was also my greatest protector and my hero. Standing an impressive six feet seven inches tall, he sported salt-and-pepper hair and a quick, easy grin. People recognized him around town, remembering him from the crowds at concerts and the stands at my basketball games. He wasn't an intimidating force; he was a giant teddy who gave the best bear hugs.
Growing up, my sister and I would play in the cul-de-sac and film home videos on my dad's camcorder. Our parents took us on winding road trips through the mountains and international adventures to Europe and Asia. My dad brought the comedic relief: posing in a pirate hat for a photograph at Disney World or striking a champion pose on the Great Wall of China.
Nicknamed Mr. Safety
I thought my dad was invincible, but he knew better. Nicknamed Mr. Safety at his work, my dad took the health and safety of his friends and co-workers seriously. Although he enjoyed fast cars and motorcycles, he never let me on the back of his bike without the proper gear: long pants, closed-toe boots, a leather jacket and a helmet even on hot summer days.
But he couldn't always protect me. When I broke my back in 2013, I saw my dad's composure melt into fear. He loved me, my sister and my mom ferociously.
I know he wished he could have stopped the accident.
My healthy, 55-year-old dad worked as a heavy equipment operator at a lumber mill just outside of town. Three weeks after I returned home from France, he was working a regular night shift. When a machine got stuck on some ice, my dad was crushed.
When the paramedics arrived, he was calm and coherent. They transported him to the local hospital in a helicopter. I caught a glimpse of him lying on a stretcher as they rushed toward the emergency entrance. I wanted to say something, to let him know I was there, but my mouth felt paralyzed and my injured back prevented me from keeping up.
Later that night, when we were told that my dad didn't make it, my world split into "before" and "after."
It has been 10 years since my dad died. I miss him ferociously. His laugh, his bear hugs, his easy ability to make friends, his willingness to help when I had car trouble or questions or just needed to talk.
I will never stop needing my dad.
Today I live in Vancouver, close to my mom and my sister. My boyfriend works in construction. Sometimes he comes home and tells me about co-workers refusing to wear personal protective equipment, and my heart breaks a little more.
He tells me about people ignoring the rules. Rushing. Wearing improperly fitted gear. Downplaying dangerous situations.
I wonder if they stopped to think about the ripples of pain, the missed laughter, the ache they would leave behind. Would that make them slow down, communicate with each other and follow the regulations? Would it prompt employers to get the right gear, repair the equipment and provide a safe working environment?
I don't believe all accidents can be prevented, but if one person can be saved, it's worth it.
Day of Mourning
Every year on April 28, Canadians honour and remember workers who lost their lives or were injured on the job for the National Day of Mourning. This year, I encourage you to take a moment of silence and think about my dad, my family and me. Then, I want you to think about yourself, your friends and your family.
Every worker has the right to a safe workplace. Every child deserves to have their parent come home.
We need to protect our dads and moms, sisters and brothers, sons and daughters, friends and co-workers.
I know that's what my dad, my hero, my protector, would want.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Alison Karlene Hodgins is a writer and editor with bylines in The Globe and Mail, The Huffington Post, Insider and more. She was born in Grande Prairie, Alta. and resides in Vancouver. She is working on her debut memoir, tentatively titled Backbone, about breaking her back and losing her father.
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