John Donne wrote “Every man’s death diminishes me – for I am involved with mankind and, therefore, do not send to know for whom the bell tolls – it tolls for thee.”
On June 8 last year, the funeral bell tolled telling us that Jason Chenier and Jordan Fram were killed at Stobie Mine. We were a diminished people. No one should go to work with a lunch bag and leave work in a body bag.
The tragedy not only took two lives, but it altered permanently the lives of the people who loved and lived with Jason and Jordan. April 28 is Worker’s Memorial Day. The day’s motto is “Mourn the Dead and Fight for the Living.”
I was asked to speak at the ceremony organized by the local steelworkers to provide a better context and commitment to the motto’s “mourning” and “fighting.” As a funeral director for more than 30 years, I understand the “mourning.” It is a journey often difficult with many pitfalls and pit stops to vent normal feelings and find new directions.
In an effort to express the mourning of a mine accident, I contacted a woman whose husband was killed and whose name would be commemorated at the ceremony.
I asked her if she could speak at the gathering what she would say. What did our community need to hear? She said she would think about it and call me back.
She did. She explained she wrote a letter to her deceased husband. This is what it said:
To my love,
I hate that this has happened to you, to us, to our children. There was a large part of me that wanted to lie down next to you and shut the rest of the world out.
I saw how everyone looked at the children and myself; they would give us looks of pity, expecting me to fall apart. It was then that I realized, the only way I could let you down was by not honouring my own life.
If the roles were reversed, I would want you to have a full life. I accept that I will forever have moments of sorrow. Moments where I miss you terribly and ache to hear your voice, see your face and feel your touch; but I also know that to live in that dark place would not only be a waste of my own life, but of our children’s lives as well.
I will never forget you. You live in the faces of our children and every other thought I have. I will cherish your memory by living our lives as fully as we can, because I know you would have done anything to have kept yours. I will honour you by bringing the children to places you wanted to see, celebrating special days and challenging myself to try new things.
Please watch over me and the children as we journey through life. I swear I will make you proud by being kind to myself and our babies and by living the life we dreamed of living.
All my love, Your wife.
P.S. I could picture you laughing at me when I plunged my first toilet. But I did it!
So what does mourning the dead mean? It means not giving up. It means honouring life. It means not giving looks of pity but words of empowerment. It means not expecting the person to fall apart but letting the person live a life that was the dream, not the nightmare. Mourning the dead is a personal journey.
It begins with the first person pronoun. It is the “I” that decides if it’s in the toilet or will clean the toilet. If “mourning” is the first person singular pronoun I, then the “fighting” needs the first person plural pronoun “we.” We need to fight against the future ringing of the funeral bell in our community.
We need to ask the Minister of Labour to establish an inquiry regarding mining in Ontario. There has not been an inquiry into mining for 30 years.
There have been eight mining fatalities in Ontario in the past 12 months. Mining technology has significantly changed the work environment. Mining ownership has become international. Environmental issues have been identified in workplace diseases and community health from mining operations. An inquiry will reinforce good mining practices and identify practices that need improvement.
The Ministry of Labour has a year to render its report. The end of the year will be on June 8. You and I need to encourage the minister to establish the inquiry.
This isn’t about partisanship. Whether your collar is white or blue, whether you are right, left or upside down politically I urge you to contact The Honourable Linda Jeffrey, Minister of Labour, 14th Floor, 400 University Avenue, Toronto, Ontario M7A1T7.
It is the right thing because a widow with two children who will never know their father in my office is the wrong thing. Beyond the funeral bell, hear their voices and let your voice be heard by the Minister of Labour.
Gerry M. Lougheed Jr. is the managing director of Lougheed Funeral Homes and chair of the Bereavement Foundation of Sudbury.
Posted by Arron Pickard