Nearly 5000 workers died
Statistic for worker deaths 1992-2012
Labour Day approaches. Many of us plan an event for the last weekend of summer. We close our cottages if we have one. We might go to the beach one last time if we live near water. We might plan that outing we meant to do all summer but just never got around to doing it. Not all of us take the time to think why we have set aside this weekend every year. Labour Day reminds us that our country is built upon the great labour of the workforce. It reminds us that people have taken risks everyday to make sure we receive our goods at our favourite store or on our front step. All goods get to us by those who manufacture them or deliver them. School bus drivers wake up each morning around 4:00am to carry our children safely to school. City bus drivers driver workers to their place of employment safely and on time. In 2014 over four thousand of us did not make it back home due to work related accidents. The number of those who died may have dwindled in recent years, but those of us who know history know that without an organized workforce we could see a much higher rate of work related deaths. Labour Day reminds us that we need the workforce to make our nation run. It reminds us that the workforce needs unions to keep them safe. Labour Day reminds us of the good unions can do for our nation and for those they serve. This weekend reminds us just how far we have come in terms of protecting our workers. I lived for many years in Hamiltion, Ontario, known for its steel mills. Each year Hamilton held a memorial for those who died in work related accidents at the monument dedicated to their memory outside the City Hall. Having lived in such a union town, I have a deep feeling of gratitude for workers who work so hard and give so much. I encourage you all to take the time this year and think about our workforce and what they do for our nation. Think about those who did not make it back home. Think about their empty place at their families’ tables. Think about where we would be without their efforts.
Nearly 5000 workers died
Statistic for worker deaths 1992-2012
Last week my family and I visited the Field Museum in Chicago. We spent a lot of time in the fossil section. I come from a family who loves minerals and fossils of all kinds. I was the kid who destroyed her pockets in grade school because I collected so many rocks. My grandmother collected many wonderful rocks and fossils and I have the honor of housing half of her collection. We walked through the earth’s development and took many pictures of us standing next to some pretty cool bones. Among the things that struck me regarding human development was that homosapiens are the only creatures to bury their dead. Other creatures mourn their dead, but we are the creatures who care for and bury our dead.
Earlier in the day, we explored the Terracotta Warriors from China exhibit. I was blown away by the technique and attention to detail of each figure, but one figure stood out for me. This figure still had the finger marks of the craftsperson left in the clay body. I am sure this was done on purpose because it gave the impression of cloth on the figure, but this awed me. How long ago did this person work the clay? We are today witnessing to his or her life because of these simple finger marks left in the cay. All the figures were unearthed from the tomb of China’s first emperor, which was designed to carry him to the next world. I find it fascinating that the craftsman’s finger marks carry the craftsman into immortality along with the emperor.
Other culture’s burials may be less than opulent, but the fact remains, we humans care for our dead. This characteristic separates us from all the other creatures. Why do we do this? What purpose does it serve us? I don’t know the reason for sure. Maybe we won’t ever know. What is important is that this is a characteristic that separates us from all the other creatures that have lived and that do live on this wonderful earth.
When I am not shooting off my mouth about the death care industry or leading a seminar on planning one’s death, you might find me behind a school bus wheel. School bus drivers go through intense training and our main objective is to keep kids safe to and from school. If you think about it, what the driver does is most amazing – navigating roads with a long vehicle all the while maintaining a certain amount of calm on the bus filled with children. With all this training, sometimes-tragic events occur. Bus fatalities most likely occur during loading and unloading of the bus. While school buses are not my usual topic, I would like to discuss what other drivers and parents could do to lessen the likelihood of fatalities. Schools are opening soon; here are things we can all do to help make it a safe trip everyone:
Be Aware of the Bus: I know what it is like to see a school bus coming and not want to get behind a slow moving school bus. School buses carry our nations most fragile and precious cargo. Please, try not to cut off a bus. School buses take longer to brake than a car. Most bus drivers do not wish to frustrate car drivers. If they are going slow there might be a reason. Try to find a safe way to avoid the bus.
Stop Arm: When the bus is stopped, and the stop arm is out, do not ever pass the bus. A car driver has no idea if a student will be crossing in front of the bus, nor can a car driver see around the bus. Just wait for the stop arm to go back in and then pass the bus if you wish. If the bus is stopped on one side of the street and you see the stop arm out, do not pass. Some children pass in front of the bus. You might hit them, and no one wants that.
Death Zone: I bet most of you do not know the bus has a death zone. This includes most of the rear of the bus. Do not pick up your child at the rear of the bus. Please meet the bus at the front of the bus. Do not go up to a window at the rear of the bus to wave at your darling.
Be aware that the bus, like your car, is a lethal weapon; be kind to the bus driver. He or she is trying to keep everyone safe. We are all out there on the streets. Let us do our best to keep the kids safe as much as we can.
Sometimes with all my death talk and writing, I fear that some might think that I’m comfortable with death. I am not. As a matter of fact, I am no fan of death. I do not like it when it hits close to home and I hate to see the pain of grief on those I know when death has visited their loved ones. Really, what is there to like about such an event that separates us, at least physically, from those we love? Not much. What I am is comfortable with the topic and comfortable with discussing options. I am fearless in the face of how the industry operates and desire to share this knowledge so that when they have to face death, they have a clearer understand of their rights and choices. We must look at death. Chances are we will die one day. Chances are one day we will have to plan someone’s funeral. We ought to be prepared. I take my plans out every year or so to have a look at what I wrote. I make modifications and print out a new copy. I do this as a loving act so that those close to me so they are not left wondering what I would like.
Having made my plan, and placed it away, I am free for now. I have made my plan. I have had my say. Life goes on. The fact is not one of us knows when the hour of our death will come. Having made a plan and having had the conversation with our loved ones, we are free to live our lives. I have found that the process has freed my mind from anxiety over death. Going through this process of making the plan is a radical departure from our society’s attitude of avoidance toward death. Live fiercely and radically. We have this one life and we should not let the shadow of death hold us hostage. Acceptance of the facts of our mortal coil can free us to live each day fully. We can begin to surround ourselves with the kinds of things that bring us joy and teach us to love. Remember that we are each fragile creatures with big hearts and sensitive dispositions. Let us face the anxiety of death so that we can live a fuller life.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about our society’s conventional approaches to death. I’m not talking about the variety of religious rites that we engage in, but specifically the dichotomy between cremation and embalming. On one hand we wish to preserve a body for as long as we can and on the other hand we seek to break it down into ash and smoke as quickly as possible. I find that fascinating. Why is it that we choose one extreme or the other? On both sides, we have built up romantic ideas of death. Cremation is the ultimate letting go of the physical world while the other – embalming- preserves the body “as if asleep”. One speeds up the breaking down of a body, where the other seems almost a denial of the death of the physical body. We seem to be bound to these opposing ideas, and I am left wondering why we need to go to such extremes to care for the body after death. Why don’t we want to simply clean the body and place the body in the earth- perhaps wrapped in a shroud? By doing this, the body returns to the earth naturally and provides nourishment for nature. Perhaps we do not wish to look directly at the reality of death – the tragic, horrible reality of death. One day we will die and our bodies will begin to decay. We cannot stop that process. Some are beginning to turn from the corporate death care industry and choose alternatives such as death doulas and green burial. Maybe if we can begin let go of these elaborate means of dealing with the body after death and deal more with the truth of death, we can begin to make changes in the industry as a whole.