Every Wednesday

Every Wednesday I will post something about grief. Sometimes it will be a reflection on an aspect of grief’s landscape. Now and then I will share from my own journey of grief, because in the sharing of our stories we find strength and build a community of people that support one another.

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Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Death By Accident

There is a particular grief when someone dies doing their job, and they shouldn’t have. (People we love should never die for any reason, of course, but that’s a different post.) The husband of Maryanne Pope, a Canadian policeman, died after falling through a false ceiling while investigating a burglary. Kate Braestrup’s husband was a Maine state trooper who died when an oncoming driver lost control. Sarah Wheelan’s brother died after a live power line came down on him when he was clearing the brush underneath. They were healthy, vibrant, young, and now they are dead.

These were preventable deaths, and they leave a sick feeling in our stomachs.

My friend Beau is concerned about this. An electrical lineman, he said, “We work in an environment that is one very large calculated risk.” While every precaution is taken when working on power lines, sometimes something goes wrong and people die or are seriously injured. If you’re working as a team, when accidents like this happen, guilt is added to the grief.

Weather often plays a part in accidental deaths. Besides the men and women who repair powerlines, there are those who drive snowplows or fish on the deep ocean. Those who work in fire departments and ambulance services, as well as bridge painters, smokejumpers, factory workers where machines parts are spinning and massive mechanical arms moving around them. Farmers constantly work close to power machines that can easily catch their clothing and drag them in. In rural cafes, you can see old timers with missing fingers. These are jobs where the risk of serious physical injury is an occupational hazard.

If you work at a desk, as I do, the greatest risk is bored, flabby muscles from sitting down all day. When you work on a powerline, your family knows that every day there’s a chance you might not be coming home.

When someone dies in an accident that is preventable, there are empty feelings. If only she had stepped one foot to the left. If only he had noticed that the surge protector had fallen off the line. These deaths make us feel like good and loving lives have been tossed to the side without meaning.

Besides the heavy feelings of grief that come with any death, these deaths hold an additional layer of emotion, more than the sadness of deaths from simple accidents where we swim too far out on the ocean, or hike alone in the wilderness and get lost. I’m talking about the accidents that someone else could have prevented. I’m speaking about people who weren’t looking out for safety of others. People who were doing jobs for the common good of the community are dead, and they shouldn’t be. And that’s what sticks in our craw.

No death is good. Few deaths are easy. If you die doing something heroic, then it can feel like a noble death. A death that had a purpose. And we can hold on to this to help us get through the grief. To die because of someone’s oversight is hard to swallow for a long time.


  1. A great post about those death. It is impossible to prevent an accident, and you are right, we are plenty of if onlys

    1. Too many accidents. Only some that we can prevent.