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.) What comes to mind is the husband of Maryanne Pope, a Canadian policeman who died after falling through a false ceiling while investigating a burglary, Kate Braestrup, whose husband was a Maine state trooper who died when an oncoming driver lost control, and Sarah Wheelan, whose brother would die after a live line came down on him when he was clearing brush under power lines.

These aren’t deaths where someone deliberately causes someone to die. These are preventable deaths that leave a sick feeling in our stomach.

Beau asked me to write 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 are working as part of a team, when accidents happen there is guilt and shame. He was also interested in someone creating interview and counseling articles for magazines on this topic.

Weather often plays a part in accidental deaths. Besides linemen, there are those who drive snow plows or fish on the ocean. Those who work in fire departments or ambulance services, as well as bridge painters, smokejumpers, factory workers where machines parts are spinning and massive mechanical arms are moving around them, and farmers where power machines catch your clothing and drag you in. These are jobs where the risk of serious physical injury is an occupational hazard.

In small town cafes you can still see old timers with missing fingers. I grew up hearing stories of farmers losing arms and lives, of tractors rolling over on hillsides and crushing them.

Not having worked on power lines, I imagine the dangers of power surges, electric arching, wet lines, slipping off ladders, and snapping poles. When I work on the farm of friends, I try to stay aware of the power machinery roaring nearby as I do my work.

If you work at a desk, as I often do, the greatest risk is, generally, sedentary boredom, flabby muscles and, I suppose, heart attack from sitting down all day. Working on a powerline, your family knows that every day there’s a chance that you might not be coming home in the same shape that you left.

When someone dies by an accident that is preventable, there are empty feelings of “if only.” If only she had stepped one foot to the left. If only he had noticed that the surge protector had fallen off. These deaths make us feel like lives have been wasted.

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 slip on a rug or swim out too far on the ocean. These accidents we could not have prevented. But someone else could have.

I’m speaking about people who are dead because someone didn’t think ahead and wasn’t looking out for safety of others. People who were doing jobs for the common good of the community are dead. 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 feels 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 just hard to swallow.


As we go through our day, think about the safety of others. May we honor those who die in service to our community.

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