Threads of Life: Remembering her dad on Day of Mourning

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pritzullas
Marleen and Leo Pritzulla

Special to Ontario Construction Report

Marleen Pitruzzella
Marleen Pitruzzella

was just 11 years old when one day her dad, her hero, didn’t come home from work.

It was July 13, 2009, and Leo Pitruzzella was a construction worker with a paving company. He was helping to direct a dump truck when it crushed and killed him.

Marleen and her brother waited every day for their dad to come home from work and play with them. But that night a police officer came to the door instead.

“To this day I will never forget the feeling of what seemed like my heart dropping in my chest,” Marleen says. “My younger brother and I would spend the next weeks and years trying to cope with the fact that our hero would never be returning home, and our family would never be complete again.”

Leo’s death was entirely preventable, Marleen says, and that knowledge added to the family’s grief. Today Marleen is a volunteer with Threads of Life – the Association for Workplace Tragedy Family Support. She shares her personal experience as part of the organization’s speakers’ bureau.

Threads of Life is a national Canadian charity which supports people who’ve experienced a work-related serious injury, occupational disease or death in their family. The organization offers peer support, opportunities to learn new coping skills, and a network of families who share their experiences and help one another to feel less alone.

Every year in Canada roughly 1,000 families get the same devastating news Marleen’s family received – that a loved one won’t be coming home due to a traumatic work-related injury or an occupational disease. Thousands more are seriously injured on the job.

For those affected by a workplace tragedy, the journey of grief is full of important dates and milestones. Most of these are intensely personal. There’s the date of the tragedy itself; the birthdays that won’t be celebrated; the wedding that a loved one couldn’t attend.

But there is a date they all have in common: National Day of Mourning on April 28. Day of Mourning is a time set aside to remember and honour all those like Leo Pitruzzella, who are killed or injured on the job in Canada. For Marleen and many others, it means a lot to know they are supported by individuals and businesses who also observe this day.

The COVID-19 pandemic means in-person ceremonies and events for Day of Mourning aren’t possible. Many organizations are holding virtual events instead. Threads of Life posted a candle-lighting ceremony. Marleen and others have also shared their stories as part of a video series.

For those like Marleen who have experienced a workplace tragedy, time passes but their lives are changed forever.

“It is the smaller events in my life when I miss him the most,” she says. “But I know him and that contagious smile of his are looking down on my mom, my brother and me every day. I will forever strive to be half the person he was and continue to do great things in his honour.”

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