Network Magazine
HSO Network Magazine • Volume 1 • Issue 1

The Lewis Wheelan Tragedy: Sarah Afterward


W hile helping Lewis cope with the changes in his life, Sarah Wheelan had to deal with her own grief and loss. “After Lewis was injured, everything for my parents and me became, ‘How could we make his life just a little bit better? Or take his mind off things?’ What had taken over Lewis’s life had also taken over ours. Even though Lewis didn’t want to be the centre of attention all of the time, we couldn’t help it.

“Lewis and I remained close, but there was a certain amount of emotional distancing from both our ends. He wanted to protect me from what he was going through, and I could only take so much because it was too painful. I also didn’t want him to feel that I was shifting my life in order to focus on him, because I knew that wasn’t what he wanted.”

Then Lewis died. “I had just taken it for granted that Lewis would always be a part of my life. In the year before he was injured, our bond had become so strong. I figured that as we got older and had our own families, my future kids would know their uncle. They would be close to him. I just loved him so much, and now I felt I had lost him twice – the Lewis I had grown up with, and the Lewis he had become through all his struggles.”

Sarah struggled to find value in what had happened. “I gradually learned that there was no acceptable way for me, personally, to handle it other than to prevent it from happening to someone else. Doing something after the fact is too late. Prevention is the only solution.”

After Sarah graduated from Lakehead University, she started a second degree in occupational health and safety at Ryerson University in Toronto. She has since graduated, and at this point is still deciding how to put her knowledge to use. “All I know is that I have to be involved in prevention. When you look at any injury report, most of what went wrong is blatantly obvious. It’s so difficult to grasp why people don’t see the risks, or don’t consider the risks great enough to worry about. I can’t live with that. I take it too personally.”

At the same time that Sarah was searching to find value in her professional life, she was searching in her personal life. Threads of Life became a resource and an outlet. “The siblings sessions at the Family Forums helped tremendously. There’s nothing worse than the loss of a child, and as the family member least physically involved in Lewis’s recovery, I diminished how important his death should be to me. But that’s not what my heart was telling me.

“From what I’ve experienced and what I’ve read, a large part of your identity is formed around your siblings, where one is yin and the other is yang, one is more and the other is less, in any aspect. When that other person is no longer here, the challenge becomes, ‘Who am I now?’ In the siblings group, even though each of us was dealing with different circumstances, and was at a different stage in life, we understood. If I didn’t have these connections with people who truly understand, I would always feel there was a part of me that I couldn’t share with anyone.”

Sarah is now involved in Threads of Life primarily to help others rather than help herself. It’s almost another graduation. She’s come to realize that helping others affected by a workplace tragedy – regardless of how it happened – is an important part of moving forward herself.

Looking back, Sarah says Lewis gave her three gifts. “The first is knowing that I want to make a difference in health and safety. Knowing that I want to prevent what happened to Lewis from happening to others. It’s something I’m truly passionate about. The second, greater compassion for others, which came from seeing the type of struggles that he dealt with after he was injured. The third, a love of the outdoors. If I’m sitting on a dock at the side of the lake, that’s where I feel his presence the most. Lewis loved to be on the water, and that’s the way I want to remember him.”

  1. Electrical Safety and Young/New Worker Resources
  2. Communicating with Families During a Crisis
  3. Helping Families Cope with Workplace Tragedy
  4. The Lewis Wheelan Tragedy: the Legal Story
  5. Sarah Afterward