Hours before Marlene Lunn’s husband was killed in a shooting at the Western Forest Products mill in Nanaimo, B.C., he told her his final wishes in case he ever died suddenly.
The conversation Lunn had with her husband, 61-year-old Michael Lunn, on April 30, 2014 in their hot tub — it was the couple’s routine to start the day around 5:30 a.m. with a dip — was eerie.
After a brief soak, the couple got out of the hot tub and Michael prepared breakfast while his wife made the bed. The two parted ways with enough time for both of them to get to work by 7 a.m.
Lunn saw a few clients at Slade Lumber before her son called her just before 9 a.m. There was a shooting at the mill, her son said, and his father wasn’t answering his phone.
Lunn thought maybe Michael couldn’t answer his phone if the mill was on lock down.
Still, they headed down to the mill for answers. There, police took their identification and told them to wait near an unmarked police vehicle.
Yellow tape surrounded the mill. Reporters had flooded to the scene of the shooting. Lunn could see her husband’s truck parked at the mill, surrounded by forensics officers dressed in white.
What Lunn knew at that time was that two were dead and two were injured in the shooting.
“We were hoping that if the worst came he would be wounded,” Lunn said in a telephone interview. “But we didn’t know anything.”
Almost three hours later, a detective arrived at the mill and put Lunn and her son in the back of an unmarked police car.
The officer turned around and he was so sorry. Michael was dead, he told them.
“That is how the nightmare started,” Lunn said.
Kevin Douglas Addison was charged in the deaths of two mills workers — Lunn and Fred McEachern. The case has yet to go to trial.
Once Lunn was given the tragic news, she was taken to the police station where she was greeted by trauma counsellors. There, Lunn paced back and forth, unable to sit still.
“You’re numb,” Lunn said. “You don’t know what to do.”
When Lunn left the police station and went to her daughter’s house, she took on the daunting task of telling four of her seven grandchildren that Michael loved them dearly, but he wasn’t coming home.
“It was really hard for all of them to believe,” Lunn said. “They are all going through different areas of grieving even now.”
After breaking the news to Lunn’s grandchildren, she went home and smelled her husband’s clothes. She didn’t know what else to do.
As the family continued to grieve Michael’s death, and braced for the upcoming trial, Lunn thought she had to do something to try to prevent similar tragedies.
She was leaving the cemetery after Lunn’s funeral when she told friends that she had asked mill workers after her husband’s death how they handle workplace violence.
“We don’t know,” Lunn recalled they said. “We just ignore it. It will go away.”
In the midst of Lunn’s grieving, she launched what has become known as the Red Shirt Foundation, an organization that is working to address workplace violence.
“We can all stop it,” Lunn said. “If each one of us just did something small, it would happen.”
The organization was named after Michael’s love of red shirts, including one he wore to a buffet dinner on a cruise ship that read: “I beat anorexia.”
“He must have had 42 red shirts,” Lunn said with a chuckle. “And they all had sayings on them.”
As Lunn continues to speak out about workplace violence, she continues her journey of grief.
There are good days and there are bad days, she says. She struggles with the firsts — the first Christmas without Michael was difficult.
But her most important advice to others in the same situation is to try to avoid anger.
Lunn says she isn’t angry at the man accused of her husband’s murder. In fact, her daughter hugged the mother and sister of the accused at one of his court dates.
“It wasn’t their fault,” Lunn said. “I think if I was angry, I would have a harder journey. Anger doesn’t help anybody. It just eats you up.”
Lunn says she instead feels lucky for the amount of time she was able to spend with her husband of 44 years.
Michael was always happy, and even at 5:30 in the morning he was singing, Lunn said. He was best known for the giant hugs he gave, even to people he just met.
“You have to be very, very lucky having those memories and the time you spent with that person,” Lunn said. “That’s all you’ve got left. Maybe they left us, but we are better off for having them in our life for the time we had.”