Maria Mitousis says mail bombing will not be the moment that defines her
Winnipeg lawyer plans to return to work, one year after losing a hand
There was never any doubt in Maria Mitousis's mind that one day she would return to her family law practice at the all-female law firm of Petersen King.
"I had no doubt from the beginning," she said.
"I knew that if things were going well and if I was healing at the rate that I wanted to heal at, and if emotionally I was doing well then I'd like to see myself going back to work within the year. And that was immediately my plan."
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Nearly a year has passed and Mitousis, 39, is once again sitting in her office. The space looks exactly like it did before the explosion. She even hung all her pictures in the same places. She talks openly about what happened that day and the road ahead of her with humour and humility.
The explosion may have altered Mitousis's life, but she will not let it define her.
"Life will throw sometimes extraordinary situations at you but it's how you respond that defines who you are as a person, your character," she said.
On July 3, 2015, Mitousis was out golfing with girlfriends that morning and later stopped at the office to clear a few things up to get an early start to the long weekend.
Like most Fridays, she knew her partner would be by shortly to drop off some cinnamon buns.
She was in her office when she opened a package sitting on her desk with the mail. Inside was an audio recording device with a bomb built in it. It exploded in her hands.
Mitousis remembers bomb going off in her hands
"I remember thinking to myself this is not possible. I didn't know the extent of my injuries at the time. I knew I was injured. I knew that I had to get help," Mitousis recalled.
"I knew that what had happened was some kind of explosive device but it was just so unthinkable and I remember just being incredulous."
Her office door was closed at the time. Mitousis remembers getting up from behind her desk to open it.
"I suspect I must have used my elbows. I don't remember exactly how but the doorknob is a lever," she recalled.
One co-worker was on the phone with 911 and the other was running down the hallway to get to her.
Mitousis lost her right hand in the blast but doctors were able to save her left. She also suffered burns to her face, stomach and thighs. She was rushed into surgery and didn't know the extent of her injuries until she woke up in hospital hours later.
"I remember waking up and my arms, I knew immediately my hand wasn't in a splint or it was wrapped, and my other hand was a complete splint with just my fingertips showing and I hadn't looked," she said.
Remarkably, Mitousis returned to the law firm one week later to support colleagues who were going back to work for the first time.
"I know that my co-workers were, after it happened, were very shaken up and they had a hard time coming back after the office was closed and I came here to see them the day they reopened," said Mitousis.
"That was a really important day for all of us because I wanted them to see me — that I was OK, that I needed time to get better but that I was ready to get back to this space and it wasn't this space that was the problem."
Friends, strangers help in healing
She saw her office for the first time a few days later and found that a client had already been by with a flower "mandala" to purify the space in preparation for her arrival.
"It's meant to bring peace and bring beauty to a place that had been witness to a terrible terrible thing … that actually made me feel like someone had gone in first for me," said Mitousis.
"We're continuing on and it is our space and we are very proud of this office and we work so well together."
Surprisingly, Mitousis is not haunted by visions of what happened. For that, she credits the support of loved ones and colleagues, and the kindness of strangers.
"Anyone who thinks they're alone, or that no one is thinking of them or that we live in a pretty dark world, it's nice to be reminded that there are people who will just stop in," she said.
There's a notepad on her desk from a couple she'd never met. It says, "She loved life and it loved her right back."
"It still happens, I'll come in and the front desk and they say, 'Oh, somebody just popped in to drop off a little gift for you,'" said Mitousis.
Those gestures make Mitousis and her co-workers smile, in the very place where they suffered unimaginable hurt.
"I've had to take a hard look my life and others and I think that, you know, despite it being challenging, I think there's a lot of positive," she said.
"I've concluded that there are many, many more positive things that I can tell you about the experiences."
'Returning back to normal'
Sunday will mark the one year anniversary of that day.
"It will be nice on some level perhaps to be able to close off the year and you know the idea of returning back to normal is sometimes something I say to people as shorthand for just putting it behind you," she said.
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While Mitousis is still in recovery, her plan to return to work within a year is slowly coming to fruition. She has a new keyboard that will allow her to type with one hand and is now undergoing training to transition back to work.
"Things that were automatic and second nature, just typing an email or typing anything. Writing is something, actually, that's something I do miss — the physical act of writing," she said.
"I used to write in a journal. I liked to see my letters on paper. It sounds cheesy, but I've always liked the look of my handwriting. I miss that I'm not, at this stage, going to have that distinct handwriting that belonged to me. On the big scope of things, the big picture, I think it's pretty minor. "
She said she has to focus on the things she can do. She wants to learn to golf again using her left hand and she's taken up horseback riding.
Mitousis plans to be back at work this fall.
This story is part of a CBC Manitoba series called "Where Are They Now," about Manitobans whose stories have touched our hearts. Other stories in this series are: