Losing a child is every parent’s worst nightmare.
That nightmare became a reality on a dark highway in rural Saskatchewan when the charter bus carrying the Humboldt Broncos junior hockey players, coaches and team officials was involved in a horrendous accident. Of 29 people onboard the bus, 15 died: 10 players, 2 coaches, an intern, their “play-by-play” announcer and the coach driver. Others remain in hospital recovering from serious to critical injuries.
The question becomes: What do we do when “This couldn’t happen here”, does happen? Many things have been “done” to express support for this community and those most directly affected. Messages of sympathy have been sent from many sources, including Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, political leaders, hockey teams, personalities and countless individuals. Everyone has been touched by this tragedy.
A “Vigil” was held on Sunday where the community came to “be together”, supported by the Prime Minister, Don Cherry and other personalities who came to show their support and express their own grief. Others have contributed to a “GoFundMe” initiative which started with a goal of thousands and has raised millions of dollars.
All of these are good things, but motivated by a deeper issue that arises in such a situation, namely:
“What do you do when there is nothing you can do?”
In circumstances where we are helpless to change what has happened, doing something … anything! … gives everyone some sense of control in a situation that in actuality is sadly beyond our control. Whether that is by vigil, prayers, signing books of condolence, donating money, leaving hockey sticks on porches or moments of silence at hockey arenas across the country, everyone hopes that our actions will help put the situation in a more meaningful context. And that is a good thing. We all hope that some good might come out of the tragedy as we struggle to find meaning in circumstances that simply make no sense.
But trust me, for everyone affected by this disaster, right now there is nothing “GOOD” about the situation. Everyone asks the question “Why”, looking for something or someone to blame or how the situation could have been avoided, because that would give this a “reason”. Society seems to have a desperate need to find meaning in everything, even when there may be none.
I do concur with Humboldt Mayor Rob Muench’s assessment, “We will get through this.” They will, but it will be a long journey before these wounds heal.
The major goal after a traumatic incident is the empowerment of survivors by enabling them to gain some sense of control over their lives in the immediate days and throughout the remainder of their lives; to mitigate to some degree the feelings of helplessness caused by the tragedy; to make meaning of present symptoms in the light of past events; and incorporating into their identity the experience that “stuff happens” … even in Humboldt.
For those most directly impacted by the tragedy, it is about “speaking the unspeakable”. People often find themselves unable to process the reality of what has happened or put it into words. But atrocities refuse to be buried. Almost as powerful as the desire to banish them from our thinking is the realization that denial does not work for long.
The lives of many people were changed forever in a split second on that coach in Saskatchewan. Appropriate grieving allows people and communities to recover, to heal, to learn and to grow. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. First you hurt and then you heal. And this is going to hurt for a long time. It will hurt when the hockey season starts againand when next year’s playoffs revive memories of this year, and a host of other “triggers.”
I only hope that the sympathetic support and compassionate care that has flowed so generously will still be there in those difficult times ahead, and not be short-lived as everyone on the outside moves on with their lives.
For the people of Humboldt, it is not a matter of “getting over it” as how they can “get through it.” It is not simply a question of grieving loved ones lost … not to minimize that in any way. But there is a deeper question of coming to terms with a world in which assumptions that “this couldn’t happen here” were held and now having to rebuild a world in which it has.
And what makes this difficult for every Canadian family is that our kids played hockey; our kids travelled in buses and cars to games; we have all been where these Humboldt parents are today, if not in reality, in our worst nightmares. This could have happened to us.
And so we can all say, in the words of JFK, that today “Ich Bin ein Humboldter.”