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Two Years

Today was supposed to be the day friends and family gathered to mark the two-year anniversary of the bus crash that killed 16 members of the Humboldt Broncos and injured 13 others. Today was supposed to be their time to lean on each other and share their grief. It won’t happen. It can’t happen, at least not in person.

This COVID-19 crisis has made it impractical, impossible. Instead of coming together, we’re social distancing. Rather than gathering, we’re physically further apart right around the world than we ever have been. It’s necessary of course, but the reality of what must be done seems particularly harsh on this anniversary day for those the Broncos left behind.

There won’t be a meeting at the crash site that’s burned in our memories or at Elgar Petersen Arena, where friends, family and the people of Humboldt came together in the wake of the crash with what seemed like the whole world looking on. That won’t mute the memory. What it means is finding other ways to remember, to share, to grieve and to help each other heal in this new reality.

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It’ll happen remotely. The city of Humboldt has established a web page — at humboldt.ca/tribute – where people who wish to can sign a guest book starting at noon today. At 4:50 p.m., the time of the crash, St. Augustine Catholic Church in Humboldt will toll its bells — that will be available on a video feed on the city’s Facebook page, followed by a moment of silence. And, of course, friends and family will reach out to each other remotely.

MARKING THE DAY

“Hockey is on the back burner,” understated Broncos’ coach Scott Barney. “Everybody’s lives are more important than the game of hockey right now, but we haven’t forgotten. We’ll never forget.”

“We had to scale things back, but we’re remembering those whose lives were lost or changed forever,” mayor Rob Muench said. “In the midst of all the turmoil in the present world, we want to make sure the lives lost and those that were changed forever two years ago are not forgotten. During this time of self-isolating and physical distancing, it’s important to us that people still have a place to go to reflect and remember the tragedy and the outpouring of support that our community received on a global scale.”

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For the families, will it be the same as standing together at the crash site or being able to hold and console each other in person in the aftermath of an unthinkable tragedy? Of course not. Nothing is the same now. Nothing has been the same for those who lost loved ones for two years. I cannot fathom their loss. I can’t walk in their shoes. Nobody can.

“It’s going to be a lonely day,” said Toby Boulet, whose son, Logan, was killed. “Not as many hugs. We can’t get together as a family.” It was Boulet who signed an organ donor card on his 21st birthday, just weeks before the crash. Six people received Boulet’s organs. In the two months following the crash, Canadian Blood Services estimated that 150,000 people signed donor cards.

REMEMBER THEM

In the aftermath of the crash two years ago we turned on our porch lights and put out hockey sticks for the Broncos, who had so many ties to the Edmonton and St. Albert in players Jaxon Joseph, the son of former Oiler Chris Joseph, Logan Hunter, Parker Tobin and Stephen Wack. We ached for them. We still do.

So today, we mark the two-year anniversary under the most difficult of circumstances. At the bottom line, it matters not how we remember the lives lost, those forever changed and the loved ones left behind and still struggling. What matters is that we do remember and that we let them know in whatever way we can. Bless the Humboldt Broncos.

Previously by Robin Brownlee