As I pen this story it’s been 18 days since the collision of a coach bus with a semi-trailer truck, which took the lives of 16 members of the Humboldt Broncos hockey team. April is slipping away in Saskatchewan and, yet, the snow refuses stubbornly to take its leave and thus forestalling spring’s arrival. It’s as if to ensure that no one moves on too quickly from this horrific accident.
There is always the promise of better days. We know from past experience that it won’t be long until one of the longest winters in recent memory begrudgingly makes its exit. However, the memories of the fathers and mothers, and the grandfathers and grandmothers, who were impacted directly by this tragedy will live long after one season gives way to the next.
For longer than we care to admit, the haunting memories of their loved ones lost will be kaleidoscope-like, splendidly represented in multiple reflections. Yes, there will be many hockey images competing for their attention, but there will also be many colourful images of special days and events.
They say self-reflection is the capacity of human beings to exercise introspection. And, in doing so, it’s also said we learn about ourselves, our purpose, our essence. The Humboldt Broncos disaster and suffering has given pause for reflection on the part of parents everywhere.
In some small way, I think I know what many fathers who raised a hockey-playing child may be thinking, as the 16 Celebrations of Life unfold before us. On one hand, there is the stark realization that this could have been our child, given the countless and sometimes treacherous road trips across the vast Western Canadian prairies that so many of us are familiar with. Fathers are taking a deep breath, giving thanks, and taking comfort from our memories of the special moments shared with our sons and daughters.
Many of us have come to a full stop, and are re-calibrating our relationship with our children. I, for one, am not so sure I would have reached out this week and asked my son the question to which there is no answer for the fathers who lost a child that fateful evening in early April. The question for my son was not complicated. Simply stated, it was about precious moments shared between a father and a son while he was growing up. Now that he is an adult, a teacher, in fact, what does he recall from our lives and times together?
Would his memories be positive? Would he speak of one on one time? Would he talk of moments when I may have influenced his choices or direction? Would his reflections convey a sense of being loved, or that he mattered, or that what he did was important, or that he knew his father was exceptionally proud of him?
Suffice it to say he didn’t disappoint. Not only was his response prompt and colourful in its narrative, but it was candid, as well. I’m proud to share several edited exerts from his message to his father.
“I’d have to say our car drives during my first year of playing Atom house league as a full-time goaltender stand out. I recall conversations about being hurt versus being injured, being sick and/or playing with no excuses. And, if you decide to play, you need to give it your all and leave it all out there.”
“Our trips to Sylvan Lake Goaltender School stand-out. Staying in the motel, or even camping one summer at Jarvis Bay. Getting dehydrated, learning from the best goalie in the world at the time (i.e. Bill Ranford). The values, the competition, the specialization, the growth and development that comes from familiarity, and raising your level of play from year to year.”
“Our times together and apart while I attended Notre Dame College, in Saskatchewan, for grade eleven and twelve. Dropping me off, you crying, the almost nightly phone calls, my struggle and emerge mentality being put to the test.
“I remember our father and son trip to Wichita Falls, Texas, to watch the Dallas Cowboys training camp. I remember being able to talk to one another as adults for the first time. My questions centred around Mom’s passing and our time with you as a single parent, your motivation for having me attend Notre Dame College.”
“I recall our everlasting golf rivalry. From the day, you brought home a red and white Wilson bag with four clubs, I was always eager, willing, and excited to head to the links with my Dad.”
“I remember hunting and quadding trips south of Grande Prairie. We looked for chickens while listening to a Rod Stewart soundtrack. One time we came across a pack of wolves. Another, we heard the loudest roar ever of a grizzly bear. On a somber note, I also remember my friend, Mike, wrapping our Polaris quad around a tree.”
“Lastly, as a little boy, I recall our breakfasts together at the Golden Inn in Grande Prairie and our trips to Al’s News, where we’d spend hours looking at magazines and books – most of them, admittedly, were about hockey.”
In closing, he left his father a PS, which I suspect says it all:
“One more thing. I almost forgot to mention how good it felt as a little boy to share the big chair together in our living room while we were watching a (sporting) game on television.”
Yes, better days are ahead. The forecast for the remainder of this seemingly never-ending month of April is looking up. Before long, spring will be in the air. However, before everyone moves onward, let us not forget the sixth day of the fourth month of 2018. Let us not move on too quickly without learning from this fateful moment. And, let us not, as parents and grandparents, ever take for granted, even for a fleeting moment, those precious moments with our sons and daughters.