'When everybody leaves': Counselling key to help Humboldt move on after bus crash

Funerals have been held and residents of Humboldt where the junior league Broncos are based face the return to their daily routines.

Psychology Association of Saskatchewan urges people to reach out for help

The Humboldt Broncos were on their way to a playoff game in Nipawin, Sask., on April 6 when their bus and a semi-trailer collided at a rural intersection. Residents from the small community are now dealing with the aftermath of the tragedy. (Canadian Press)

Mary-Jane Wilkinson is worried about what will happen in coming weeks to families and a community grieving the dead and the injured in a tragic hockey bus crash earlier this month in Saskatchewan.

Funerals have been held and residents of Humboldt where the junior league Broncos are based face the return to their daily routines.

Wilkinson, the manager of the Canalta Hotel, experienced grief herself when she lost her husband at a young age. She was left to raise her son Richard by herself.

Dealing with life after a tragedy can be the worst part following a loss, she said.

"When everybody leaves, which eventually everybody does, then you're starting your new normal and it's very tough. The community is going to really have to keep working to make sure the people heal ... with the support from the community," said Wilkinson.

"Once everybody goes away, they're actually dealing with it for the first time alone, and I know what that feels like."

The Broncos were on their way to a playoff game in Nipawin, Sask., on April 6 when their bus and a semi-trailer collided at a rural intersection. Sixteen people, including 10 players, died and 13 were injured. The driver of the truck wasn't hurt.

Far-reaching tragedy

The deputy reeve of the rural municipality of Connaught where the crash occurred said the immediate aftermath has been hard for many people.

"One of our councillors that sits at this table with us was one of the first on scene. He's struggling," said Ian Boxall. "The biggest thing right now [is] making sure that these people have what they need to get through this."
Various emergency services agencies have left a tribute to the victims of the Humboldt Broncos bus crash at the site of the accident. Although first responders tend to think of the people they help first, they too need support after a traumatic event. (Susan Ormiston/CBC)

Former NHL player Sheldon Kennedy was part of the 1986 Swift Current Broncos crash in which four of his Western Hockey League teammates died.

"There's the shock, and then there's the grief, and then ... part of healing with anything is acceptance," said Kennedy.

"We've got to find ways to manage those negative thoughts, or those images ... or the guilt. We know a lot of guilt comes with people who have come through these types of tragedies."

The Psychology Association of Saskatchewan is urging people to reach out for help. Dr. Regan Hart, with the association, said the first thought is with the friends and family of the victims. But she said a tragedy like this is far-reaching.

"It could be quite wide-ranging in that sense because a lot of these kids were quite active members of their school groups and their communities," she said.

"When it's someone you know in such a tragic kind of accident, I think it kind of hits close to home for a lot of people especially in a small province and smaller communities that we have here in Saskatchewan."