Saskatoon

His final socks, her last necklace: Humboldt Broncos' parents detail emotional connection to objects in court

A pair of socks, a necklace, a door frame, an urn filled with ashes — families of those hurt or killed in the Humboldt Broncos bus crash spoke in court this week about their powerful emotional connections to these and other objects.

'We were all grieving,' says Saskatoon psychologist and counsellor

Family and friends leave for the lunch break at the sentencing hearing for Jaskirat Singh Sidhu, the driver of the truck involved in the Humboldt Broncos bus crash. (Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press)

A pair of socks, a necklace, a door frame, an urn filled with ashes — families of those hurt or killed in the Humboldt Broncos bus crash spoke in court this week about their powerful emotional connections to these and other objects.

"The physical centres us," Saskatoon psychologist and grief counsellor Dustin Reekie said in an interview with CBC News.

Nearly 100 parents, siblings and others delivered victim impact statements during the sentencing hearing for the semi driver who caused the crash that killed 16 people and injured 13 others.

Many wiped away tears as they spoke in the Melfort, Sask., gymnasium that had been converted to a courtroom. They were embraced by the other families during breaks.

Reekie followed the developments. He said the families showed remarkable courage by sharing their grief so publicly. He believes the process has been healthy, even though it's been extremely painful.

In court, Carol Brons held up a plastic evidence bag containing a necklace. It was on the neck of her daughter, Dayna, when she was killed in the crash.

Brons doesn't want to take it out of the bag because she wants to preserve the few hairs attached to it. She and her husband haven't yet bought a headstone for her grave.

"I don't know when we'll do that. It makes it too real," she said. 

Dayna Brons, the Broncos' 25-year-old athletic therapist, was one of the 16 people killed in the crash. (Dayna Brons/Facebook )

Chris Joseph took the socks off his son Jaxon's body at the funeral home. He's carried them in his own pocket ever since. Joseph held them up in court.

"I can't even smell him anymore," he said. 

Russell Herold said he and his wife can't bring themselves to bury or spread the ashes of their son, Adam. Herold said he sometimes holds the urn on his lap and talks to his boy.

"Where we live, where we work is full of memories of Adam. There is no escaping him."

Jaxon Joseph was one of the players who died in the Humboldt bus crash. (Family photo)

Scott Thomas said his family is moving. They're often overwhelmed just walking past his deceased son Evan's bedroom, or the doorway marked to measure the kids' heights, or the table where they played the card game Kaiser.

"Mom and I cry every day," he said in court, speaking directly to Evan. "I don't think we can stay there anymore. You are everywhere."

Adam Herold's parents say the 16-year-old planned to pursue a hockey career then work at the family farm. (Russell and Raelene Herold/Supplied)

Michelle Straschnitzki, whose son Ryan was paralyzed, said he and his family stayed home in Alberta this week because it would be too stressful to be there physically. They submitted their victim impact statement in writing. 

"It's probably best to keep our distance," Straschnitzki told CBC News. 

The connection to physical items isn't limited to the Broncos families, Reekie said.

It's also why so many people around the world joined the call to put hockey sticks in their front porches following the April 6 crash, he said. 

"We were all grieving," Reekie said.

It's why students and staff in La Loche, Sask., demanded a new front entrance to their school after the 2016 shooting that left four people dead several others injured, he said. 

During the hearing this week, families alternately expressed anger, confusion and forgiveness. Reekie said that's not surprising — grief is not a neat, linear process.

Despite the family's busy schedules, Evan Thomas was always ready to give his mother, Laurie, a hug on Mother's Day. (Submitted by Laurie Thomas)

"Everyone goes through stages, and most will go back and forth," he said.

The Broncos tragedy is still raw for most of the families, particularly since they'll have to wait until late March for the semi driver's sentencing.

In the long-term, Reekie encourages people to keep things that bring comfort. But taken to the extreme, the "over-shrining" of a bedroom or mementos can be unhealthy.

"We do need to eventually find a way out."

Humboldt Broncos hockey player Ryan Straschnitzki, shown here with his mother Michelle, was paralyzed by the crash. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)

About the Author

Jason Warick

Reporter

Jason Warick is a reporter with CBC Saskatoon.

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