After attending 12 funerals in 10 days – he couldn’t go to all 16 because several were held simultaneously – and crisscrossing Saskatchewan and Alberta, the president of the Humboldt Broncos has one more trip to make. And it will be by far his most difficult.
Not in terms of distance. In fact, it’s right in his own home. Since the bus accident that took the lives of 16 members of the organization April 6, Kevin Garinger has not been able to bring himself to walk down to his own basement. That’s because the basement was where Conner Lukan’s bedroom was. Lukan, one of the 16 who died in the crash, was billeting with Garinger and his family.
“I just haven’t got there yet, I just haven’t taken a step down the stairs,” Garinger said. “I don’t know why. I want to go to see Conner’s room. I want to go and have a talk with him. I’m not in a place where I’m dealing real well with it. I mean, when you can’t even go downstairs in your own home…I need to be able to find the strength to be with him and I’m just not there yet.”
All of which is completely understandable. Grief can be a very long, very confounding process when a person is dealing with just one death. But Garinger is dealing with 16 of them, all the while juggling his responsibilities as president of the team and coming to grips with the fact that one of them was his “billet son.” It’s a good reminder to everyone that this is going to be a very long process for the people of Humboldt and that they should not be forgotten.
There are signs that things are beginning to progress for these people. This past weekend was a significant part of the journey that ended. Saturday was the funeral for assistant coach Mark Cross, which marked the last of the 16 funerals/celebrations of life. The players, meanwhile, continue to heal physically. Two of them, Morgan Gobeil and Layne Matechuk, remain in intensive care, but Garinger said Gobeil will soon be moved to another floor in the hospital, which indicates progress. Some have been transferred to facilities closer to home. But while the physical healing process continues for the players, there remains a huge void for those who have been unable to leave the hospital to attend their teammates’ funerals.
“It’s a hard place for all of them because they haven’t been able to gain any closure,” Garinger said. “They haven’t been able to go to any of the services and that’s hard for them. We’re trying to figure out, how can we get videos to them so they can see it and go through that part of it.”
And the random acts of kindness have helped immeasurably. Last week, both Connor McDavid and Ryan O’Reilly visited the players in the hospital and then spent time at the Elgar Petersen Arena, the home of the Broncos. Hearing that the children of head coach Darcy Haugan, who was also killed in the accident, are Vancouver Canuck fans, the team dispatched Saskatchewan natives Derek Dorsett and Derrick Pouliot to Humboldt. When Haugan’s wife, Christina, and children, Jackson and Carson, arrived back in Saskatoon from Alberta last week, Dorsett and Pouliot were waiting at the airport holding signs with the childrens’ names on them. A woman with a condo in Saskatoon out of the blue offered her place for a family to stay and one of the families will be able to get out of the hotel and have comfortable long-term accommodations there while their son is being treated.
There’s also the Country Strong concert that will be held Friday night at SaskTel Place in Saskatoon, where a number of Canadian country music stars will be holding a benefit concert. The families have all been invited and will be able to spend some time together the night before and at the concert.
And then there is the task of rebuilding the Broncos. The team has already committed to putting a team together for next season and two players who survived the crash, Derek Patter and Brayden Camrud, have already said they intend on coming back next season. The Saskatchewan Junior League draft is coming up and the Broncos will soon have to put the wheels in motion to hire a coach and GM.
It has been a whirlwind that never seems to slow down. But it will, as Humboldt and the Broncos begin to adjust to a new normal. On one of the days, Garinger had to miss Adam Herold’s funeral because it was being held the same day as another one in a town three hours away. But Garinger and some members of the Broncos executive managed to get to the reception for Herold that was held after the funeral.
“It’s only a three-hour drive to Montmartre (where Herold’s funeral was held),” Garinger said. “And it was important for us to be there. All our families need us to be there and need to know that we won’t forget them.”
Now if only a walk down to his basement were so easy.
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