The grief isn’t gone 5 years after the Humboldt Broncos crash, but for some it’s softer

Bernadine and Toby Boulet say they are still coming to terms with their son’s death, even though he’s been gone for years.

They’ve noticed the boys their son Logan knew growing tall and moving into adulthood. 

“I looked at pictures to compare and it really hit me that Logan’s pictures aren’t going to change. Everybody else gets to change. I thought about that lots before, but it’s really starting to hit,” Toby said. “After five years, there’s a difference.”

Logan Boulet played defence for the Humboldt Broncos junior hockey team. He was one of the 16 people who died after team’s bus collided with a semi that had blown through a stop sign in rural Saskatchewan on April 6, 2018. The thirteen others travelling on the bus were injured.

There will be a memorial event Thursday at the Elgar Petersen Arena in Humboldt, planned by the city and the Broncos families. The rink will be open from 4:45 p.m. to 5:30 pm. CST, and tribute videos will also be posted online. 

Church bells will toll in the city 29 times around 4:50 p.m., the approximate time of the crash. Mayor Behiel encouraged all people to observe a moment of silence, no matter where they may be.

Humboldt Broncos player Logan Boulet, 21, was from Lethbridge, Alta. Boulet had recently signed an organ donation card and was kept on life support while matches were found for his organs. He was expected to save the lives of at least six people. (SJHL)

The Boulets said that at times it feels like the unthinkable tragedy happened yesterday, and other times it feels like a lifetime ago.

Their day-to-day decisions are still influenced by the loss. Chocolate milk, eggnog and frozen pizza are all off limits at the grocery store. They’re too intertwined with memories of their son. 

“You’re supposed to lose your parents, you’re supposed to, before you …” Bernadine paused, allowing tears to fall. “You’re not supposed to lose your child.”

Despite the trauma, the Boulets — and others affected by the crash — have been able to move forward. They’ve done so by focusing on the positive change that’s happened in the aftermath of tragedy.

A positive legacy

After the crash, Logan’s heartbeat was strong and his body looked relatively unscathed, but his brain stem was severely damaged and there was no hope for survival.

The Boulets clearly remember saying goodbye to him in the hospital.

“We talked to him. We read stories with him. We sang songs. We shared memories. We held his hand,” Bernadine said.

She asked if he was a candidate for organ donation, not knowing then that Logan had told Toby he wanted to be an organ donor when he died, inspired by his late fitness trainer Ric.

“Nobody wants your organs. You’ll be 85,” Toby remembers telling his son. “And he says, ‘Nope, if Ric can donate six organs to save six lives, I can [too].'”

At 21, Logan did. The decision to donate spread like wildfire on social media, and the Logan Boulet Effect came alive. Toby said close to 150,000 people registered as organ donors within weeks of the crash.

Green Shirt Day was created the next year to honour the Broncos’ legacy and inspire Canadians to register as organ donors.

“As we approach five years, we still get people who come and tell us ‘I registered because of Logan’s story,'” Bernadine said. “We’re very honoured that [Logan’s] impact and his decision and our decision made a difference and it’s still impacting people.”

Bernadine Boulet (left), her daughter Mariko and husband Toby wear t-shirts in honor of Green Shirt Day. Humboldt Broncos player Logan Boulet, #27, was declared brain dead at 11:45 a.m. MT on April 7, 2018. His donation of organs and tissues helped six people and spurred a wave of organ donation registrations across Canada, dubbed the #LoganBouletEffect.
Bernadine Boulet, left, her daughter Mariko and husband Toby wear T-shirts in honor of Green Shirt Day. Humboldt Broncos player Logan Boulet’s donation of organs and tissues helped six people and spurred a wave of organ donation registrations across Canada. (Submitted by Toby Boulet)

Movements like these motivated survivor Tyler Smith to not give up. The former Broncos player suffered a broken collarbone, shoulder blade, ribs and a stroke in the crash.

Smith said that in the weeks after the crash he struggled to manage his survivor’s guilt and had no desire to live a full life. However, he was inspired to keep going by the other Broncos and their loved ones.

“A lot of good has happened and it’s just a testament to the families, the 29 incredible families and especially the 16 incredible families who have done so much good and been able to give so much back,” Smith said.

Survivors making waves

Now Smith is focused on what he can do. He started a clothing line for mental health awareness, co-hosts a podcast that speaks with athletes about mental health and shares about his own struggles, hoping that helps others open up.

“We continually live in a life that doesn’t make sense, and continues to throw curve-balls and just traumatic events, and I just want to help people find common ground,” he said.

People aren’t often given permission, or enough time, to work though emotional problems, Smith observed.

Smith said time has allowed him to understand how important it is to prioritize mental well-being. He hopes he’s making his Broncos family proud.

“I always thought that there was, like, an end game to mental health, and I always thought that maybe there was an end date, that I could try and perfect this healing journey so that I could just be done with it,” he said. “But now, I mean, I’ve embraced the fact that this is a lifelong [journey].”

Humboldt Broncos bus crash survivor Tyler Smith shows his tribute tattoos in Leduc, Alta., on Saturday, March 30, 2019. Over a year after a deadly bus crash that devastated their junior hockey team and the nation, Smith and Kaleb Dahlgren are focusing on healing and building their futures.
Humboldt Broncos bus crash survivor Tyler Smith shows his tribute tattoos in Leduc, Alta., on March 30, 2019. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press)

Smith’s former teammate Ryan Straschnitzki has also been busy. The 23-year-old was left paralyzed from the chest down after the bus crash. He’s started studying how to make buildings more accessible for the disabled.

He’s also created The Straz Strong Foundation, which aims to improve access to adaptive sports, rehab and physio therapy, and to provide education on disabilities through public speaking.

“For me, when I was in that hospital bed, I didn’t know what was next, so adaptive sport was sort of that light at the end of the tunnel,” Straschnitzki said. But he learned the world of sports — and the world in general —  is very expensive for people living with disabilities.

“Hopefully the strong foundation can create awareness and make that more accessible to all.” 

Straschnitzki said the five-year anniversary seemed to come up fast, but the reality is he lives with the tragedy every day. He said his old teammates are like brothers and they share a special connection. 

“For me it’s just a part of the identity, and I’m going to have to live with it and kind of make the best of the situation.”

Former Humboldt Bronco Ryan Straschnitzki
Former Humboldt Bronco hockey player Ryan Straschnitzki, who was injured in a team bus crash, practises with PX3 AMP hockey team in Calgary in 2019. (Todd Korol/The Canadian Press)

Grief gets softer with time

When reflecting on the five-year anniversary, Logan Boulet’s mother Bernadine extended compassion to crash survivors.

“It’s not an easy day, because what they were doing, they were just getting on the bus to go to a playoff game. It shouldn’t have been any different than the hundreds of times that they got on a bus to go to a hockey game, and it was different,” Bernadine said.

She noted that everyone will have their own ways to mark the anniversary of the crash. The Boulets will share memories of their son and make sure they let the sunshine in.

“Logan loves the sun — after 11 in the morning, of course, not too early. But he likes sun, so we let the sunshine in,” Toby said. 

They understand now that their grief will never go away, but know it will keep changing with time. 

“It’s getting much softer now around the edges. It’s still there, but it’s softer,” Toby said.

Memorial site set up to remember the 16 people killed in the April 6th, 2018 crash.
A memorial site set up to remember the 16 people killed in the April 6, 2018, crash. (Karen Pauls/CBC)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *