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'Down on my knees:' Grief and sadness an obstacle for many after Broncos crash

Last Updated Apr 1, 2019 at 6:32 am PDT

A memorial made of hockey sticks, crosses and Canadian flags is seen at the crash site of the Humboldt Broncos hockey team near Tisdale, Sask., Friday, August, 24, 2018. A year of dealing with lives lost and futures erased won't come to an end on April 6 - the first anniversary of the Humboldt Broncos bus crash. The Broncos were on their way to a playoff game in Nipawin, Sask. that day when their bus and a semi-trailer collided at a rural intersection. Sixteen people, including 10 players, died and 13 were injured. THE CANADIAN PRESS Jonathan Hayward

SASKATCHEWAN – Kevin Matechuk of Colonsay, Sask., wasn’t prepared for the emotions that hit him when he visited the site of the Humboldt Broncos bus crash.

His son, Layne, who is 19 now, had been in a coma and was learning to talk and walk again due to a severe brain injury. Matechuk’s wife, Shelley, was too afraid to travel.

While in the area for his job as a manager at an agricultural company, he stopped at the site north of Tisdale, Sask., with another Broncos parent.

“The emotion, it put me down on my knees and I couldn’t even go back to work. I just had to go home to hug Layne. I had to hold him after. It was very, very emotional.”

Saturday marks the first anniversary of the April 6 crash that killed 16 people and injured 13 on the junior hockey team’s bus. The Broncos were on their way to a playoff game when the bus hit a semi-truck after its driver blew a stop sign at a rural intersection.

Dr. Kristi Wright, president of the Psychology Association of Saskatchewan, said she wouldn’t be surprised if many of the people affected by the crash — family members, friends and first responders — are experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder.

“Death in itself is an awful event,” she said in an interview. “For people who have struggled with mental health, this can make it worse.”

Joanne Ginter, a senior psychologist with Sundancer Psychological Services in Calgary, said the anniversary is significant for people.

“It marks (that) you’ve gone through the first of everything — the first holidays, the first birthday,” she said. “It’s a time that people come together and kind of start marking off moving forward.”

The attention the crash received around the world, along with overwhelming public support, is likely to have been positive for the victims’ families, she said.

“The amount of outpouring of love that came for that whole tragedy — it’s my guess that allowed those people to heal.”

Some of the surviving players say they have developed their own support system.

“I text my buddies. We just keep in touch and we’re there for each other,” said Ryan Straschnitzki, 19, who was paralyzed from the waist down.

Straschnitzki, who is from of Airdrie, Alta., keeps himself busy with therapy and has a goal of playing in the Olympics on Canada’s sledge hockey team.

But he has his bad days too.

“It definitely comes out in times of frustration, but for the most part I like to keep it in me,” he said.

Tyler Smith of Leduc, Alta., recovered from his injuries enough to be able to return to the Broncos last fall.

After a month back on the ice, Smith decided to go home. The 20-year-old said his brief comeback was a good thing.

“I think, in the grand scheme of things, it’ll give me the closure that I need. I proved to myself I can play again.

“And then it’s just the fact I can say that I tried. And I think that’ll help me in the long run.”