It finally struck me Saturday night.
It was about 7 p.m., over 24 hours since the fatal bus crash that captured the hearts and minds of Canadians over the course of the weekend. The sheer scale of the tragedy finally sunk in.
I was where I had been most of the weekend, at my desk, monitoring Twitter and Facebook, reading stories, watching press conferences and trying to figure out what today’s paper would look like.
They’re all gone, I thought.
I was suddenly taken back to all of my bus rides. I was never much of an athlete, so I was never on a bus for hockey or soccer or baseball.
I was a musician, though. I’ve taken school trips on coach buses to Chicago and Nashville. I’ve travelled across Germany, Austria and the Czech Republic on a coach bus packed with musicians from Canada as we sang our parts and bonded in the European countryside.
Some of the best memories from those trips came from the time spent on those buses.
That could have been me. That could have been any of us.
I sat at my desk and just sort of stared into nothing. The images I’d seen and stories I read flashed through my head.
How do you put that into words?
This weekend will go down in history as one of the most tragic, saddest on record. Fifteen dead, 11 of them aged 21 or younger, their whole lives in front of them.
The other four also too young, with decades of life and love they will never experience.
Fourteen others physically injured and surely emotionally scarred, experiencing first-hand a level of loss we could never comprehend.
Then there are the families and friends, both in Humboldt and beyond. Several of these kids weren’t from Saskatchewan. They have two sets of families and friends, at home and abroad, mourning and shaken by the news.
The parents of some of these kids haven’t seen them in weeks. How must they feel, now that they won’t get to hug their children again?
It’s almost too much to even think about.
But, in times like these, it’s the strength, love and compassion that shine through.
While the losses made me sad and emotional, it wasn’t until I saw the unending kindness in peoples’ hearts that I wept.
NHL teams from across North America held moments of silence, or gave what they could. People dropped whatever they were doing, and immediately moved to help. One of the members of the medical community that night said they had more people calling in to try to work than they could accommodate. They had no trouble finding enough staff to deal with what would be an impossible situation.
First responders and rural health care workers moved seamlessly. In Saskatoon, where trauma patients were treated, dozens of complete strangers worked together like lifelong colleagues, doing what they could to do what was needed.
Around the world, an outpouring of support. The GoFundMe donations and comments came not just from Canada and the US, but from Europe. Ukraine’s Canadian ambassador sent his support. The Texas Rangers and Boston Red Sox, two American baseball teams, held moments of silence to honour the victims.
Donald Trump and other world leaders reached out to Justin Trudeau to pass on their regards to the community of Humboldt.
Fred Rogers once said, in tough times, look for the helpers. In this tragedy, they came out in droves.
But the most impressive people in all of this have been the people of Humboldt. They have shown incredible strength and resiliency in the face of an impossible situation.
Saturday afternoon, the city, the team, the league and the RCMP held a joint press conference. Though visibly shaken, neither Mayor Rob Muench nor team president Kevin Garinger shed a tear, though no one would have been upset if they had.
Instead, they stood up there and called for their communities to come together during this extraordinarily difficult time. Garinger even sought to, with his words, comfort a young reporter who choked out a question alluding to her recently-deceased coworker who was on that bus that day.
The strength of Humboldt serves as an inspiration to us all. They have a long road ahead, and we must not forget to support them on this difficult journey as they try to heal from a situation worse than we could even imagine.
The days and weeks ahead will be unfathomable. I couldn’t begin to even approach understanding what families, friends and survivors are going through. But to quote Premier Scott Moe, let’s “let the strong arms of Saskatchewan provide a loving embrace to the community and the families of the Humboldt Broncos.”