“Let the strong arms of Saskatchewan provide a loving embrace,” said a tearful Premier Scott Moe, to a press conference on the shock of losing 15 people in the Humboldt Broncos’ deadly bus crash. The camera’s clicked, panned, and the mental image of the province, a tangible source of strength, has lingered.
I lost our first baby in Saskatchewan. It was a windy cold day. I fell hard on some ice and I miscarried shortly after. I couldn’t prove it, but I blamed that ice and myself for a loss I still feel decades later. Premier Moe’s words hit me with memories, and a slow nodding of the head, that reminded me that yes, Saskatchewan has strong arms. For me, it came through first in the older people, who crossed the boundaries of age and space and spoke to me, unafraid to encounter loss.
I remembered that Saskatchewan has a way of pulling you into community, activities of work and play that constantly cycle. There is a grittiness and practicality to making a living off the land, which is where all of Saskatchewan began. Grief is in the landscape, cycles of life and death in every harvest season. The struggle for life, the effort to keep being sustained, is in the DNA surrounding Humboldt and its loss. It’s a struggle that equips a Premier to picture his entire province in an embrace.
The strong arms of Saskatchewan are practical, the first to recognize people need community, and they need activity. The Broncos’ Sunday night game time with Nipawin would be replaced with a vigil, a ceremony including a moment of silence, and gathering of team photos, memories and tears. Saskatchewan pulled the nation together with folding chairs on centre ice, sobbing families and grief-stricken youth wondering how this could be happening.
The strong arms of Saskatchewan are tenacious. Take any agricultural metaphor for tenacity you’d like. I think you can find it in the people who have their roots in making life come out of dead, cold ground.
The strong arms of Saskatchewan are generous. Here, a funding campaign for grieving families reached $4-million in 45 hours. The strong arms of Saskatchewan are protective, understanding grief will be compounded with financial losses, and people looking out for each other is mandatory.
We can hope to never again have to see a TV sports channel turn its programming into grief commentary, but I was grateful for the task Sportsnet served in helping us hear the spiritual life of a hockey team.
“God we are hurt … we need you so badly,” prayed a broken Sean Brandow, chaplain to the Humboldt Broncos. Having a chaplain in hockey life is part of the honest approach the arms of Saskatchewan take. There is a church in every prairie town (sports commentators said there were 11 churches in small Humboldt), and within the arms of Saskatchewan there is an honesty about the reality of God. Pastor Brandow was guttural in his declaration to the crowd: “This is the valley of darkness … to sit and hold the hand of a lifeless body … this is the valley of darkness. All I saw was darkness and hurt and anguish and fear and confusion. And I had nothing. Nothing. I’m a pastor, I’m supposed to have something.” The honesty of those arms of Saskatchewan moved into the facts of Christian hope. “How do we know God was with us? Because Jesus was here before us. It’s in this time that we need a Shepherd who also has walked through this valley. You need Jesus, he walked it first,” Pastor Brandow said.
The faith facts are that darkness has veiled God’s face for so many grieving through this loss. There are others in the family of faith whose arms are in the light of God’s face. They will be at work to carry the grieving family and surviving team members of the Humboldt Broncos through the heavy work of living in the dark.