As each day passes, and the one-year anniversary of the Humboldt Broncos bus crash gets another day closer, Kevin Matechuk can feel the tension rising.
His son, Layne, is one of 13 survivors of the crash. The Broncos defenceman suffered a severe brain injury and skull fractures, as well as two collapsed lungs, and spent six months in hospital. He had to learn to walk and talk again.
“Anxiety just builds up every day that we get closer to the day,” Matechuk said. The father has flashbacks to the panic and terror of that day, and to “how things used to be and how they’re so different now.”
“I don’t know how to describe it in words, but you can just feel it building… It’s kind of torture on the inside.”
The collision happened at 4:50 p.m. CT on April 6, 2018, when a Calgary-based transport truck driver, Jaskirat Singh Sidhu, drove through a stop sign into the path of the Broncos team bus at a rural intersection in Saskatchewan. The crash left 16 people dead, including two coaches, 10 players, an athletic therapist, statistician, radio announcer and bus driver.
Last month, Sidhu was sentenced to eight years in prison after pleading guilty in January to 29 counts of dangerous driving causing death or bodily injury.
Panic and terror
Kevin and his wife, Shelley, learned about the crash 20 minutes after it happened, then spent three hours pacing and praying at their home in Colonsay, Sask. Eventually, another parent who was at the Nipawin hospital was able to identify Layne by his arm tattoo, and informed his parents he had survived.
But their ordeal had only just begun. That tattoo was prophetic.
Before the crash, Layne was seeking inspiration to get him through tough times on the ice so he had the Chinese symbol for strength and the letters PMA — which stands for positive mental attitude — tattooed on his arm. He could never have imagined what would lie ahead.
After 9 months <a href=”https://twitter.com/LayneMatechuk?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@LayneMatechuk</a> returned to the rink to skate for the first time since the accident. Thank you Greg Slobosian for helping Layne. Could not be more proud of Layne! <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/Believe?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#Believe</a> <a href=”https://t.co/iD8gADwvXa”>pic.twitter.com/iD8gADwvXa</a>
Strength and resilience
Layne spent a month in a coma, then another five months in hospital. After he was released, he moved into a rented apartment in Saskatoon with his parents, so he could undergo physical, occupational and speech therapy five days a week.
The 19-year-old still walks with a limp and struggles to speak. But, Matechuk says, his son is slowly improving and getting stronger.
Layne is aware of the accident and some of his memories are trickling back. Earlier this week, he remembered scoring his first goal in the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League and gave his family the play-by-play.
“It was so heartwarming for us,” Matechuk said. “He continues to amaze us.”
The long-term impact of the traumatic brain injury is unclear, and Layne can be “angry and confused,” according to Matechuk.
Still, it’s Layne’s strength — and smile — that inspire his father during the sleepless nights and difficult days.
Last month, Layne — along with his parents and sister, Carly — flew to Pittsburgh so he could meet his hockey idol, Penguins team captain, Sidney Crosby. Matechuk said it was one of the happiest moments his family has ever had.
He said Layne hopes to return to recreational hockey and take a university class, possibly by correspondence, this fall.
“I really believe he’s going to be able to take university classes and follow a path of a career. It might not be the career he would have chose to go on before, but we just keep believing in him, and he keeps showing us that it looks like it’s going to happen,” Matechuk said.
A quiet anniversary
On Saturday, 3,000 people are expected will pack into the Elgar Petersen Arena in Humboldt for a service to honour those who lost their lives and those whose lives were forever changed. There will be a moment of silence at the exact time that the collision happened a year earlier.
“We just want to get it behind us. It’s very tough on all of us,” Matechuk said. “It’s just a time that we feel we want to be with ourselves.”
Matechuk would like more privacy after the anniversary, as well, yet decided to share an update on Layne’s recovery because he appreciates all the support his family has received from Canadians.
“We know there are so many caring people out there, and we really feel that helped get us through.”
This story originally appeared on CBC