TORONTO — An emotional sentencing hearing for the truck driver who caused the deadly Humboldt Broncos bus crash laid bare the unrelenting pain of family members who lost loved ones in the sudden tragedy.
There were heartbreaking accounts of grief and anger, and calls for the maximum prison time possible.
But there were also glimmers of compassion, as some including widow Christina Haugan pledged forgiveness and peace.
As difficult as it may be, experts say the ability to forgive can be key to emerging from such a traumatic event.
“Forgiveness is kind of an inner quality of letting go of bitterness, reclaiming one’s own life and not having this negative, hostile overlay around a situation,” says Fred Luskin, author of the book “Forgive For Good” and a clinical psychologist who specializes in researching the concept of forgiveness at California’s Stanford University.
“This is at the heart of forgiveness training: That there is simply the reality of life where things don’t always work out the way you hoped they will and resilience towards that is one of our strongest coping needs.
“We define forgiveness as making peace with the word ‘No.’ ...And some of us never make peace with that. Some of us stay arguing with that for 20, 30, 40 years.”
The fate of Jaskirat Singh Sidhu, 30, is now in the hands of a Saskatchewan provincial court judge who last week heard most of 90 victim impact statements submitted over three days.
Sidhu has pleaded guilty to 29 counts of dangerous driving for causing the crash at a rural intersection near Tisdale, Sask. Court heard the inexperienced truck driver sped through a stop sign before his rig slammed into the bus last April, killing 16 people and injuring 13 others, most of them teenage hockey players.
The wife and mother of head coach Darcy Haugan, who died in the crash, each referred to their Christian faith in forgiving Sidhu and vowing to pray that he finds “hope and peace.”
Then there was Scott Thomas, whose 18-year-old son Evan was killed in the crash, who reflected on struggling to learn how to forgive.
“Forgiveness is one of the highest qualities you can achieve as a human being on earth. I wouldn’t consider myself a religious man...but I do consider myself a spiritual being and one of the things we’re trying to reconcile here is my existence on this earth and my ability to find my son in another realm when this is over,” he told reporters at the hearing last week.
Meanwhile, Robin Lukan, the mother of 21-year-old Conner Lukan, suggested she would always blame Sidhu for her loss.
“I have no forgiveness,” Lukan said in her pained statement. “No consequence, no sentence, no apology, no admission of guilt will ever be enough to fill the void that has been left.”
Toronto psychotherapist Christopher Saxton says those with a religious background tend to have an easier time moving from the initial stages of denial, anger, bargaining and depression to a point where they can accept a new reality.
“It gives them a formula ‚Äî ‘OK, if I do X, Y, Z I know this is when I’m done and I can move forward,” said Saxton, who has a masters in divinity at the University of Toronto for the Anglican Church.
“When they don’t have that frame of reference, it’s really difficult for them. (They say) ‘How do I do this? How do I begin to say goodbye? How do I begin to let go?’ Or in this case, ‘How do I forgive?’”
Luskin is struck by how quickly some relatives have been able to answer that question, noting it often takes years to process the range of emotions that come from such horrendous tragedy.
Those who take longer to accept their reality tend to do so only when they recognize they are “stuck” in their suffering.
“They actually get tired of their inner dialogue and agitation that they recognize they’re drowning in,” says Luskin.
For Luskin, forgiveness requires remembering the past in a different way, perhaps by incorporating things to be grateful for, acknowledging those who supported you during your grief, and recognizing how you may have grown.
Saxton says the families have a long process still ahead of them, even those who say they’ve decided they’re unwilling to forgive.
“We don’t like the unknown, we don’t like change and especially for these families it’s been a huge part of their lives and who they are. The whole nation has been walking with them and grieving with them and the question for them is: ‘OK, are they ready to move on to the next stage of their life?’ There’s no timing for that,” says Saxton, who adds that coming to terms with tragedy does not have to include forgiveness.
“It’s our job if they’re our friends ‚Äî if they’re loved ones, if they’re companions on this journey of life ‚Äî to give them that space and that love and let them grieve as they need to grieve, to be angry if they need to be angry, and to forgive when they’re ready to forgive. If they’re ready to forgive.”
‚ÄîWith files from Chris Purdy and Bill Graveland