April 6, 2018. It was news that gripped the entire nation with grief.

A bus transporting 29 people had collided with a semi-truck near Nipawin, Saskatchewan when the semi-truck driver had run a stop sign. Sixteen people were killed, and 13 injured.

“It was 7:00 when I got a text. That’s where it all began,” Jason Miller explained. A good friend of his had asked him if he heard about the Humboldt crash.

“At first, I figured it was a minor accident,” little was known about the crash in the hours following it. Injuries were not released while first responders were on the scene, “As time strung on without news, I started to grieve. I knew.”

Miller had shared his family home with Conner Lukan, 21, for five years. Conner moved out of the household in September 2017 when he was traded to play for Humboldt Broncos, “We weren’t technically family, but we were brothers.”

Their relationship grew deep in the years they had lived together. Jason, also a hockey player, could relate to Conner’s Junior Hockey career. Jason had finished up his last season in early 2017 in Estevan, Saskatchewan.

Miller recalled some of his favourite memories with Lukan to me. I could almost hear his smirk on the other end of the phone as he remembered the times that the two of them would stay up all night together playing video games. In the morning, Conner would have to go to high school. Jason, who was older, could get some sleep.

“I can’t explain how numb everything was at first,” Miller explained when I asked him what the grieving process was like, “I was paralyzed – it wasn’t an emotion, it wasn’t fear. It was nothing.”

Support poured in from across Canada and from hockey players around the world.

Grief, as defined by “deep and poignant distress caused by or as if by bereavement” by the Merriam-Webster dictionary is a difficult emotion to navigate. Grief is powerful and often long-lasting. However, it is especially tricky in traumatic or tragic circumstances – such as the Humboldt Broncos crash.

With tragic circumstances, no loose ends are tied up before the death, and no closure is immediately offered. Tragic death may cause prolonged shock or disbelief – and these emotions can postpone and extend the grieving process after that. You were robbed of the opportunity to say goodbye – which, in itself, can lead to years of examination or, even, denial.

“I know the last time I talked to Conner, I told him I loved him,” Miller explained, “I was lucky in that way. Now I make sure that I end every conversation with love. It’s scary – not knowing when the last time is.”

It can create a spiral into the unknown in an attempt to understand life and the meaning of these deaths.

It can fuel feelings of guilt, fear, and confusion.

The world you once knew was completely destroyed without transition or preparation.

“I don’t think you ever stop grieving after something like that.”

Miller found ease in the preceding week, inside of his numbness and the nations support, “It was the week after that it hit. The world was on my shoulders. I learned to grieve when everything was quiet.”

I asked him what physical grief felt like for him. He paused for a while, struggling to put the unique feeling into words, “Heavy. Heavy heavy heavy.”

“It was countless sleepless nights – I would just lay there thinking. It was uncontrollable crying. I would walk down the street and feel fine, and then it hit — everything all at once. Without warning,” Miller explained.

Sudden death can also create apprehension in the grievers. They have lost a sense of security and confidence in the world. People that have been in the aftermath of sudden death have been taught two valuable things: (1) The people they love could be gone at any moment and (2) So could they.

It shakes your understanding to the core.

I asked Miller what his advice was to other people that suffered a loss of a loved one due to tragic circumstances, “You have to give yourself time to feel what you need to feel.”

“You are allowed to be selfish with your grief and with what you need,” he elaborated.

Grief is unrepeated between each person – even if they lost the same individual. Your relationship with the person you lost is unique. Your memories and your special connection are entirely distinctive. Meaning that your grieving process cannot have a handbook.

It’s a feeling that you have to navigate on your own. The best way out of grief is directly through it.

“Until you let yourself feel it, then you’ll never be at peace,” Miller explained.

We are still short of the first anniversary of the Humboldt crash, and I know that Jason Miller’s grieving process is still in progress, “It hurts every single day.”

I asked him if he felt as though it got easier, “Easier is not a good word for it. You adapt to the feeling – but it never gets easier.”

Written by Celina Dawdy