The hardest story to tell

How do you ask people who lost family and friends in a deadly crash to talk about forgiveness? With patience and compassion.

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
Some Canadians avoid reminders of the Humboldt Broncos bus crash. Others have found that sharing their memories can be healing.

The Feb. 6 cover story is the hardest I’ve ever written. 

To report it, I needed to talk to people who had lost children, spouses, or siblings in a tragic bus crash in Canada that killed 16 members of the Humboldt Broncos hockey team in 2018. And I needed to ask them how they felt about the possibility of forgiveness for the driver who was responsible. I suddenly found myself at a loss for words.

As a reporter for The Christian Science Monitor, where one of our driving missions is to shine light, I’m used to finding sources who are eager to tell me their stories of resilience or about their fights for justice. But this story raised particularly difficult questions that extended beyond the comfort zones of many of the people I contacted. I was asking them to explore their own journey of grief and healing in a way that many resented. 

I got far more rejections than invitations to talk. Some of the responses were full of anger – directed squarely at me and this newspaper. 

At times I was deeply hesitant to continue. Were we, a newspaper founded on the promise to “injure no man,” in fact doing just that? But then I’d talk to someone whose life had been touched by this tragedy and welcomed the opportunity to share their experience. It was their openness and sense of purpose that fortified me as I continued to report.

Many people think of “the media” as arrogant and self-serving. But most of the journalists I know are full of self-doubt. We wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat asking ourselves: Did we understand the entirety of what was being said? Did we frame a piece in the most honest way? 

Most of us feel a deep responsibility when writing about someone’s life or their life purpose. It’s a terrible feeling to get it wrong – even on a topic as innocuous as knitting or snow removal. In my early career, having landed a gig as a foreign correspondent in Mexico, that burden felt so heavy at times that I considered leaving, even though I was in my dream job.

Years later, this story had me once again questioning everything I was doing. I sat for days trying to write the first sentence. I knew how I wanted to start the piece; I just simply couldn’t do it. How could my writing possibly match the depth of what these people went through? 

And then the words of Christina Haugan came to mind. 

Her husband, the team’s widely adored head coach, had been killed in the crash. We had spoken about whether it was hard for her to talk about her journey of forgiveness, knowing it hurts other families who don’t feel the same way. She, like every person in this piece, was adamant that her journey is not the only one – or that she is somehow better because she has forgiven. 

But, she said, if she can help just one person – anyone, anywhere in the world, who is grappling with unthinkable grief – it was worth it to speak out. And it was with those words that I found the courage to share her story.

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