Help in Humboldt

Why do I spend my Sunday mornings like this?

HOPEspotters, most of you know I am a devout lover of sports. I follow all the major leagues and teams at both the college and pro level and really put the “fanatic” in the fan for the teams I love. And while I may not be an expert at the X’s and O’s for each game, I study all the players and the coaches in order to keep current.

I am genuinely not a competitive person, by nature, which is probably good since my own career in sports forced me to get pretty familiar with the “L” column. Sure, I like to win, maybe even love it, but the thrill of the kill isn’t the thing that sports feeds me.

Following sports, from pee-wee softball to the NFL, fulfills my love of stories. Stories that provide the most fascinating allegories for life. So many stories, so many lessons.

And no one- I mean no one- tells those stories better than the team at ESPN that produces “E:60”.

On the busiest of days, I have found myself stopped in my tracks, suddenly captivated by the tale of a legless wrestler, a deaf football team, a college basketball player who survived TWO plane crashes, presented by Jeremy Schapp and Bob Ley.  And at the end of each story, I’m usually crying, often breathless, and always reminded of the resiliency of the human spirit. There’s gifts, there’s hardships, there’s redemption and there’s inspiration. Sometimes, it is better than church.

I had the chance to meet Jeremy Schaap at an ALS Fundraising Gala in Atlanta two years ago and  I went kind of ‘fan girl’ on him. He was a true gentleman and asked why I was attending the event. When I told him I was generously asked by a family who lost a loved one to the awful disease, and I had participated in her care, he was effusive with praise for the role of the hospice nurse. A table turn I did not expect. What we agreed upon in the course of our conversation was this: we loved our jobs. The people we meet inspire us and their stories never leave us. Sometimes it can be very emotional to listen to their stories, but when we allow ourselves to be open to them, there is always beauty.

So me and Jeremy… ya… peas and carrots…

Anyhoo, Mr. Schaap and his team just produced another doozy, “Humboldt Strong”. While unloading the dishwasher this morning, I turned on the TV which was already tuned to ESPN from last night’s Final Four games.

“Humboldt Strong” is narrated by Wayne Gretzky and tells the unbelievably tragic story of the horrific bus crash involving the Junior Hockey team, the Humboldt Broncos, from Humboldt, Saskatchewan. On April 6, 2018, on the way to a play- off game, the Broncos’ bus was hit by a semi- truck that ran a stop sign. This catastrophic and devastating event led to 16 deaths. There were 13 survivors, two of whom were paralyzed and two with significant traumatic brain injuries. The number of hearts broken by the incident is immeasurable. The accident sent the community, the country, the hockey world reeling. It was the worst mass casualty auto accident in Canada’s history and it was another example of the unbelievable and incomprehensible fragility of life.

The story of the Humboldt Broncos can be dissected on so many different levels. There’s loss, there’s grief, there’s anger, there’s determination, there’s community spirit. There’s a lot in the mere 60 minutes allowed to the story. A story, I am sure, that only one year later, isn’t over yet.

But there was one detail, a fairly small one, in fact, that has stuck with me today- resonated, perhaps.  During this. season of Lent, this detail seemed to illuminate a timeless and often redundant question that has to do with feeling forsaken and seeking healing.

In classic E:60 fashion, the narration gets slower as the recounting of the inevitable accident approaches. The bus is shown traveling a two lane highway that seems to be in the middle of nowhere.

“At 4:58 PM, the charter bus carrying 29 Humboldt Broncos players and coaches, crossed the intersection of…. and was hit by a semi truck driving at….” “The top of the bus was literally ripped in two….” “The cargo that was carried by the truck had been spilled all over the landscape..”

“At 5:16, the first batch of emergency responders arrived…”



18 minutes.

1,080 seconds.

Impressively fast for the middle of nowhere. And yet… 18 minutes. E.I.G.H.T.E.E.N minutes. One thousand eighty seconds.

As I watched the rest of the documentary, I was utterly distracted, fairly haunted, by those eighteen minutes. What was it like for the people who survived the initial impact to wait 18 minutes? And I bet 18 minutes seems a lot longer when one doesn’t know if it will “only” be 18 minutes? And you’re in pain, and scared? And I think it is pretty cold in Saskatchewan, Canada in April, eh?

Eighteen Minutes.

And then I started to think less about the length of time those poor young men, and a few women, had to wait for help and more about if they wondered if it was coming at all. When your life gets literally blown apart by a semi truck going at full speed, I would imagine it would be normal, understandable, in fact, to question or even lose faith. Maybe in their panic and pain, they felt forsaken.

And then, of course, I started to think of all of us, who at times have been lying in a cold field, in pain and scared, and wondering when help is coming and if it will come at all. And sometimes, in the metaphor, we sit in that cold and in that pain for a hell of a lot longer than eighteen minutes.

“Mr. Jones, there were some unusual findings in your colonoscopy. We’d like you to schedule an MRI but it looks like the next available appointment isn’t available until next month.”

“There are clearly some abnormalities on the fetal ultrasound but things might change throughout the course of the pregnancy and the severity won’t really be clear until…”

“We won’t know how quickly this is going to progress and while there are some medications that might slow things down, statistics generally show that at Stage IV…”

“You’re leaving? Just like that? You’re leaving me?”

What about the people who love someone with an addiction and wonder if he or she will ever get “clean” (I hate that term, by the way) and sober?  Or the poor people who have a loved one that has gone missing, been taken, run away- and they lay on that metaphorical field in Canada wondering when the HELL help is ever going to come? Waiting out the storm can seem unbearable…

And maybe, sometimes, the wait is so painful, the thought of just surrendering to death seems inviting. Case in point, the recent suicides by the Parkland shooting survivors or the father of the Sandy Hook shooting victim. That man, Jeremy Richman, lay in that cold Canadian field, in apparent acute pain, so profound that the help he waited for for 6 years and 3 months, seemed for him to never come. And he couldn’t wait anymore.

And that, is terribly sad.

Just like some of the Humboldt Broncos, some bodies cannot stand the injury any longer and they cannot survive the wait. I pray that help has arrived for him, and others who’ve suffered like him, in a more peaceful and less tormented place.

My faith, my life experience and everything I stand for has taught me that help will always come- some way, somehow, some day a first responder will arrive. Sometimes it takes an excruciatingly long time. Maybe we’re not ready for them when it does arrive. Often times it isn’t in the form we expect, but I believe to the core of my soul that help always comes.

16 Humboldt Broncos died that day, but 13 survived. And after seeing the footage from the actual wreckage, that is 13 undeniable miracles. Because help showed up. It got there and it did what it needed to do.

Last year, I was giving a few remarks at our annual hospice bereavement service- an hour of remembrance for the loved ones of those who died in our program the previous year. My remarks included my “go to” phrase “I know it is never anyone’s best day when I, the “hospice girl”, shows up.” I understand the gravity of the situation if I have been called in. I was pleasantly surprised, however, at the end of the service, when a family member of a former patient came up and told me, “You should stop saying that. I was thrilled when you came. I felt like we were finally at a place where Mom wasn’t going to suffer anymore. I was so relieved. Throughout the course of her terrible illness, I think it was my best day.”  

Huh. Help- in a form other than expected- but help, nonetheless.

In my limited experience talking with people who’ve battled addictions, they are often very open about their rock bottom day. In trusted conversations, they share the circumstances that caused them to throw up their arms and cry, “Mercy” and most bless that day, because when they courageously surrendered their substance abusing ways, that was when the help came. And that was when they let the help in.

Ryan Leaf, former NFL quarterback, known for being a big time ‘bust’ with a bad attitude fell deeply into substance abuse after his career ended prematurely and he wound up in prison. His life is now turned around completely and he is devoted to helping others battle addiction and prevent drug abuse, through regular speaking engagements and one on one counseling. He’s taken his painful past and given it grace by sharing his experiences with others so that they may avoid similar pitfalls. On April 1, 2019, he tweeted, “7 years ago today I woke up on the floor of a prison cell.. I had nothing to live for, or so I thought. If I had known the size of the blessing that was coming, I would have understood the magnitude of the battle I was fighting. I got up, there is Hope!! #7yearssober”

Ryan’s 18 minutes played out of the course of a very scary and lonely and painful decade, but help did come. (And look at that, I am back to sports…)

And, oh yeah, there is another really good story about fear and pain, waiting and praying, wreckage, loss and redemption. Some people call it, in fact, “The Greatest Story Ever Told” and it’s final chapter is coming to churches near you in just two short weeks.

Spoiler alert: help comes. Not before sadness, not in the absence of fear, but it shows up BIG TIME.

Back in Humboldt, Saskatchewan, there is a large memorial at the site of the crash that occurred just over a year ago. The documentary shows how each of the featured ‘victims’ and their families are getting on with their lives. Clearly, there is still a lot of grief work to be done. No one is lying by the side of the road anymore, but there is still a lot of pain. The wounds are deep and large and the fractured hearts and hope and dreams are extensive. It is clear as the survivors and the family members of those that didn’t survive speak, there is a longing for help- or better said for healing- to arrive.

I hope they know that it will.

It absolutely will.

Groundhog Day

HOPEspotters, Hello!! It has certainly been a while. Our last encounter was on Election Night 2016 and after that post, I think I lost my voice a little bit. While many events moved me, inspired me, frustrated me, enlightened me, I found it all boggy for my blogg-y. Life has felt a bit like a game of dodgeball and only today did I finally catch one of those balls and create an “out”.  My moment of clarity was found at Gobbler’s Knob on this unsung holiday, Groundhog Day.

This morning I stood in my kitchen, making breakfast, packing lunches and emptying the dishwasher as I do on most days. Daily drudgery.  The “Today Show” was on in the background, as is our habit, and on this morning live feed was coming in from Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. Men in morning suits were lifting high their otherwise reclusive rodent to determine whether or not “he” saw a shadow.  Pomp and circumstance surrounded the announcement about the groundhog’s prediction for six more weeks of winter.

In today’s tumultuous times, Punxsutawney’s preservation of tradition is precious and brave. It was the kindest three minutes found on the morning news. The festivities reminded me, of course, of the classic Bill Murray, “Groundhog Day”.

If you haven’t seen it -- spoiler alert: Bill Murray is an ornery, generally dissatisfied meteorologist, assigned to cover Groundhog Day in Punxsutawney, and doesn’t hide his contempt for the tradition. In a bizarre twist, Murray’s character gets stuck in a time loop and relives Groundhog Day repeatedly. Initially, Murray takes every advantage of knowing he will be just fine in the morning to participate in bad behavior and debaucherous behavior. Then, his heart begins to soften for the community he comes to know so well and Murray takes advantage of the ability to prevent tragedies like the Mayor choking or a homeless person dying of the cold and begins to act as a superhero. Finally, Murray discovers a way to use the day he can’t seem to stop reliving to get his beautiful producer, for whom he has harbored feelings, to fall in love with him because he demonstrates his newly found goodness. It is that love that breaks him out of the time loop and move on with his life - happily.

So here I am, HOPEspotters, on February 2nd, with my typical call to action. We are 33 days into 2017 and any of you who may have made New Year’s Resolutions might be worrying about having broken them.

Friends, I am here to propose a movement, based on Bill Murray’s fictional character, to make a GROUNDHOG DAY RESOLUTION.

Here’s the thing: New Year’s Resolutions are typically punitive. ‘I do too much of this. I don’t do enough of that.’ We enter into them with the belief that a 12 month period, that magically begins on an evening celebrated with excess and awkward Mariah Carey performances, will transform us. Somehow turning the page in a calendar will give us more willpower. Less addictions. Greater focus.

And failure often results.

Groundhog Day Resolutions are a different animal altogether.  And we can all do this.

If we look at the example of Bill Murray’s character, we see that attempts at human betterment are valiant and admirable but not always life changing in the ways we expect. Despite learning to play the piano and speak a different language, he was still “stuck”. And isn’t this true? How many people, myself included, lose and gain weight because the bad habit driver still exists? That’s probably why people make the same New Year’s resolutions year after year with admirable optimism that “this” year is going to be “the year”.

I often joke that I am Bill Murray- reliving “Groundhog Day”. I get up. I get the boys up. I make breakfast. I make lunches. I clean the kitchen. I go to work. I talk to sick people with sad families. I have the same conversation. I talk on the phone. I sit in traffic. I go to Publix. I make dinner. I do laundry. I clean the kitchen. I go to bed.

Frankly, it’s disrespectful to paint that picture and I, of all people, should know better. I GET to do these things. My days, difficult as some may be, unsexy as most are, are days of privilege. And wouldn’t I be a better person if I just acknowledged that?

Sure. But that sounds like a New Year’s Resolution.

A Groundhog’s Day Resolution sounds a lot more like Jim Valvano’s speech at the ESPY’s, months before his untimely, but likely death from cancer. The acclaimed and fiery basketball coach wisely told an audience of athletes, “If you laugh, you think and you cry, that’s a full day. That’s a heck of a day. You do that seven days a week you’re going to have something special.”

Or to return to the world of sport, the recently departed Craig Sager: “I will live my life full of love and full of fun. It’s the only way I know how.” And what was SO cool when Craig Sager died, his longtime friend, Steve Kerr, coach of the Golden State Warriors, asked the fans for - not a moment of silence in his friend’s honor, but a moment of joy.  

In hospice- and everyday life- I see SO MUCH BRAVERY. Life can present some scary and seemingly hopeless circumstances. And I stupidly fall prey, at times, to the feeling of powerlessness.

Recently, a young boy in our community died in a tragic accident. He was a lead in the about to be presented school play. Orange was his favorite color. One can not make sense of his death. Our community responded with a candlelight vigil. Mailboxes decorated in orange. And the play is going on, with his Mom continuing to volunteer.

That is real life grabbing love, being brave, and choosing not to be stuck on Groundhog’s day.

Tonight I stand symbolically in Gobbler’s Knob. I’m not looking at my good and bad habits. I’m looking at the opportunity to be “un-stuck” from the time loop and start to see the privilege in my life, seizing the messy, difficult, at times exhausting love. And it’s not easy, but it is most certainly the thing that will get me to the next day.

With love and HOPE,  Happy Groundhog’s Day, Friends!