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Cloutier: As Humboldt Broncos crash victims’ families speak to tragic loss, I re-live my own

Global News Radio host Richard Cloutier (in red), pictured with his older brother Donald. Richard Cloutier

Richard Cloutier, co-host of the News on 680 CJOB, is in Melfort Sask., covering the Humboldt bus crash sentencing hearing for Global News Radio.

April 6, 2018 will forever be etched in the memories of the moms, dads, brothers and sisters and everyone attached to the 16 killed and 13 injured in the horrific Humboldt Broncos crash. The victim impact statements provide a window on the horrors of dealing with death.

READ MORE: ‘Everybody’s going to feel it’: Broncos families prepare for sentencing hearing

My “etch” day was June 29, 1968. I wasn’t even four-years old but there are moments of that night I remember clearly.  Very clearly.  I was with my father Jerry and brother Curtis at Manisphere, the festival before it become know as the Red River Exhibition.  It was a fun night.

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Then it all changed.

In the driveway a police car and another dark car.  I later found out it was what the priest drove.

I remember seeing my mother looking so much older, crying and screaming, and my dad slouching over as he was told.

My 16-year-old brother Donald was killed in an accident.  Someone went through a stop sign on Waverley near the Brady Road Landfill.  He was thrown from the car he was a passenger in.

Don died instantly. Part of my mom and dad died that night too.

I remember the funeral and the attention and the confusion.  My brother Curtis stayed to himself, not speaking at all.  I cried out for Donald not knowing what became of my big brother, the football player from St. Paul’s High School.

Don was the world to my mom.  Good looking.  A charmer that wanted to have an impact on the world. Football, the law. He could do anything he wanted. His life snuffed out in an instant.

Richard Cloutier (in red) pictured with his brother Donald. Richard Cloutier / Global News Radio

In the years after, my father was diagnosed with hypertension.  Mom coped by hitting the bottle  – sometimes two bottles of red wine a night to help her sleep.  Curtis bore the brunt of her anger with the world.  Yes there was love but they could not be in the same room.  He moved out as a teenager and has lived a life with very little contact with her.  I blamed him at first, but have grown to understand what he went through.

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READ MORE: Humboldt Broncos family focused on rebuilding, not sentencing hearing

Listening to the victim impact statements here in Melfort I can’t help but wonder what will happen to these families.  Some will be drawn closer?  Others apart?  Most, if my experience is a harbinger, will be melancholy punctuated with signs of what could have been.

My most distinct memory of how life changed in my family was on a warm summer night some 10 years to the day after Don died.

Mom was drunk.  She wanted dad to retire from Cloutier Motors, the service station that defined my dad’s life.  He poured his life into the garage, likely avoiding the sadness of the household.

Mom decided she was going to walk. From our home in St. Norbert down Pembina Highway to where the old Pembina Drive-in was located (it’s now Bishop Grandin Boulevard).  Dad and I followed my mom and he told me to take the wheel while he talked with her.  I was 13 and driving slowly up Pembina Highway as my father tried to talk my mom into the car.

It didn’t work until the police pulled up behind me.  I thought I was going to jail!  Turns out the cop knew my dad and what happened to Don and everyone eventually got into the car.  It was the first time mom sat in the back. We made it home as the sun got up. I grew up that night with a clear understanding of what Don’s death had done.

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READ MORE: Grief can be a ‘lifelong’ journey when death is unexpected — tips on how to cope

Dad retired soon after, mom stopped drinking for the most part and they somehow survived. It was a friendship between the two that was a love with very little to no affection. They existed.

I cannot help but wonder how many little brothers and sisters will see their parents go through the same thing in the years to come.

The grief turned inward.

At least there’s counselling now.  Not then.  We were all expected to “suck it up.”

We did, but still have the scars to this very day.

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