A gathering and a moment of silence was held at Westboro Station on Saturday, marking one year from the date of a double-decker bus crash that killed three people and injured 23. Annick Barbieux had left work early that day and was not on the bus that crashed, as she might have been otherwise.
A gathering and a moment of silence were held at the Westboro Station on Saturday in memory of those killed in the crash one year ago.
An overhead view of those who gathered for the commemoration at the Westboro Transitway Station on Saturday.
A gathering and a moment of silence was held at the OC Transpo Westboro station on Saturday Jan. 11, 2020, marking one year from the date of the crash. Annick Barbieux left work early the day of the crash, crediting a headache for saving her life.
Somehow, the weather was appropriate. At precisely 3:50 p.m. on a Saturday afternoon saturated with a cold January rain, the Westboro Community Association convened a short remembrance ceremony. Exactly one year earlier, a double-decker OC Transpo bus leaped the curb and crashed into a passenger shelter, killing three people and injuring 23.
The reverberations from that moment continue in the courts, hospital clinics and dozens of private homes.
The City of Ottawa has fielded 13 lawsuits for compensation, including a class action proceeding. Eighteen more claims are still to be filed. The injured and aggrieved are seeking at least $180 million.
But there was no chatter about the suits on Saturday. Mostly it was to express grief for the three lives lost, for the vanished limbs and the lifestyles that went with them.
Many of the wounded are still undergoing physical rehabilitation or being treated for post-traumatic stress. More than 20 of those who survived the crash are part of a support group — Thomas Cain, Karin Hohban andJessica Service are among its members — that has met regularly over the past year.
For others, not present at the fatal accident, it has been a more private journey. Annick Barbieux, an administrative assistant with the federal government, had for years commuted on the same route from downtown to Kanata with Bruce Thomlinson, a Canada Border Services Agency employee. She calls him her “bus buddy.”
But, as circumstances had it, Thomlinson was on the bus that day and Barbieux was not. Thomlinson — along with Judy Booth and Anja Van Beek — died in the crash.
Saturday was the first time in the past year that Barbieux had visited the Westboro Transitway station. “I came here for some closure,” she said in tears, “and it’s not working out very well.”
Accompanied by her extended family, Barbieux said she had been coping with survivor’s guilt. She said she met Thomlinson’s wife, Elaine, at Bruce’s funeral, but could barely speak. Barbieux’s shock and grief was profound. Not knowing what else to do, Barbieux set up a GoFundMe campaign for her bus buddy.
And, for one key figure in the crash, the loneliness and, yes, the grief, can only be imagined.
The bus driver, Aissatou Diallo, was charged last summer with multiple counts of dangerous driving causing death and bodily harm. She faces a trial scheduled for early 2021.
Fifty-one years ago, Swiss-American psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross published On Death and Dying, which described five often-cited stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Kübler-Ross originally applied her model to the emotions felt by people who were terminally ill. The psychiatrist later amended her work so it could apply to traumatic events ranging from divorce to sudden death by accident.
In the decades since Kübler-Ross’s groundbreaking work was first published, the five stages of grief came to be cited by everyone from psychiatrists to children in grade school.
More recently, though, others in the field have further refined what it means to grieve. The Harvard Medical School noted in a mental health letter published in 2011 that “the bereavement process is seldom linear and varies from one person to the next.” It’s quite easy for some to progress all the way to acceptance, then revert to anger when a trigger or memory intervenes.
Ada Mcvean, a researcher and writer for McGill University’s Office for Science and Society, notes the early stages-of-grief model “is not science-based, does not describe most people’s experiences.” Mcvean argues the model was developed on the basis of a long series of anecdotes: the experiences of individual patients who are facing death.
“It is time to realize that grief takes countless forms, is experienced in limitless ways, and cannot possibly be explained by a simple five-stage model,” she concludes. “There is no right way to grieve.”
Among the many victims of last year’s bus crash, and this includes those not directly affected, people such as Annick Barbieux, these are words of comfort.
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