The loss of her brother in a horrific bus crash that killed 16 members of the Humboldt Broncos hockey team will never leave Mariko Boulet, but as she graduates with her University of Alberta degree on June 12, she hopes it will make her a better person.
“I think I’ve become a more loving, understanding person and I will take that with me into my future and my career,” said Boulet, who graduates with a master of science in occupational therapy.
Her graduation – the third for her, after high school and an undergraduate degree – will be bittersweet for the 26-year-old as she will be without younger brother Logan by her side. The 21-year-old junior hockey player died when the Broncos’ team bus was struck by a semi truck in 2018.
“For each of my graduations and for his high-school grad, we’d do this photo where we’d hug close and hold up our degrees. Knowing that I’m not going to get that photo is a difficult feeling. It’s hard to know that he doesn’t get to see this new chapter I’m entering,” she said.
Boulet has begun working in her hometown of Lethbridge, helping children with behaviour and sensory challenges learn how to function in their day-to-day activities. She feels her brother’s death has given her a deeper understanding of trauma in her daily work.
“I’ve learned that how everyone copes and struggles through something is very different – and that it’s OK to show emotions and reach out for help.”
Boulet was a year into her graduate studies in the Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine, in the final week of classes in her second semester, when the disaster struck.
“My whole life got turned upside down. I had never truly experienced tragedy until this happened.”
She went home for two weeks to be with her parents as they laid Logan to rest, missing her final exams. But she knew she’d be back to class.
“I never thought of not finishing my degree. I didn’t know what to do with my life if I didn’t do this. My priority was to heal, and my studies gave me something to push through the days.”
She was also sustained by knowing how happy her brother had been that she was pursuing her dream. The pair were travelling together in Europe when she got her acceptance letter from the U of A.
“Logan was the first person to find out I was officially a ‘future occupational therapist’ and when I shared the news with him, he was actually more excited than I was and convinced me we had to go out for a celebratory drink.”
Her U of A classmates showed their support, driving to Lethbridge for Logan’s funeral, even though they’d never met Boulet’s family.
“Knowing they had come down in a busy time for them meant so much to me.”
They also wore green and banded together in 2019 for a class photo for Green Shirt Day, held annually April 7, the day Logan died. It honours the Humboldt Broncos and creates awareness for organ donor registration in Canada.
Those friendships are one of the best things about her time at the U of A.
“Even though my class was large – there were 100 of us – I got to know people and we all had the same goal. I gained some incredible relationships and lifelong friends.”
Her time in university also expanded her world view, through a two-month practicum working with children in Indonesia last year.
“It was a very big life experience for me – a clinical, cultural and personal experience,” she said.
Though she’d first considered studying medicine, nursing or physiotherapy, “when I put it all down on paper, I liked occupational therapy. When I was job-shadowing occupational therapists, every single one I met loved what they did. They get to meet people where they’re at in life, and as occupational therapists, we’re not just looking at physical injury, but mental health, their families and what makes them who they are. We look at the whole picture.”
Boulet said she also enjoys collaborating with other specialists such as social workers and speech-language pathologists.
“You’re never working independently. I’m a team-based person, I grew up playing ringette and rugby, and I learned that everyone brings their own experiences and expertise. You don’t know what someone can bring to a team until you work with them.”
The trauma of Logan’s death also influenced how she wanted to work, Boulet added.
“Before it happened, I thought I wanted to be in a fast-paced hospital setting, but my brain doesn’t work that fast anymore. Now I’m willing to work at a slower pace. I want to spend more time with people. Before my brother’s death I didn’t realize how important that was to me.”
She said she grew up “so much” in two years and became more of the person she wanted to be.
“I’m proud that I survived an incredibly tough master’s program and everything else that was thrown at me along the way.
“I made it and I want to cry happy tears because I didn’t know if I would.”
| Bev Betkowski
This article originally appeared in the University of Alberta’s online publication Folio.