Seek help. Seek help early. Talk to people you trust. Talk a lot.
Those are among the pieces of advice given by survivors of the Barrhaven bus-train collision that killed six people and sent 37 others to hospital on Sept. 18, 2013.
Chad Mariage was at the back of the second level of the double-decker OC Transpo No. 76 on that day. He recalled watching the fields slip past out the window and reading emails on his cellphone, only becoming alarmed when he saw flashing lights and heard the shouts of fellow passengers. The bus was not slowing.
A civil servant and French Catholic school board trustee, Mariage walked away from that crash. He spent the next week at home before returning to work.
He was on a family vacation on Friday night when photos of the Transitway crash started to land in his social media account.
“When you saw the images, it brought back some very vivid memories. It sent a chill up my spine,” he said Saturday.
Mariage said it had helped to talk about what had happened in 2013 as soon as possible. He gave his first media interview on the day of the crash and still responds when asked.
“It allows me to keep the facts of the way I lived it straight in my head,” he said. “Otherwise you get into a spiral. It builds up. The details of the event get blown up.”
He also took advantage of resources that were available at work.
“There is no harm, no shame in getting help,” he said. “That’s what those resources are there for.”
Shamsia Quraishi had emigrated from India in 2013, only a year before the bus-train crash. She was seated at the back of the second level of No. 76 on that day.
Now, a little more than five years later, she says there is a lot of help available. At the time, though, she didn’t immediately seek it out, even though it was offered. She thought others needed help more than she did and didn’t want to worry family members in India.
“I was very blasé about my mental health. I didn’t understand about depression and PTSD,” she said Saturday. “I overestimated my ability to deal with this.”
Quraishi soon found herself in a really bad place. “I would come home and be really fatigued. I was gaining weight. I was indulging in comfort food,” she said.
Her doctor prescribed Vitamin D and iron pills, but it was her mind, not her body, that was crying out for help.
“You can’t ask for empathy from people who don’t have it. You find it by telling your story. Some people have it and some people don’t, and that’s fine. Not everyone has to give you the support you need. You need to find that core group of people who have your back,” she said.
“There is a lot of support. It’s just a matter of reaching out.”
Her own experience taught Quraishi to prioritize mental health. The trauma became an opportunity to dig deeper and prioritize what was important in life, she said.
“It made me a better person. I’m a more empathetic to people who are going through challenges.”
Quraishi hasn’t touched ice cream in almost a year and has joined a gym. She has moved twice since the 2013 crash and now lives in Orléans. She still takes the bus, even the double-decker variety, but never sits on the top level.
None of the survivors of the No. 76 would deny that life can change in the blink of an eye, Mariage said. Like many survivors, he wonders what would have happened if things had worked out differently.
“If we had been half a second faster, the train would have T-boned the bus. It would have been much worse,” said Mariage, now a father of two who lives in Kanata and still takes the bus to work.
“I count my blessings. I make it a point get out and continue with my life.”
Mariage urged survivors of the Transitway crash on Friday to wait until the end of the investigation to come to any conclusions and to avoid making any assumptions on what they might hear before then.
For those survivors, there will be one major difference. The 2013 crash also killed OC Transpo bus driver Dave Woodard. Tests found no alcohol or drugs in his system. He had no pressing medical condition, wasn’t distracted by a cellphone or exhibiting reckless behaviour, the Transportation Safety Board found in a report in 2015.
“The report allowed me to turn the page, but I don’t think you can ever fully close the book on it,” Mariage said. “We have the ‘how,’ but not the ‘why.’ We’ll never have 100 per cent of the story. These people might be able to get more closure than we did. The driver will be able to tell her side of the story.”
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