Withrow farm deaths of 3 sisters not easy to prevent, says neighbour

Dave Brand is a fifth-generation cattle farmer and a friend and neighbour of the Bott family, who lost three daughters in an accident at their farm near Withrow, Alta. He wrote a blog post about the tragedy.

Friend of Roger and Bonita Bott shares his thoughts on this week's tragedy

The Bott family in a recent photo. (Facebook)

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Dave Brand wrote a blog post about the tragedy this week at the Bott family farm near Withrow, Alta. He has agreed to allow CBC Calgary to use his blog post titled A Loss Beyond Words.

On the night of Tuesday, Oct. 13, our quiet little agricultural community — and the western Canadian agricultural community as a whole — was rocked by an accident that resulted in the deaths of Catie, Dara and Jana Bott. The sisters were taken from this earth far too young. I'm about to type words that shouldn't need to be typed, but no parent should ever have to bury their child — ever.

So why am I compelled to write this piece? For one, as a method of grieving. You see, these girls were my neighbours; the daughters of close friends. The girls grew up on my farm too, along with the farms of countless other neighbours and relatives that dot the landscape and make up the close-knit fabric of our community. 

This tragedy is beyond words for those impacted by it. We will never heal fully and we will never be the same. It's only by God's grace that we can find the hope in the outcome of Tuesday night's events.

Keyboard warriors quick to post comments 

Which leads me to my second reason for penning (does anyone even pen anything anymore?!) this piece: tragedies like this could happen to any of us — and all too often on farms throughout North America they do. Within hours of the accident occurring, and mere minutes of it being reported by news outlets on social media, I grew weary of the keyboard warriors deriding the parents for lack of supervision or an implied lack of education of the dangers of farming.

Give your head a shake. These kids grew up on the farm. They likely know more about farming and the inherent perils and risks than most adults do. Given that the vast majority of the population now lives in urban areas, I don't doubt this claim for an instant. 

The point of an accident however, is that it can't necessarily be foreseen, or even prevented. Short of not getting out of bed in the morning, there aren't very many ways to eliminate risk of injury or death on the farm. However, there are always ways to mitigate risk just as there are always human moments that occur. 

'We all did stuff like that as kids'

A friend of mine texted me saying how terrible the tragedy was. I responded by how closely hit we were and a conversation ensued. 

Her comment? "It could have been any of us. We all did stuff like that as kids."

I want you to reflect on that for a moment.

People all over the world are telling their kids to get outside and play more, so where do you think farm kids have to go when they go outside to play?- Dave Brand

It's a scene that plays out on farms across the continent. Have you ever tried telling a child they can't go for a ride with dad on the family tractor-combine-swather-grain cart-grain truck, etc., or that they can't run through the corn field until they get lost or that they can't enter that pen full of cows?

People all over the world are telling their kids to get outside and play more, so where do you think farm kids have to go when they go outside to play? It is incumbent upon us as farm parents to teach our children the dangers of the activities they participate in. It's our role to allow them to grow and make decisions for their own based upon what we teach them. 

Ultimately, accidents happen

How many adults know that texting and driving is dangerous? How many still do it? Exactly. Even as adults we can't resist a behaviour even though we know it poses a risk to our own personal safety or that of others. 

Do we really expect children to act any differently despite what we teach them or what they know? Children are children, after all. Tragedy is tragedy and accidents are accidents. 

No family should have to bear the burden of losing their child, regardless of how it occurs, but many do and many persevere. Farm families are no different. We persevere through hardship, through loss, through pain and through grief. We support one another in good times and in bad, and when the absolutely unthinkable occurs, as it did on that cool October evening.

So if you have children and you're reading this, give them a hug. Hold them tight. Teach them what you know but grant them the freedom to explore the world with the knowledge that you are empowering them. Don't strip them of their natural curiosity or their inclination to explore and push boundaries. Don't coddle or helicopter parent them or raise them in a bubble. 

Children must be free to explore

Some of the greatest talents in the world came from a childhood of exploration and encouragement, so don't deprive your children of that opportunity. At the same time, remain vigilant. Teach them consequences. Teach them about hazards. Train and equip them with the resources (mental and physical) to be prepared. Be their mentor, confidante and biggest supporter.

The time we have with them is precious — remember that, cherish that and be grateful for every moment — and despite all of our best intentions, all of our knowledge transfer, all of our urges to save our children from the world, we have to let them go out into it and to experience it. It's as much our role as parents as it is theirs as children.

Loss is never easy to deal with and you can't strike deals with loss either. Our community will grieve for a very, very long time. The girls will forever be remembered as bright, inquisitive, energetic young souls with a love for exploring and a passion for the outdoors. Their family will never be the same; a void will never be filled. 

Oct. 13, 2015, is a day that will forever change our landscape. It is the day we all tragically and inexplicably lost neighbours, daughters, sisters, nieces, granddaughters, cousins and friends. Prayers are welcome. Positive thoughts are encouraged. Mourning is expected.

We will endure 

We are a large farming family — made up of farming families joining together to comprise one grander unit. Whether related by blood, or geography, or simply the passion for working the land, we are family. And even when we cannot find the words to caption our loss or express our grief, we will remain buoyed by the knowledge that we are a part of that family and a part of something much larger than us all.

GoFundMe page has been set up to help the family with expenses and loss of income that may be incurred during their recovery process. Please donate.

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Dave Brand

Alberta farmer

Dave Brand is a father of two children, a senior manager with a civil engineering degree, and a fifth generation beef cattle farmer with a passion for learning and promoting success. Dave is also an avid curler and participates in several community initiatives including coaching youth sports and as an active search and rescue volunteer. Dave and his family live near Withrow, Alta.


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