If it seemed that it took a long time to get to Friday, it did.
In fact it took three lifetimes — so sadly, suddenly, unfathomably, cut short.
The heartache, the cherishing of memories, the absences to go on forever in this world until a higher one opens up — its glory deeply believed in by Bonita and Roger Bott — and they are all reunited.
Ten days after their daughters — Catie, Jana and Dara — died in a farm accident, the Botts and their one remaining child, son Caleb, said farewell during a funeral service that drew over 1,500 people to CrossRoads Church, Central Alberta’s largest church.
The Withrow Gospel Mission, where the Bott family both worships and helps lead the congregation, would have been much too small.
In the days right after the girls died, and leading up to Friday, family, friends and neighbours, fellow parishioners, and thousands of others who did not even know the Botts, wanted to offer anything they could to help and comfort the grieving family.
So they collectively rolled up their sleeves, helping with the harvest and other farm chores, releasing hundreds of colourful balloons, and raising thousands of dollars by way of motorcycle rides, cattle auctions and online donations.
On Oct. 13, Catie, 13, and twins Jana, and Dara, 11, were somehow buried and smothered in a truck loaded with canola seed at the Bott farm, about 60 kms west of Red Deer.
The funeral service reflected the love felt for the Bott family. Cousins and friends of the girls spoke about them, recalling their individual personalities and humorous memories.
Five cousins who gave the eulogy — Stephanie Crane, Jessica Crane, Amanda Bjorge, Crystal Erikson and Brenda Church — wore matching crocheted headbands. Each colour represented one of the girls. Green was Catie’s favourite colour, purple was Jana’s and blue Dara’s.
The girls’ love of life on the farm was expressed.
Catie was always on a mission to bring joy to others, and always up for a challenge, such as training her young horse Reba. There were memories of the kids bouncing along on the back of Peppy, an older horse they rode once a year to church in Leslieville during old-fashioned days. After church, Catie could be seen sitting backwards on the horse, using its back as a table for her food.
Jana was a girl with talent, craft skills and maturity beyond her years. They could count on her being precise, calm, collected and she excelled in many different ways. She liked painting, sewing, making jewelry or baking desserts. Her favourite thing to paint was sunsets. She loved animals. Recently she had made herself a purple nightgown. She made toques for newborns and donated them to the hospital.
Dara, who was the tomboy, loved to ride quads. She also loved to catch insects, play in the dirt, tear up the yard on the quad and “give any boy a run for the money.” She had a wonderful way of embracing life to the fullest and would, like her name, “dare” to do anything. She had a mischievous streak, but she took her responsibilities seriously. She was good at caring for her many “critters” — ducklings, chickens, bunnies, horses, hamster, puppies and cats.
The children attended Condor School until a couple of years ago and then began to be home-schooled. The family now looks at homeschooling as not only giving the children more time to help around the farm, but in hindsight it was “an absolute blessing” to have had extra time with them as a family.
The most memorable and important aspect of these three girls was their faith, also shared by the rest of their family, said their cousins.
Friend Adelita Studer said Jana was her closest friend. “You taught me how to express myself and that it’s OK to cry. And we’ve been crying a lot …”
Withrow Gospel Mission Pastor Brian Allan, who officiated the service, said “When a tragedy like this strikes we hurt. We all hurt. And we ask the question: Why? I mean that’s always the question. Why? Why? Why?”
“I don’t know that we’ll ever answer the question why, there’s some things that are a mystery to us and will be till we get to the other side. Perhaps then we’ll be able to catch a glimpse of why.”
The family, and Allan himself who is close friends of the Botts, have felt the reaching out, he said.
“Driving into the city today on one of the sign boards coming in, ‘Our love and prayers for you Withrow.’ And I just started to bust, you know.”
“We have felt that love. And I say that on behalf of Roger and Bonita. We have felt that love.”
A group trained in grief counselling, from the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, were available after the service for anyone who needed to talk to somebody.