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Tragedies make me examine profession

Posted on October 30, 2013 by Taber Times

To say it has been a tough time for Taber and surrounding communities lately in losing two cherished residents would be an understatement.

First there was the tragic farming accident that claimed the life of Joel Bydevaate and now earlier this month Brynn Lund lost her courageous battle to a rare form of muscle cancer.

I am not going to wax sentimental about both individuals pretending I knew either individual to any great degree, because I did not. But being part of the editorial staff of the Taber Times and the Vauxhall Advance, it was quite obvious to see how many lives each person touched. Reading about the outpour of emotion through blogs with each person’s funeral, it shows how much this southern Alberta community cares for its own.

My experience with Joel was pretty much just passing paths with each other in mutual friends, as we enjoyed a beer at the watering hole of the Oilmen’s Club. Idle conversation between Joel and I never really progressed past your typical sports talk of NHL hockey or NFL football and Joel was always polite and always friendly to me. Hearing reports from much closer friends than I that Joel never had a harsh word to say to anybody — I could totally see that in my brief encounters with the man.

Driving out to the Bydevaate farm, it wasn’t exactly an assignment I was relishing with farmers coming to the family’s aid to get the potato harvest done in the wake of the tragedy. I get it is my job to ‘get the story’ but I’ve always maintained there are more dignified ways of doing it than some of my journalism counterparts have done, in forgetting about the people behind the headlines. It reminded me of when I was the first photographer on the scene during the W.R. Myers School shooting and a woman slapped my camera out of my hand sobbing ‘you’re the reason this happens.’ I remember some of my journalism counterparts of the day in southern Alberta saying we didn’t ‘chase’ the story hard enough back then. But what these larger newspapers in Lethbridge, Toronto, Vancouver, Calgary etc. didn’t understand was, while they invaded this sleepy little town to grab the headlines, someone still had to cover this sleepy little town when they left. Some sources dried up for months because of the insensitive way some news outlets chased the school shooting story.

Pulling up to the farm I recognized a handful of people I knew from the farming community. Shoulders were leaned on, hugs were plentiful in trying to prop up the somber mood. I quickly asked family members and organizers where I could venture to take pictures of the harvest.

I shot pictures as quickly as I could, so as not to interfere too much with the harvest, when I noticed Joel’s brother sitting there looking out towards his family field, as farmers were hard at work. I was warned earlier not to be intrusive with him, as I was told he was caught up in the moment and needed a time out as he reflected on his cherished time with Joel.

Seeing that moment etched in time, I nevertheless took out my long lens and shot the scene from as far away as possible to try and tell a story.

Driving back to Taber I downloaded the image and it certainly delivered  a powerful message, a message we at the Times feared maybe was too powerful given the sensitive nature of the picture in balancing the need to report a story.

We debated for a good half an hour, 45 minutes whether the image should run as we neared press deadline, but it came down to the fact, while a whole story was written about farm families coming together in a moment of tragedy, all those words could be summed up in one picture.

Fearing some negative backlash for the image, I was comforted to hear farmers in southern Alberta and the Bydevaate family appreciated the picture and the sensitivity in which it was taken.

I had seen Brynn Lund around Barnwell many a time for years as she battled her illness, never letting the battle get the better of her in the pride she had for her community and the community had for her. Be it a pep rally at Barnwell School or a parade for Barnwell Days, she was front and centre in her involvement.

I’ve seen what losing a child can mean to an aunt on my dad’s side, although I was too young to remember vividly my cousin losing his battle to cancer. As I’ve grown into my adult years, I’ve seen how it shook my aunt’s faith in a higher power as my aunt’s love for her son knows no bounds.

But that higher faith is alive and well in the Lund family from what I can gather in one of their blogs. The weekend of her passing, I had heard of the tragedy, but never really knew of the struggle until I read a Lund family blog that was shared among my Facebook friends.

Here was a family I barely knew through my newspaper dealings and I had to stop reading three quarters of the way through a blog from Brynn’s mother highlighting her final days, as my eyes swelled with tears.

If I had known Brynn in a thousand lifetimes I know I could not have written something so eloquent and heartfelt as her mother had. It is times like these that make me question exactly what my role should be in the newspaper business with how stories are handled in moments of tragedy and heartbreak, but it certainly does not question my faith in man and womankind.

Tragedy can tear things apart, but it is love that binds each of us together to persevere and it is times like this where we need each other more than ever.

With minds true and hearts filled with good memories of the fallen, Brynn and Joel will be remembered by Taber, Barnwell and Vauxhall forever more. While our communities are a little poorer from their absence, heaven is forever blessed by their presence.

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