When I am struggling with feelings or events I find that by writing or talking about them makes dealing with them easier.
I just returned from a pretty emotional five days back to my hometown in Canada, where I attended my brother's funeral. He had been struggling with cancer for the past few months and he was only 57 years old. I have not attended many memorial services but it seems as though the last few trips back to my home town have been to attend funerals.
I thought I knew my brother pretty well, although we have little in common. But during the three days where the entire focus was on his life I discovered many things I didn't know about him and learned a few important lessons for myself as well.
My brother was one of the last of the original "old" cowboys that lived in the prairies of southern Saskatchewan. He spent his entire life within a 50 mile radius of where he was born. He quit school in the seventh grade and spent the next 40 odd years rodeoing, cowboying and enjoying life, mostly on the back of a horse.
I helped write his eulogy the first night I arrived as we all sat in a crowded little travel trailer. I listened to his other immediate family members and neighbors retrace his life, many times with them all talking at the same time. I wrote down the highlights and the stories and then tried to piece the final tale of his life together.
It was there, sitting in the corner with pen in hand, that I began to discover that my brother was not just a cowboy or just a rancher. I reflect back to the times I had judged him for not really doing much with his life, not really living up to his incredible potential and not even being responsible to the ranch because he would often put his rodeoing ahead of his work. Although he never had an education, and his fences and buildings were often in shambles, his finances in disarray, and his horses and bulls sometimes came before his family, I was totally off base in the judgements I had made about him over the years. I now realize exactly who my brother was.
It was humbling and opened my eyes to the incredible legacy that he left and the remarkable man he had been.
The town we grew up in has shrunk since I left it 30 years ago, down to under 150 people. The service that the family planned for his final remembrance was the most fitting memorial I have ever attended.
It was held in the indoor rodeo arena and over 900 friends and family gathered to pay their respects. In the chutes behind the trailer from where the minister and others spoke were many of his Brahma bulls and top bucking horses that had been stock for the national finals in Calgary and Las Vegas. Just before the service began a young man walked in with my brothers horse, with his boots and chaps draped over the saddle and his hat on the saddle horn. Pictures of his horses,bulls and of his family, along with bouquets of prairie flowers and sheaves of wheat speckled the area. Besides the eulogists who were close cowboy friends, several western songs rang through the arena and a crusty elderly cowboy read a couple of poems, his voice cracking as he struggled through the verses.
My brother had provided stock for most of the high school rodeos and Little Britches events for almost 20 years and over 200 young cowboys and cowgirls from four provinces lined the arena as color guards. In talking to some of them later I heard time and time again how it was Bobby that got them started in the rodeo business. His patience, his sponsorship, and his stock was what they needed to find their way. I had no idea he helped so many young people.
Everyone loved him and his easy going nature and ability to always be there for the other guy showed through even to the end.
The lesson for me is clearer now, as I have spent the past three days reflecting on my life and thinking how we can make a difference with our friends, families and communities. It isn't the boots, the hats or the education that makes a difference. Its the heart, the love, the support, the honesty, integrity and the smiles that touch people.
His example will always be one I can carry with me.