Saturday, February 8, 2014

Bereft and Bewildered

Last Friday started with a rumor.

One of those rumors that causes you to catch your breath, hand flying to your face as you gasp…NO!

Surely it was nothing more than a rumor. A horrible rumor.

Winter is an isolating time and we hadn’t seen any of the neighbors in days…surely…the information was false.

It couldn’t be true…could it?

By the end of the day, it was corroborated.  By the end of the weekend, it was “official”.

One of our farming neighbors had indeed ended her own life.

 Oh my God…why…?

Farmers are an odd lot. (I count myself in this group, so no one take offense)
Tough as nails, most farmers shy away from being “all emotional” and expressing one’s feeling just isn’t done. I’ve been told on more than one occasion not to “take it to heart” and that I need to develop a “thicker skin”. (As a child, tears were one thing that guaranteed a whipping)  A lot of farmers model themselves after John Wayne, shying away from their very human emotions in an effort to come out victorious in their daily battle with the elements. With the deepest, most abiding faith of any single demographic group of folks, it is surprising to note that suicide is the #1 cause of death among those working the land. Despite the fact that this is dangerous work and accidents take their toll, it is said that more die at their own hand. That statistic alone is a little disturbing.

Witnessing miracles firsthand…every day…builds your faith.  
Knowing that you’re helpless/hapless victim of the weather, the market, consumer whims…every day…tries and tests that faith.  
In the end, it comes down to which one you see more of on any given day as to how you feel.

Reading the obituary just confirmed what I already knew. She was an accomplished and outstanding woman in the world of Ag. This was someone I knew only slightly, but truly admired and respected, looked up to, and wished to emulate.  She was the original "agvocate", the owner/operator of a century farm, outspoken, determined and committed to youth in Agriculture and the future of the family farm...she even gave Blondie her first job. She was well-educated, funny and a great writer. Everybody loved her stories.Why would someone who was accomplished and creative, talented and successful willingly end their own life? 

Farming tends to be isolating.  It’s hard, physically stressful work, and the pay is not much. Money is always a concern. The fluctuations in the market are unpredictable.  Equipment breaks down, animals die and crops fail.  The constant demand for daily effort and attention can feel overwhelming. The weather alone is a never-ending battle. Sometimes it seems the bad stuff far outweighs the good.  Was it that?

She once told me "don't call them them challenges. ...and you can always overcome a challenge." Did she forget that?  Did the problems finally overwhelm? 

Was she sick?  Did it truly break her heart to lose both her parents in the past year?  Didn’t she realize what her death would do to her own family?  How had she finally lost ALL hope?

Was there something someone/anyone could have done?  Could we have been better neighbors, closer friends?  Would a smile, a hug, a helping hand have made any difference?  How much did everyone miss, ignore, or choose to overlook?  Did we somehow fail our fellow farmer? 

So, this Friday…I sat in a church filled to overflowing...surrounded by the family, friends and neighbors that make up our community.  A community rocked by the loss of one who was a stalwart supporter of Ag, family farms and youth…an award-winning  and innovative farmer, lifelong church member, a beloved wife and step-mom, active volunteer and author.  A community that is both bereft and bewildered at the loss of our neighbor as we all wonder…why?  When the minister started his message by saying, "nobody in this room knows what to say..." many heads nodded in agreement as the tears flowed free.

This loss leaves us shocked and speechless.   What can you say when you can’t begin to understand? How do you comfort when you feel your own sense of loss? And then there’s the whole stigma of suicide…no one wants to discuss it. I have pondered and hesitated for some time about posting this.

Is it that we don’t want to examine our own doubts and despairs…are we afraid?

We will never know just what kind of pain pushed her beyond the brink of despair.  But, it should make us each a little more careful of our family, friends and neighbors…and ourselves.

“I hope you find peace from your pain

  Must’ve come over you like a hurricane…

Fly away with all our love…”

                                       Toby Keith – “Chuckie’s Gone”

Rest in peace, neighbor.  You had far more influence than you will ever know.

                                              …and you will be missed.

I hope this story will encourage folks to look beyond themselves.  Pay attention to those friends and neighbors…and your family.

…and if Life is overwhelming you…please, please reach out! I am certain someone cares.

1-800-273-TALK (8255)


  1. Beautiful post. I heard about the fact that farmers are more likely than the rest of the population to commit suicide, and it's weighed on my heart ever since. The psychologist we heard from said farmers are more likely to be perfectionists as well.

    Sorry for the loss of your neighbor. So sad. I will pray for her family.

    1. Thank you, Katie!
      Yesterday's service was one of the saddest things I have ever experienced. So many folks asking the same unanswerable question.
      I'm sure her family will appreciate prayers. Her poor husband!

  2. I just wonder if she didn't know that that many of us would be there, missing her, and wishing we could have prevented this. Did she not know how many of us younger generation looked up to her and learned from her? One look at the number of FFA jackets yesterday was testament to that.

    Awesome post as always. :)

    1. I wish I knew....
      All those blue jackets made me think the same thing. In a way, I was surprised at all the young folks there.But she was such a great advocate for youth in Ag it really shouldn't have been surprising.
      Such sadness...