By Robin Kinney
This time of year brings beautiful memories of fall colors, the hope for a safe, bountiful harvest and for me, the remembrance of friends gone too soon. But as someone once said, “As long as we are being remembered, we remain alive.”
I’m acutely aware that Sept. 10 is National Suicide Awareness Day. My life changed forever two years ago when I learned one of my best friends made the decision to end his life and others I know are making that choice. It still troubles me daily that they believed it was their only option. It is hard for me to imagine that feeling of isolation, the weight of the decision, the pressures they were dealing with. In my view, there was an alternate path and other options.
Our rural families are resilient, enduring and overcoming overwhelming odds time and time again. In these challenging times these essential workers are important individuals, yet their mental fitness can be impacted and stretched to the limit as undue stress continues. The independent nature of our nation’s farmers, ranchers and their families mean they tend to withdraw and not seek help. This common stigma related to mental health in rural communities means many individuals who need help remain silent. Yet, if it was their neighbor in need, they would step in, helping with whatever had to be done.
If you are struggling with big decisions and next steps, I encourage you to share your burdens by talking to someone such as your family physician or spiritual advisor. When you reach the point of quitting, consider how far you have come. Don’t lose yourself in the temporary. No one has ever seen, heard or imagined what God has prepared for us in the future.
If you have family on the farm, or are a concerned neighbor or caring friend, I encourage you to check-in on your farm families to see how they’re doing. Let them know you value and appreciate them. The American Farm Bureau offers several resources including online Rural Resilience training and support tools at FarmStateofMind.org. Life is much easier when we are not afraid to ask for help or support and when we look for ways to make a difference for others.
Unfortunately, I know the pain and overwhelming grief of watching family and friends in their last days. Life happens, parents age and siblings get incurable illnesses. Yet, the loss of five close friends in the last two years due to their despair and hopelessness is a deeper anguish. I struggle with what could have…should have…might have been different if they had shared their thoughts, if they had known how much I cared and believed in them. Their lives were valued, and their farms were the result of their hard work and dreams. The results were something to be proud of and cherished, but it was my friends who were the inspiration, the spirit, adding value to my life. All were a privilege to know.
As the families and friends of these souls are left to live on, I try to make myself available to listen and let them lean into our memories. We have become closer in our grief and love. We exchange stories, reflect on good times, remember their loved one’s loyalty, dedication, hard work and strive to keep their memory alive.
I found a poem recently that goes something like this:
“Who you are is what you do. You are not a cog…You’re creative and a valuable asset to your family and your community. You can make a difference to the world and an organization. You’re capable of having an impact, leaving a legacy, creating things that are outstanding. In fact, you are remarkable. Don’t let yourself down.”
Life is hard for all of us right now, but on the farm and ranch it can be complicated by loneliness, hard long days, Mother Nature and other pressures such as lost markets and international trade wars that no one has control over.
Although those in agriculture are known for their traditions, unparalleled hope and optimism, they face some realities that none of us can imagine. Let’s be there for them as they continue providing us with the nutrients of life, #StillFarming every single day.
Robin Kinney is senior director, member engagement at the American Farm Bureau Federation.