Farming life, when it is going well, is probably the most idyllic of lifestyles. What a wonderful opportunity to stand and stare and simply breathe, at one with earth and sky, the flora and the fauna, the rivers and streams that may flow through it.
In reality, however, very few people take time out of their busy schedules to stand and stare, because of the ongoing pressure of deadlines; and in agriculture, the weather forecast can truly dictate how a day on the farm will go.
Stress is a word we are all familiar with. It is linked to fear and anxiety, causing us to feel vulnerable and overwhelmed at times. This can lead to a loss of concentration, which in turn can lead to accidents, some fatal. This article looks at both death and surviving an accident on the farm.
According to Farm Safety Hub (Irish Farmer’s Association), up to 50% of workplace fatalities take place on a farm. How does one cope following tragedy and loss on the farm?
In the immediate aftermath, shock and numbness will set in. All of a sudden, the area becomes a medical scene and a Garda technical scene, cordoned off with the familiar tape we see regularly on our TV screens. Statements are taken when the witnesses are ready to talk. An ambulance or- in the case of fatal injuries- a hearse arrives to remove the body from the farm. A feeling of disbelief engulfs everyone affected by the tragic event.
Reality may not set in for quite some time. Family and neighbours become a constant presence as they help with the daily chores. The scene of the accident becomes a no-go area for a while.
Death is final. There is no turning back. Your loved one has died, suddenly, tragically, more than likely not getting a chance to say goodbye. Nothing seems real anymore. There is a reluctance to take in the enormity of what has happened and the massive adjustments that have to be made in order to keep surviving, keep functioning and keep the show on the road.
Grief is the price we pay for love. There is no right way or wrong way to grieve your sad and tragic loss. Give yourself permission to grieve.
I strongly recommend professional support for all family members in situations such as this, and also for anybody who may have witnessed the accident. Trauma is what happens to our body following distressing events. There are many different therapies available to help release it in a gentle and holistic way.
Changes to the farm
The traditional mode of farming used prior to the tragedy may have to change. It may not be possible for those left behind to continue farming in the same way. It may be necessary to hire people to help run the farm, and this incurs extra expenses and further highlights the loss as life goes on, and the farm continues to function with different people at the helm.
The surviving family members may find themselves disagreeing on best practice following on from the tragedy. Things can seem to go from bad to worse for a while as everybody tries to make sense of their new and individual realities.
The scene of the accident will stare people in the face for quite some time. If it was a pen, or a shed, and you simply find it too difficult to have to work there, is it possible to relocate the pen, knock the shed and rebuild it on a different part of the farmyard? Then perhaps plant a tree at the accident site in memory of the person who died? Or a flower bed with their favorite flowers?
Time helps us adjust and learn to live with the pain of loss. Nothing is ever the same, that would be impossible. We eventually get used to the new way of being. Farming life continues one way or another. We build a new world around our grief.
It may be that eventually the farm gets sold. Major decisions need to be postponed as emotion can take over from logic. Decisions made in haste may lead to regret later on, and add to the grief that is already there. Seek advice from professionals before coming to any important decision regarding the farm and your future.
Life after farm accidents
According to Embrace Farm, farming accidents are the highest of all workplace accidents, which happen annually in Ireland. They also explain how surviving a farm accident means you have escaped the fine line between death and life.
There are interviews on their website with survivors of farm accidents, and it is obvious from listening to these brave people, that adapting to life after an accident sees each survivor going through many stages. The survivors speak about multiple surgeries, loss of independence, how their children suddenly had to “grow up” and start helping as best they could on the farm. Different quotes from the survivors include “it’s hard to go back to positive” and “anything can happen”.
Acceptance is part of the healing journey. It takes time to fully accept what happened and the tragic outcomes
We cannot change the past, only learn from it. The learning needs to be done with compassion, not judgement. Counselling offers a safe, confidential and non-judgmental space to talk about what is going on for you mentally, physically and spiritually. Talking can really help. You are not alone.
Grief follows all types of loss, and the loss of one’s health can be very daunting and frightening. Loss of independence, constant pain, reduced mobility, reliving the experience and wishing it hadn’t happened, all need to be dealt with and counselling is a great place to start.
Importance of acceptance
Acceptance is part of the healing journey. It takes time to fully accept what happened and the tragic outcomes. Each person grieves at their individual pace, and needs to be allowed to do just that. Hospital visits, surgery, check-ups may be the new normal for a long time to come. The sooner a person can accept what is happening in the present moment (it is not about liking it, and equally about not resisting it), the better chance they have to gradually embrace a new life around their grief and keep going.
The families of the injured are also victims as they too have had to deal with major changes. A family member (spouse, sibling, adult child) may have to give up their day job to focus on running the farm and perhaps being a full-time carer for their injured loved one. They too need to grieve at their own pace and have their losses acknowledged. Please know that you are never alone.
Children have been described as “the silent grievers”. They may not say much, but each child needs to be heard, and the necessary supports made available to them.
Prevention is better than cure
Look after your health- mental, physical and emotional- simply because you are worth it.
Have safety signs erected on fences, gates and on your tractor and machinery in a way that you can see them loud and clear. Now that the summer holidays are upon us, keep your children, including teenagers, safe and out of harm’s way.
Have a health and safety drill that you use and insist everybody else on the farm uses each single day. A good place to start is simply focusing on your breath for a couple of minutes at the start of each day and before you start on any job on your farm. It grounds you and helps you think more clearly. Try and create a healthy work-life balance. It is possible and you alone have the choice when it comes to your one precious life.
If you find that you are constantly stressed and worn out, please talk to someone. Little changes in your daily routine can have huge benefits in how you get to enjoy your life. Life is for living, not existing. Today is the first day of the rest of your life. Change is possible.
Support and further information
EMBRACE FARM was founded by Brian and Norma Rohan, a farming family from Co Laois in 2014. Brian lost his father, Liam Rohan to a sudden farm accident and he, Norma and their extended family saw a need for support for people like themselves who had lost a loved one or who had suffered a serious injury in a farming accident. They offer many wonderful supports to the bereaved and their families, as well as the injured survivor and their families. It is worth reaching out to them. They can be contacted on 057-851-0555 or 085-770-9966.
The Irish Farmer’s Association (Farm Safety Hub) also provides support and guidelines to farmers experiencing loss and tragedy on the farm. They can be contacted at 1800-236-236.
Psychotherapist Claire Lyons Forde is based in Co Kerry and offers therapy in person, as well as online and over the phone. For further information, call 087-939-9818.