Despair in Montana: The Sad Story of Farmer Suicide Part 2
If you are part of the farm or ranch community, you probably know someone who has chosen to end his or her life. Suicide tends to be a taboo issue in society and especially more so in small communities. Although farmers and ranchers live and work in the beautiful places of Montana, financial despair, isolation, the inability to control Mother Nature and markets, as well as the cultural stigma of asking for help, can lead to depression and in the saddest cases, suicide. These brave families have opened up about their personal stories of loss. This week, we're sharing Part Two of the Graft families' story. Over the next few weeks we'll share a combination of personal tales about suicide of a loved one, dealing with depression and how to find help and hope.
In memory of David Graft, wheat farmer, Floweree, October 13, 2014
The voice of Arin Graft, Dave's daughter.
For my siblings and me. our dad was our hero. We always felt safe and protected with him and he had such a gentle heart. He was a phenomenal artist and creative person. He sold his artwork to make some extra money to buy us things like the tennis shoes that we “just had to have” as children. He always wanted what was best for his family. He was a wonderful husband, father and grandfather. He had many friends and people thought highly of him. Later in life, my siblings and I called him “Big Wave Dave,” as we’d see him on the farm working in Hawaiian print shirts. When people find out I’m Dave’s daughter, they still tear up when they talk about him. He was loved by so many people. Words can’t describe the person that he was.
When Dad committed suicide, I was living in Kalispell. I had talked to him the night before and he was in good spirits. There was nothing to make me think he was preparing to end his life. I knew he was looking forward to retiring and spending time with his family.
The day dad died, Mom had called me (I had friends heading over to the farm) to say she couldn’t reach him. Later that day, I was taking a dance class and wasn’t answering my phone, but I saw Mom had called about 10 times and my brother-in-law had called me four. When I had a break, I called mom. I was with a good friend at the time. Mom told me to get my friend and sit down as she had some bad news. My grandpa was going to have some heart surgery, so I figured the bad news was about him.
She said, “Your dad died.” I remember I just collapsed. I asked what happened. Because she and my brother didn’t want to tell my sister and me that it was suicide over the phone, she simply said he had a heart issue. I went back to my house, packed my things and drove to Great Falls.
It was a rough time in my life and I hope I never have to go through anything like that again. The company I worked for was sold to a larger company the same week that my dad died, so I was unsure about the future of that job. I had only been married five weeks and after my dad’s death I found out my husband, who hadn’t been around at all, was having an affair. Shortly thereafter I divorced him.
I had so many things that were so traumatic, I realized I needed to talk to someone. I found a grief class in Kalispell but nobody else had signed up and it didn’t work for me. I needed to be around people who could share the experience. The sad part about suicide is you lose a lot of friends. People act like it’s contagious. I had no family in Kalispell and none of my friends checked up on me. It was like I fell off the face of the earth.
There was so much in my life I couldn’t get past and I kept asking myself, “Why would my dad go to that extreme?” Dad didn’t have a history of depression. It was agonizing to learn he had been attempting suicide for two weeks prior to ending his life; during that time, I never thought anything was wrong. When we received his notes from the sheriff, I realized that a few of the times I had talked to him were on days that he had attempted suicide, but he seemed absolutely fine when I talked to him on those nights.
It was so traumatic I felt I was in a medically-induced coma and was in a hospital bed watching myself live this life but I couldn’t get up. I couldn’t get the vision of my dad in the wheat field with a gun out of my mind. I decided I had to move back home and be closer to my mom and my brother.
My mom and I joined a group at Benefis called Life After Suicide. It’s an 8-week class for those impacted by suicide only. It really helped us. We were with people who were experiencing the same thoughts and feeling as we were. I went to a counselor who, after I told her everything I went through, said, “I can’t believe you’re still mentally sane.” It’s a testament to how strong my parents raised me to be.
We still struggle with Dad’s suicide. I don’t think that grief will ever go away. There are periods where it’s not as much on my mind, but then there are reminders that bring it back.
It seemed he was fine at home, talking to people. His home was his safe place but when he was outside on the farm all of the feelings came back. I think he did have depression but not to the extent that would make him kill himself. He worried about a lot of things, that was his personality. I think everyone has depression issues at some point but this was so dramatic. For us, it came down that he wanted to retire but the way the farm and ranch corporation was set up, the money was based on what the corporation decided. If they didn’t want to pay him, he couldn’t do anything.
When farms and ranches have multiple families involved, each family needs to have their own lawyer to review the documents to see how everything is set up with how you can retire. There is nothing we can do to get dad’s retirement. His whole life he was told he would have a certain amount but it wasn’t documented. My dad was told one thing but never saw it in detail. What do you do? That was the position—he had nothing; “I’ve worked for 40 some years and I have nothing.”
My dad farmed his whole life and my brother puts it in perspective. “He was a farmer, but he was considered the ‘hired man.’ Hired men don’t have corporation stock.” It came down to him wanting to retire and he wanted to enjoy the rest of his life and he figured that wasn’t going to happen. That realization drove him to that final point; he felt he had nothing to fall back on.
What’s ironic is my dad talked other people out of suicide multiple times. I don’t think we ever imagined the person committing suicide would be our dad.
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