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Chatterton Family: Protecting the hurtingChatterton Family: Protecting the hurting

When a farmer dies, the loss leaves gaping holes in a family and a farm. But what is it for the farmer's wife, who watches the seasons march on all around her?

Holly Spangler

January 18, 2016

2 Min Read

Editor’s note: we’re sharing the story of the Chatterton family this week, who were gracious in revealing their story of loss, grief and rebuilding, following Greg Chatterton’s death in 2012.

What happens when your husband of 35 years is suddenly gone? The big and the difficult are hard to put words to - and changes are inevitable.

The biggest change?

“I see life going on,” Charlotte Chatterton says today. “You think life should stop but it just continues. Your faith grows in size, because you just have to go on.


“I think sometimes that maybe Greg wouldn’t like this or that. But decisions have to be made and sometimes that means change. Eventually, you feel better about that,” she adds.

Her family was conscious of all those changes, too. Even about pulling into the drive on the home farm, where Charlotte lives. “There were times I thought, ‘should we pull in the driveway with the combine?’ I didn’t want to hurt her,” says Deanna, Charlotte’s sister-in-law.

Her daughter, Erin concurs. “That was a tough transition over the last four years. We were making changes that I knew would be uncomfortable to my mom. I was protective of her and her emotions and how it might make her feel.”

So protective that Erin would strategically plan her attempts to gather farm mail: riffling through it when Charlotte wasn’t looking, or running over when she knew her mom was busy.

“As funny and stupid as it is, it was very serious,” Erin says today. “I wanted to protect my mom.”

Looking back, Charlotte smiles, unaware but grateful.

She’s observed that farming is unique, with so many involved and all right in front of you. “There were times in the beginning when I didn’t want to see the farming going on,” Charlotte says, wondering what it would be like for a woman whose husband ran a corporation or some other business.

“I wouldn’t have to watch someone sit at his desk.”

But this past fall, she came around, stepping back into the combine for the first time.

“For a long time, I didn’t like the smell of the tractor inside, and I hated the smell of diesel and dirty farming clothes – all the things that brought him back to me. There was a time when I felt like I needed to separate,” Charlotte says.

“And now I’m riding in the combine, with my sister and daughter. I’ve come around!”

For more:

Chatterton Family: A sudden succession

Chatterton Family: A corn field conversation

Chatterton Family: Protecting the hurting

Chatterton Family: Opportunity, and other strange words

About the Author(s)

Holly Spangler

Senior Editor, Prairie Farmer, Farm Progress

Holly Spangler has covered Illinois agriculture for more than two decades, bringing meaningful production agriculture experience to the magazine’s coverage. She currently serves as editor of Prairie Farmer magazine and Executive Editor for Farm Progress, managing editorial staff at six magazines throughout the eastern Corn Belt. She began her career with Prairie Farmer just before graduating from the University of Illinois in agricultural communications.

An award-winning writer and photographer, Holly is past president of the American Agricultural Editors Association. In 2015, she became only the 10th U.S. agricultural journalist to earn the Writer of Merit designation and is a five-time winner of the top writing award for editorial opinion in U.S. agriculture. She was named an AAEA Master Writer in 2005. In 2011, Holly was one of 10 recipients worldwide to receive the IFAJ-Alltech Young Leaders in Ag Journalism award. She currently serves on the Illinois Fairgrounds Foundation, the U of I Agricultural Communications Advisory committee, and is an advisory board member for the U of I College of ACES Research Station at Monmouth. Her work in agricultural media has been recognized by the Illinois Soybean Association, Illinois Corn, Illinois Council on Agricultural Education and MidAmerica Croplife Association.

Holly and her husband, John, farm in western Illinois where they raise corn, soybeans and beef cattle on 2,500 acres. Their operation includes 125 head of commercial cows in a cow/calf operation. The family farm includes John’s parents and their three children.

Holly frequently speaks to a variety of groups and organizations, sharing the heart, soul and science of agriculture. She and her husband are active in state and local farm organizations. They serve with their local 4-H and FFA programs, their school district, and are active in their church's youth and music ministries.

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