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water over bridge signage on Missouri River
ONLOOKERS: People walk across the bridge to see damage from Missouri River flooding. It can leave many farmers wondering if consumers understand the gravity of the situation.

Dealing with stress is not a spectator sport

The loss of a farm feels like a loss of family. There is help in these hard times.

Spectator. That’s what I was as I walked across the Boonslick Bridge in Missouri. With me were droves of other spectators, all looking to get a glimpse at the Missouri River flooding.

It was easy to get caught up in the moment, surrounded by strangers sharing stories of why they came to the bridge. It seemed like we were at a sporting event looking over the fields and declaring the winner — the river.

During these trying times, you may wonder, “There is a huge flood going on. Why in the world are people acting like it is no big deal? Don’t they know what I’ve lost?”

Dealing with it all

I’ve heard many farmers liken this year’s flood to losing a family member, and it makes sense. Most farms are family operations. We grow attached to the farmhouse, the land, even the buildings. Many of us pour our souls into those “things” on the farm.

While the water has been just an inconvenience at my farm, I have had my share of family loss. So here are a few, nonprofessional, Missouri-raised, up-by-your-bootstraps suggestions from my heart to yours.

Time for silence. After my mom died, every person I saw with a smile, I wanted to slap. It is OK to take a few days in solitude to deal with your own attitude. More importantly, to save those perky people from your wrath. It is normal to feel upset about your circumstances. But hear me, this can only last a couple of days. Then get up, shower, get dressed and get out.

Time to share. Head to town. My dad’s favorite place for breakfast was at Holly’s Restaurant. People there knew him. So, go for coffee or lunch with friends or family and just talk. Share your flood story. Listen to their story. It is good to be surrounded by those who understand your loss.

Time to celebrate. Wait, hang with me. The one thing I found to ease my pain during loss was celebrating their life. Your farm gives you life. Think about those stories. The day your dad handed you the keys to the combine. The first tractor ride with your new bride. And that one time your kid tried to plant without GPS. Keep those great memories at the front of your mind.

Time to let go. The flood came. It overtook your land. It inundated your house and machine shed. It wrecked your potential crop. Those are facts. However, hanging on to anger and bitterness only wears on your emotional and physical well-being. I’m not saying go all Disney’s Elsa and “Let it go.” No, this one requires daily discipline of knocking back these thoughts when they creep in with one of those great memories from the paragraph above. Better yet, look to the future, to what will be. But if Elsa works, stand on that riverbank and sing it out.

Time to move on. My parents would not want me to dwell in death. I can’t reside in the past or in pain. Neither can you. Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow is not promised. Live for today. I love the new song “Good Vibes” by country artist Chris Jansen that says, “I’m breathing on God’s time, and I ain’t going to waste one breath.” Get out there. Get after it. Life is worth living.

Farmer help line

For some, my layman’s words will not be enough. That, too, is OK. Just be sure to seek out those professionals who help so many overcome stress and depression.

If you are feeling overwhelmed by the flooding disaster and need to talk, there are professionals available for each county in Missouri.

The Behavioral Health Crisis Hotline is staffed by mental health professionals who can respond to your crisis 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Visit dmh.mo.gov/mentalillness and click on the interactive Access Crisis Intervention Map for a phone number in your county.

There also is the Disaster Distress Helpline at 800-985-5990 or chat with someone by texting "TalkWithUs" to 66746.

Whether down-home or professional counseling, I encourage you to act. Only by getting help can you move forward.

And for those of us spectators, consider being a listener, a helper, an encourager. No one should sit on the sidelines when disaster strikes — especially when it affects our family of farmers and ranchers.

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