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Veteran Advisor

Can We Talk About Suicide?


Many of you have probably read the emotional piece cited above about farmer suicide.  I only know of two people who have committed suicide, and they were not farmers - they were older men with cancer.


What I'm struck by in the stories in the piece above is the attitude the reporters, friends and society has about suicide. It's as if some thing or some one failed these men (it is usually men when we talk of farmers).  So I have some questions for you.


If it is more often men than women, why?  What are men doing "wrong" that they kill themselves and leave their families in pain while women don't do that so often?  Is it because women are wired differently?  Is it because in many cases women connect with life and see their self-worth through their family rather than in how many acres they control or the opinion of their neighbors?


If farming is such a part of a man's identity that being unsuccessful means his life isn't worth living, then why do so many farm in what is after all a commodity business - that is, a break even business where almost by definition there are losers?


Oregon has a suicide law.  I've read of battlefield casualties who begged their buddies to kill them because the pain was so extreme.  Is suicide the worst thing that can happen to a person?  Can you imagine a situation where someone might prefer to be dead than alive?


The subject of suicide is troubling because we see it as involving pain and because we see it as having many victims - not just the dead but also the living who have to endure and make do and get by.  


Is suicide the ultimate act of giving up or is it a last thrashing out in anger, knowing that others will be hurt by the death?  Well, I don't know anything about suicide.


I am struck that the article suggests that if a person is acting funny we ought to ask, "are you thinking of killing yourself"?  What do you think of that?





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28 Replies
Honored Advisor

Re: Can We Talk About Suicide?

I am struck that the article suggests that if a person is acting funny we ought to ask, "are you thinking of killing yourself"?  What do you think of that?


Thank you Jim.....   I thought it was just me..... I have seen this advertised in several places including some church material.... 


The statement says "I don't have time to be your friend and be someone you can share with."  "So answer this short question so we don't have to get too deep".

Jim if the answer deep inside way yes,,,,,,,,,, would you answer that question publicly?  Hell no...... what could more near and dear to me than my death.


The statement says " I am a hero, I tried to help him, so It's not my problem."  ------ Typical of the shallow world we live in.



Can we talk about it..........  For God sake, Why not...    I would hope so 


Thanks for starting it.

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BA Deere
Honored Advisor

Re: Can We Talk About Suicide?

I don`t judge those that have taken their own life, we need to walk in their moccasins before that.  Some say suicide runs in families, there could be something to that similar to cancer or heart disease.  Some people are proud and cover up their internal suffering and when things finally do go bad, they can`t deal with it. 


Many of us were subtly raised where "you don`t go bankrupt"  "you don`t get divorced"  "you don`t get your name in the paper for being a drunk driver"  But in life, humans mess up and they have to know that when you make a mistake, you fix it and dust yourself off and climb back on the horse.  Jesus wipes your tears away and says "It`s okay, I have your back, now go and sin no more, but if you do, I`ll forgive you".


Men and women are wired differently on about everything, so it`s no surprise that in most cases they handle stress differently.  Women have friends that they share everything with.   Where as men have buddies that they crack jokes with.  But most men don`t have friends close enough that they can have a emotional talk with...because that`s "gay".

Honored Advisor

Re: Can We Talk About Suicide?

The Frey’s/ My maternal link -------- The Gifts of XL and Mae.               5/4/2018


I been finishing a game my mom’s family provided called “Connect the dots”.

You get a group of dots and instructions on how to connect them by pencil lines.

You know where the dots are but not what they represent.  Some dots are important and some are just points -- connective material. But the whole picture eludes you.


All my life I have been given dots of information, one at a time, most of them very important dots, wrapped in silence and memories shared only by those who were there. 

(XL lesson 1…… you only know what you know, never assume…you will get lost in mental backtracking.)


A few days ago I was sitting in a theatre next to two friends, A retired medical doctor (my golfing idol), and my wife, the daughter of a long time MD who also served in Western Kansas.   Through a musical nudge from the stage, I was reminded of a trip I took back to my wife’s hometown to get an award her dad had earned for assisting a young Hispanic family.  Just another dot received 50 years after the doctors death and only recorded on a thank you note form the girls mother returned to her marked-- Paid in full for services rendered.  Doctors are not gifted in accounting my golf friend says.

 I came out of that concert thinking there was a set of dots I had not connected in my mothers family and her brother (now age 91) is the only one left in that household. The Frey’s lived and taught personal success, but it is a mass of dots that suddenly took shape for me this last week. Like pieces of a corpse you still can’t identify.  So much wasn’t important enough to tell me, but so obviously important.

            And then an unknown digital friend on an agriculture “web site” brought up the subject of suicide in agriculture….. an article he had seen and wondered if we could talk about it…..I am thinking…yes, but why do I think that?…  but first… I got dots to connect that might answer that question…….. “ Can we talk about that?”


So the subject is XL and Mae Frey… and the lines I added in the last 2 weeks…. Most of these details I had not been told.



XL’s father was raised in Pennsylvania and learned construction in the Amish style.  He relocated to SW Kansas to homestead land in Ford County around the turn of century 1900. The home built by and for the Frey family is still home to a family on Mulberry Creek north of Bloom, Kansas.  Several homes were built in that area by XL’s father.

XL found himself in line for a trip to Europe when WW1 ended.  He and Mae married and rented a farm down stream on Mulberry Creek.  Mae’s dad was the postmaster in their local town, he and his wife lived in a room on the back of the post office.

In 1925 XL & Mae’s first son(FA) was born the week before Christmas at the Post Office, his grandparents home, where the local doctor could access in any weather.

Being born in a post office, I always thought was a joke.

  A daughter(FW) was born in ’28 and a second daughter(JN) in ’30. There was a house, a barn, land to farm, chickens, pigs, and by 1930 a herd of 25 milk cows and 12 plow horses.

The line between dots-----on the plow horses was , teams of 4.  Two fully trained teams and one young team in training. 4 hours per team per day then a switch at the barn for the second teams 4 hour pull.  My uncle FA’s first job was to entertain his sisters with in a wagon morning and night, while XL & Mae milked 25+ cows by hand.  By the time FA was 11 in ‘36, Mae kept the girls in the house and FA pulled half the cows—or “as many as he could”.  At age 14 he was handling 16 a day.

A few lines between the dots, of the 1930 are filled in by common knowledge…. I never heard about it from XL.  But this last week I learned that the dust storms and pneumonia took 6 of the 12 horses….  And in 1932 the older girl died…. I learned it was peritonitis.  And on memorial day we decorated some unspoken graves as long as XL and Mae lived.  Lots of people in the area lost children in the depression.

A line between some sad dots…… Around 1934 XL bought a young milk cow at Dodge City to add to the herd.   In 1938 FA the son, weak and thin just healed from his apendicitis, was diagnosed with Undulant Fever and began a fight that took 4 years to fully win—the antibiotics that came with war were not available.  “We should have known, that cow sluffed her calf the first two years and tested positive for Brucilosis”, FA said this week.  The family contracted it and all took medication…. FA survived to be a navy man in the Pacific and write his doctoral thesis in Education while serving in Kansas and California school systems.  Never had a child, (a line between dots I will not draw).  Lost his love to a drowning/epileptic accident and later acquired three wonderful children by another marriage.


Brucilosis(Undulent Fever)……………….loss of a fetus is part of the name, I am told.

Mae delivered 2 stillborn boys during the 1930’s,  and the loss of three children she could not hold,  along with the economic reality, took away her heart for the farm, and her joy.  Like many others her life in the depression era left her preparing for the worst and wanting a steady paycheck.  And the back brace she wore the last 40+ years of her life was a constant reminder of their time on the farm and the undulant fever.   

XL developed appendicitis in the mid 30’s, like the rest of the family (a byproduct of the struggle with brucilosis)  2 year after his daughter died.  He wanted to delay his surgery by a local doctor to whom he had a debt he was working on.  The doctor’s comment “My experience is that live patients pay bills better than dead ones”--- was a convincing argument.

XL saw education as “the future” at a time when children were labor.    FA turned 14 in 1939 and living miles from town XL had saved back $25 and bought FA an education.  It was a 1927 ford model T.   With a little work it ran.  It ran to high school and was sitting there for him when he got out of the Navy, and when he taught his first class, and when he went to college.    

XL & Mae left the farm unexpectedly at the end of 1939 as the military draft was coming and the farm owner had a renewed desire to farm.— While economics hurt, money did not take them from the farm.   The weight of the depression was with them like everybody else.  As Mae lived her final years in the 1990’s, FA was helping her, He told me Mae carried the paid medical bills for her lost children of the 1930’s in her purse until her death.

In 1939 & 40 XL & Mae lived in 2 houses in town and by 1945 a big older two story building in the same small town.   Mae managed the small town drug store and XL delivered fuel to farmers for the coop and ran a gas station.

Their “big house” building gave Mae a chance to care for her parents at home. The bigger house gave XL opportunity to get several farm boys to consider staying in school past the 8thgrade by staying at his place at least during the week.  A couple of those boys just needed a place.

His surviving daughter eventually married one of XL’s young men and of that group at least 5 became life long farmers and community leaders across SW KS.   The depression, I am told hurt children as much as adults.  XL had tried to plant  potential in young kids instead of discouragement………. In his later years, every chance he got to run a combine and help his son in law with a pat on the back, he was there and thought that “His” Massey 27 with the open seat was changing the world. 


Mae & XL moved to Dodge City in their later years.  Both worked, Mae as a cook & bookkeeper and XL worked for the Kansas Highway Dept. long enough to earn retirement benefits. 

Being the only grandson, I was around them a lot.   XL died when I was 15.  He left us with an understanding that being a friend and having a tight rein on ones mind were important.   Not one time did I ever hear him complain or blame. “and if you ever tell get mad again, I’ ll tan your hide again”.   He told me once & never needed to say it again.  I never wanted to disappoint him.

The depression broke people.  Money was a small issue compared to the mental conditions hardship creates if we allow it to. Children of the farm left agriculture by the thousands in SW KS in those years and have since, and most walked away with bad memories and lost confidence………  XL understood what was in your mind was a choice and yours to control and the key to a better tomorrow.


 XL had a “pinky” wave for kids that might happen in any circumstance—I saw it once in a family reunion behind his back and saw three kids smile, and he had a sly deviancy to his character that meant a trip to the grocery might entail 2 hours of playing baseball with the kids down in the park,  a piece of pie at a (“Howdy XL”)café down town,  or snooker at the “Odd Fellow’s” Lodge when we get the lawn mowed. 


My mom (JN), his girl, survived childhood with the least damage from the bad milk.  She married one of the 8+ young men XL helped “educate” and mentor living at his house to finish high school while his only son served on a ship in the Pacific.


 Fortunately(JN and her guy) my parents were able to farm the rest of their lives in Stevens County, Ks.  They raised three children and enjoyed a lifelong closeness to FA, so far away. XL’s affect of my father’s life was greater than I can express.  “What we think in life is what we choose to think, we should not blame anybody else for that”.

Mom’s brother FA spent most of his life dealing with the schools of Rio Vista and Antioch, California after his service on the USS Dixie.  He found fulfillment caring for the kids also.  He is 91, lives at home and still drives himself where he get his “Howdy Mr. Frey” and email connects him to the world. 


My favorite memory at XL’ & Mae’s house in Dodge City, Ks. was Halloween. Those same kids he supervised at the park seemed to line up at the door.  A treat at XL’s required the performance of a trick.   We applauded dances, singing, cartwheels, juggling, poems, report cards etc etc --for a couple of hours or more, year after year. And if one came unprepared XL would have some things ready, often including him playing the piano and them singing a tune we all knew.  I remember him having a young guy stand on a chair behind him and hold a harmonica from behind XL so “he/they” could play a duet together, “juice harp” and piano.  I can remember at least 4 different songs XL could duet.


 “ the part we have control over needs to be between the ears”

                                                                        XL Frey through my father.




Can we talk about suicide?   I said yes. But maybe not...   

In this day when we can all “call a friend” or get our tweets at a moments notice, do we have control over our thoughts? And are they thought out well over time? Can our thoughts survive the pressure of diverse opinion, when we can change neighbors and friends with such ease and never leave the desk?


And most important can we really help each other before we are  labeled or “blocked”?  

People are becoming uncomfortable with personal contact or conversation where there is no hiding behind a screen.


And way too often parents just give their kids a hand full of dots and then expect them to see the same picture we see.  We have such a small amount of time to transfer our experiences and most of us won't until the proper question is asked.  Can we fit it into a few texts?



Senior Contributor

Re: Can We Talk About Suicide?

I feel a need to post this as I hope it helps anyone in difficult financial times that has had any thought of suicide as a way out. I am a survivor of suicide, my father took his own life in 1990, I was twelve years old. The reason? Only he could have answered that question. Financial times in ag were difficult at the time. My take on the whole matter though was this. He allowed the farm to define his worth. He thought that he was the one who failed. I believe that he felt he had let his father down. I remember as a child that he talked alot about working hard to pass the farm down to the next generation. I also remember my grandfather telling me to "take care of those azealas ur grandmother planted them" I'm sure this was done to my father as well but on a much larger scale. I'm sure that all all of these men who have taken there lives under these circumstances have felt to be under this pressure to succeed from the generation before. it's part of farming culture I see it all the time in articles about legacy farms and passing it down, if this hard financial time had fallen upon my grandfather he would have lost some land and that's it. He bought it he had no emotion tied to it, it was a tool to make money and nothing more, however the emphasis he placed on it to my father was much more. I think we look at our fathers when we are children as the ones who have all the right answers we forget that they have flaws as well. My personnel thought now that I have grown older and seen the product of the legacy and pass it along way of thinking, when it comes to agriculture is a selfish one to a certain extent, and to anyone thinking about suicide as a way out, I promise you, ur family and friends would much rather have you around than the farm. And maybe the sacrifice that you make for the next generation is making the decision to let the farm go and move on to the next chapter and the next family legacy for their benefit. and if that's the decision that you need to make for your families future be proud that you where strong enough to make it. ( it's a lot harder than trying to stick it out)Land is not the only thing to pass along. Also remember this when you talk to your Children. make sure that if you intend to give them something to remember a true gift has no strings attached. If you're worried about talk at the coffee shop about not being able to pay your bills remember it's just that talk, gossip, nothing more! the ones doing it might find themselves in the same situation shortly, and the ones not getting paid at the moment charge interest for a reason! Risk! The farmer takes risk and the bank or the merchant takes risk! This does not define you! Our most important asset is not material! It is time on this earth! I hope this helps someone!
Senior Contributor

Re: Can We Talk About Suicide?

Also if you are worried about a friend ask! You can't make them talk but you can offer a listening ear. If they get angry they will get over it with time, and you offered.
If this has happened to someone you know and afterwards you feel guilty because in hindsight you saw the signs and failed for what ever reason to act, it's not your fault! It happened, and there are no correct answers why because the only one that can answer them are gone. The good memories will still be there among the fog of the bad ones those are the ones to remember and focus on though hard at times. If you think what I have said may help someone in need feel free to pass this along! I hope it helps. That is why it was posted.
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Senior Contributor

Re: Can We Talk About Suicide?

I felt I should also share my experience this afternoon after my earlier post on this matter. Decided I needed a new pair of shoes so I decided to go to town with my stepdaughter. on the way back getting on the interstate a homeless man was standing on the other side of the intersection with a big genuine smile on his face. He was holding a sign that said "will wrestle your mother in law for five dollars" at that moment I thought about the earlier posts and thought to myself this man has absolutely nothing but the clothes on his back and still has joy in his life and a smile on his face with a pretty damn good sense of humor. I think we all could learn from him from time to time!
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Senior Advisor

Re: Can We Talk About Suicide?

matt90  -  Thoughtful  post   - WELL   PUT    

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BA Deere
Honored Advisor

Re: Can We Talk About Suicide?

"farmers and suicide"  I was thinking about this and in addition to a stressful business where there are cases where you may go a year or years without a profit or "cashflow" .  A farmer may have a spouse and children, off farm employment ect.   We think of farmers as being spiritual and used to stress, but you pile weather, markets, the "banker" and throw in a spouse that they find out has been cheating for years.  If there are a myriad of stress`s, the farm may be only a fraction of what a human being is dealing with.  


College students even get stressed and contemplate suicide even if they`re 20 with a whole life before them.

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Veteran Contributor

Re: Can We Talk About Suicide?