Ann Fitzgerald: Embrace Farm offers wonderful support all farmers hope they'll never need
"It is the ultimate irony that the priest who led this service last year would himself die in a freak accident."
Monsignor Kevin O'Neill, former president of St Patrick's College in Carlow, began his sermon at the recent sixth annual Embrace Farm remembrance service in Abbeyleix, Co Laois, with these words.
He described how, last January, local parish priest Fr John Cummins was on his way to see a sick parishioner when he got out of his car to return to the house, presumably to get something he had forgotten.
Then, seeing that the car was slipping downhill towards the road, he went to intervene but was run over.
The Monsignor pointed out that this happened as Fr Cummins was going about his routine activity, doing what he did every day, that there was no obvious carelessness and the car was relatively new. "There is no logic to what happened." Yet it did.
As I looked around the congregation, comprising mainly bereaved farm family members, it appeared little different from any social gathering of farming folk.
Some men were in suits, others in checked shirts and belted jeans; most had a strong trim physique, with the bald-headed among them displaying the ruddy effects of the recent sunshine. The women were neatly dressed, the children mainly casual. Ages were from across the spectrum.
Some time in the past, varying amounts of time ago, they all woke up to what they expected was going to be another ordinary day; but something tragic happened.
A person died or their life was irrevocably changed, with devastating consequences for their nearest and dearest.
An action is only wrong if you know that something else is correct and deliberately choose not to do it.
The majority of those who went up to light a candle in remembrance of a loved one were female - wives, mothers, daughters, sisters. More men are killed on farms, but then, more farmers are men.
One striking woman, after lighting a candle, continued on walking out of the church and returned soon after with a baby's bottle. Life goes on.
One man told me that if his friend had been two feet to either side, he would have escaped unscathed. In other situations, it might have been two inches, or a split second.
There are uncountable near-misses every day.
The details of every tragic incident are unique, as is every response.
For many, it means a major change of direction in their life; others bury themselves in their work; a small number find the burden of grief unbearable.
The Monsignor complimented Norma and Brian Rohan, who established Embrace Farm in 2014 following the death of Brian's father, Liam, in a farm accident.
"They looked beyond the pain of their horrific loss and helped fill a void that, inexplicably, it seems, society had failed to see or farming was so busy that it hadn't the time to deal with tragedy," he said.
Describing farmers as being so busy minding their stock that they are, probably, "ten times more likely to be seen by a vet than a doctor," he encouraged people to be kinder to themselves and to take greater self-care.
Embrace Farm gives not just emotional support but also practical assistance in dealing with the variety of practical, legal and financial issues that can arise in the wake of a tragic farm accident.
The farming community is fortunate for the existence of Embrace Farm; those who don't have recourse to it are even more fortunate.
Cherish every ordinary day.
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