The people who show up and tell embarrassing stories you hoped would never be repeated. That song that perfectly sums up your life in just three minutes. The room crowded with everyone wanting to pay their respects, even some you really didn't like all that much.
Have you ever imagined what your funeral might be like?
When thinking about that moment when you ride off into the sunset, you probably imagine yourself being in your 80s or even 90s. Your body worn out. Your skin thick, textured like leather, etched by windburn and sun from decades of working on the farm. You picture yourself peacefully drifting off. You're ready for the next journey.
What you don't imagine is dying young. Watching from above as your rambunctious 11-year-old son screams, desperately calling out for his dad. His enthusiasm for life obliterated. Your wife feeling guilty that she is the one still breathing. She feels helpless with nothing but uncertainty ahead. You don't think about this, but you should.
This was my life in 1993 when my dad drew his last breath under a John Deere tractor. A horrible, tragic scene that haunts me to this day. I remember the sound of sparrows, the smell of April rain and the undeniable feeling of emptiness. A vivid memory that won't leave me alone even with 20 years gone by. Time doesn't ease your pain. That's a statement that anyone who has truly felt loss knows is flowery, feel-good nonsense.
Time does allow you to develop the courage to turn pain into something bigger, something more powerful. You turn pain into passion and hope your story strikes a chord in the life of just one person.
That's why every September, I choke back the tears, man up and share my story of heartbreak and pain with farmers and ranchers. I hope maybe, just maybe, someone cuts this editorial out and hangs it in the barn or on the refrigerator to serve as a sobering reminder that farming and ranching is dangerous.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that farming and ranching ranks among the most likely occupations in which people can be killed. Twenty-six out of every 100,000 farmers reportedly died of a workplace injury in 2014, the sixth-highest rate of any profession.
I'm not going to claim that every single death could have been prevented. But I know many could have. So do you. You know there are times you made a decision to save time or money that wasn't exactly brilliant. You know that you know farming. You're good at your job. But this doesn't make you invincible. Slow down, evaluate the hazards and avoid shortcuts.
I want no one to feel what I felt, to see what I saw or to hear what I heard more than 20 years ago. I don't want to hear people gossiping about how you died "before your time" and making coffee shop predictions about what will become of your kids.
Do everything you can to make yourself aware of the dangers. I want your funeral to be a day of celebration with embarrassing stories and laughter. Let's work to prevent your kid from sharing a similar story.
Mike Deering is a family farmer from Montgomery City, Mo., and serves as the executive vice president of the Missouri Cattlemen's Association.
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