By Myron Friesen

Last week I introduced the McLaughlin Family. Lee and Marie farmed along with their son Scott. They also have sons Mark and Jay. I have worked with the family the last five years. Marie will now continue the story in her words.

It’s January 9, 2008 — 4:30 P.M.

Carpenters have just left from working on our house remodeling project. Old plaster dust has penetrated everything. We are in the biggest mess we’ve ever lived in but it will be temporary and it is a good move.

We’ve traded houses with our oldest son Scott and his family to support the transition of Lee and Scott reversing roles and level of responsibility in our farm operation.


Jay, our special needs son, is home for a visit from his group home in Manning. Mark, our middle son, is on his way back home to his family in Ankeny after meeting with a client three hours away.

The telephone rings. It’s Scott.

"Mom have you talked with Dad lately? I’ve been calling him but he doesn’t answer his cell phone." Anxiously I reply, "I’ve been trying to get him too, Scott, and he isn’t answering. He was hauling grain today. He ought to answer. What are you thinking?"

"Mom, do you hear any sirens?"

"No. . . Scott, what’s wrong?" "Well, I’ve just finished some business with a guy over here at Portsmouth and it just came across his scanner that there has been a bad accident at 1900th Street...Mom, that’s our new hog site."

As I raced to look out the front door, I began to hear the piercing sound of sirens as emergency vehicles were now rapidly approaching.

"Scott, just listen! Get here as fast as you can! It has to be either Dad or the guys digging the new well at the hog site. It has to be bad… Scott, I believe it’s dad."

Jay and I ran out to the car and drove toward the hog site —- it is about a quarter of a mile away and visible from our house. As we turned on to the side road, I could see our semi rolled over in the ditch a short distance from us, I pulled over to let emergency vehicles get by. I couldn’t make myself go any closer. My heart told me, It’s Lee. It’s over. He’s gone.


Jay and I ran out to the car and drove toward the hog site —- it is about a quarter of a mile away and visible from our house. As we turned on to the side road, I could see our semi rolled over in the ditch a short distance from us, I pulled over to let emergency vehicles get by. I couldn’t make myself go any closer. My heart told me, It’s Lee. It’s over. He’s gone.

Two EMT friends got out of emergency vehicles and came to me. Trying to be controlled but knowing I’m hysterical. I can’t go any closer. It’s Lee. I can’t take Jay down there.

The one EMT nodded to the other, "She’ll stay with you, Marie. I’ll check it out and come back."

I stood there in disbelief… numb and frozen in time. It was as if I had a protective shield around me. I was there but yet I wasn’t there.

As the friend came walking back to us, he was saying and doing exactly what he was trained to do, which was to reassure me and give me hope, but the look on his face told a different story. No matter what he said, I knew Lee was gone.

The ride to the hospital was a blur. I was consumed with emotion as I pleaded out loud, Please don’t take him. This can’t be happening. We all need him so much. Please. . . just not yet! Our life is so good! He loves us all so much!  You can’t have him yet!

Phone calls were made and our family began to gather at the hospital. Scott had reached Mark just as Mark was pulling into his home driveway.

Mark was talking on his cell phone with Myron about business, he noticed that Scott was repeatedly beeping in.  Taking the call, Mark heard Scott say, "There’s been an accident. It’s Dad and it’s bad. Come now!"


He wouldn’t say how Dad was. Mark raced into his house, shouted for his wife, Christy, and went to his office where he grabbed his Bible, dropped to his knees, and prayed, "God, I pray that your will be done but that your will is to save my Dad."

Mark and Christy found the two-hour trip to the hospital to be excruciatingly long and painful. No calls came with updates. Stopping briefly 10 miles away in Avoca to recollect themselves, they cried together and intuitively told themselves, "He’s gone."

Jay was with us at the hospital and visitation but unable to attend the funeral. His health had been steadily declining over the past two months. I was late getting to the visitation because Jay was undergoing tests at the hospital. As we were trying to plan the funeral, most of the time I felt numb and unable to think clearly.

Giving information for the obituary seemed to be an insurmountable task. The funeral director graciously tried to make sense of whatever I was saying.

Lee and I have never been very good at asking for help or letting others help us.

Long ago a school administrator reminded me that I needed to learn how to accept help from others rather than always giving. He pointed out that it actually gets in the way of others fulfilling their need to be of service.

This time of loss has taught me such humility and gratitude as I’ve repeatedly received the blessings that come with accepting help and support form others. God’s timing is perfect in putting the right people (angels in disguise) before us at the very moment they are needed so much.

Lee’s tragic accident was a total shock. He would never have guessed that his smile and life would have such a widespread impact on others. He thought he just minded his own business and worked.

It’s meant so much to us to hear from so many people about the changes they’ve made in their family life, estate planning, health care, and married life because of the urgency Lee’s death created within them.

If this can happen to Lee, it can happen to any of us. Words shared during a time of loss can be a reflection of how well acquainted the people are with the individual or family, what experience they’ve had with grief, and how comfortable or uncomfortable they are with the whole concept of grief.

It’s clear that each person’s purpose is to show respect, pay tribute to Lee and our family, and wish they could ease our pain and suffering. One truth is so evident. . . to love and live life to the fullest also entitles us to experience the full realm of grief.

I’m learning that it’s a blessing to be so fortunate. Regardless of how each of us expresses sympathy, I believe we all do as well as we know how to do. We can’t know what we’ve never had the opportunity to know. A long time ago I learned that when people make potentially upsetting comments, it works best for me to think, "If they knew more, they would say less… It is what it is."

There’s no sense using energy to react negatively and escalate a problem when you really need to save your energy for more for more constructive purposes.

The funeral ended, the people went home, and then I found myself sitting around the table with Scott, Mark and their wives as we all said, "Now what do we do?"

Each of us experience grief in our own way and on our own timeline. For Scott, it is the absence of not only "Dad" but also the partner he worked with and brainstormed with daily on the farm.

Scott is very capable for moving the farm operation in to the future but the absence of seeing Lee’s reassuring smile and hearing Lee’s words of confirmation is ever present.

Little did we realize just how valuable Mark’s knowledge and understanding of farm-related legal issues and estate planning were going to be when three years ago he became a Farm Financial Strategies associate.

Mark has now experienced loss first-hand. His mission to help farm families transition farms from one generation to the next with the greatest efficiency now takes on greater urgency and deeper meaning.

For Jay, it’s the emptiness he feels when he comes home for a weekend and Dad isn’t there to welcome him or spend time teasing him. For me, it’s the constant loneliness and not being able to talk with my truest best friend and life partner.

I’m angry about what gets omitted from our lives, but I’m especially sad about everything the grandchildren don’t get to see and experience with their grandpa and vice versa. I wish I could talk with him and hear his voice just one more time. How do we go on from here?

I feel so ignorant about our farm operation and everything else that Lee took care of, but there’s really only one choice —- accept the challenge and move on. It is what it is. My learning curve must bend over backwards instantly! 

My Life Gleanings from this tragedy:

• It is possible to say, "God is Good" with tears streaming down your cheeks.

• Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him and He shall direct your paths. Proverbs 3:5-6.

• What matters is how we live and love . . . and how we spend our dash.

Lee McLaughlin, December 4, 1941 — January 9, 2008.

Next week —- How do we go on from here? What would Lee want us to do?

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