'He Was My Everything': A Farmer's Wife Reflects On Her Husband's Suicide

May 18, 2018
Originally published on May 23, 2018 4:47 pm

Matt Peters farmed corn and soybeans in Iowa for more than 35 years. The farm had been in his family for generations, and though he had gone to college to study law enforcement, Matt decided to make a life as a farmer.

"Matt just felt that that was where he needed to be," his wife, Ginnie, says in a StoryCorps conversation recorded in April. "Maybe not where he wanted to be, but it was where he needed to be."

But the stress of farming — especially during springtime planting — can take its toll. Farmers have one of the highest suicide rates of any job in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In May 2011, Matt Peters, 55, took his own life.

"The day that he died, that morning, he said to me, 'I feel paralyzed. I can't make decisions,' " Ginnie tells Trent Andrews, who took over the farm after her husband's death. "I'm thinking, 'This is normal stress. This is springtime [planting season]. If we could just get through the planting, we'd be OK."

But that evening, he didn't come in for dinner, she says.

"Then my phone rang, and it was Matt. I said, 'Where are you? It's dark, and I've got dinner ready and you're tired. Why don't you come home?' " she says. "And he said, 'I love you.' We always said that, always. And I said, 'I love you, too.' That was the last conversation that we had."

He wrote Ginnie a letter — a kind of a love letter, she says — and in it he said she should have Trent farm for her. Trent had worked at a local seed business, where he advised Matt on different seeds to buy.

"It was very humbling for me to read the words that Matt wrote, and I think about it a lot," Trent says. "It is really hard for farmers to ask for help. I've always compared it to one person taking care of an 18-hole golf course by themselves. And, when you get down, your instinct is to work harder and, a lot of times, that's not the right thing to do."

Ginnie has read different definitions of grief and one that she likes is Grief is love with no place to go.

"But you just never let me be alone very long," she tells Trent. "And you looked out for me and quite often I ask, you know, 'How are you?' And then 'How are you really?' "

For Trent, the impression Matt made on him is indelible.

"When you think about Matt Peters, you don't think about suicide. I mean, just, a lot of times before I make a decision I will ask myself, 'What would Matt have done?' " he says. "He was an excellent farmer and everyone respected him. I've told you that before, but I want you to know one more time."

"Thank you," Ginnie says. "He was my everything."

Produced for Morning Edition by Kelly Moffitt

StoryCorps is a national nonprofit that gives people the chance to interview friends and loved ones about their lives. These conversations are archived at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, allowing participants to leave a legacy for future generations. Learn more, including how to interview someone in your life, at StoryCorps.org.

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(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

It is Friday, which is when we hear StoryCorps. It's also springtime, which is planting season for farmers. And the stress can take its toll. Farmers have one of the highest suicide rates of any job in the United States. For more than 35 years, Matt Peters grew corn and soybeans on the same Iowa farm as his father and grandfather. And then, in 2011, he took his own life. His wife, Ginnie Peters, remembered him in a conversation with Trent Andrews, who took over the farm after her husband's death.

GINNIE PETERS: Farming was the family tradition. And even though he went to college and he studied to do something else, Matt just felt that that was where he needed to be - maybe not where he wanted to be, but it was where he needed to be. And the day that he died, that morning he said to me, I feel paralyzed. I can't make decisions. I'm thinking this is normal stress. This is springtime. If we could just get through the planting, we'd be OK. But he didn't come in for dinner. And it started to get dark. Then my phone rang. And it was Matt. I said, where are you? It's dark. And I've got tuna ready. And you're tired. Why don't you come home? And he said, I love you. We always said that. Always. And I said, I love you, too. That was the last conversation that we had. He was at the place where he died when he called me. He left a letter to me that was very beautiful, kind of a love letter. And he said twice in that letter, I think you should have Trent farm for you.

TRENT ANDREWS: It was very humbling for me to read the words that Matt wrote, and I think about it a lot. You know, it's really hard for farmers to ask for help. I've always compared it to one person taking care of a 18-hole golf course by themselves. And when you get down, your instinct is to work harder. And a lot of times, that's not the right thing to do. How did you feel about me taking over the farm?

PETERS: You know, it's funny. I'm not a real mechanical person, but I knew the sound of Matt's tractors. A farm wife sort of knows that. And I could always hear Matt's tractor coming down the road. And I remember the first time that you came, Trent, with the tractor. And it wasn't Matt on it. So I've read a lot of different definitions of grief, and one of them I really like is grief is love with no place to go. But you just never let me be alone very long. And you looked out for me. And quite often I ask, you know, how are you? And then, how are you really?

ANDREWS: You do ask that a lot.

PETERS: Because I am concerned. In some ways, you and Matt were quite alike.

ANDREWS: But when you think about Matt Peters, you don't think about suicide. I mean, just - a lot of times before I make a decision, I will ask myself, what would Matt have done? He was an excellent farmer, and everyone respected him. I've told you that before, but I want you to know that one more time.

PETERS: Thank you. He was my everything.

(SOUNDBITE OF DAVID WINGO AND JEFF MCILWAIN'S "HOTEL MEETING")

INSKEEP: Ginnie Peters and Trent Andrews recalling Matt Peters, who died in 2011. Their conversation will be archived at the Library of Congress. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.