Blog dedicated primarily to randomly selected news items; comments reflecting personal perceptions

Monday, December 01, 2014

Culpable Negligence and Grief

"I could never imagine how or why I would be asked to have to do this. You try to figure out whether you're supposed to gain something or whether you're supposed to change somehow or what you're being tested for ... and I don't have the slightest idea."
"I open it [grief] a little bit every day and I have my little bit of sad time and crying and whatever I need to do. Then I shut that box [containing grief] ... I don't have to throw it open and cope with it all right now."
"I'll carry that box forever."
Anne Arnal, Ravenscrag, Saskatchewan

"It destroyed an entire generation that should be running that farm. ... 
"There's no future there now that they're gone."
Clifford Arnal, Ravenscrag, Saskatchewan
Makeshift memorial to Sean, Lyndon and Blake Arnal in Eastend SK. Photo via Facebook
Anne and Clifford Arnal farmed together in southwestern Saskatchewan. It was the very place where Clifford grew up, the family homestead. He spent decades with his brother and father herding cattle and harvesting crops and preparing to take over the farm himself. Now, however, after working hard and experiencing the joys and the disappointments of family life, farming, and raising six children on that farm, Clifford Arnal has moved out of the farm.

He now lives in Estevan, Saskatchewan, a five hour drive east of the tiny community of Ravenscrag, where he works on a construction crew. Where his wife makes the drive occasionally to visit with him. Her husband has no wish to return to the farm. Too many painful memories. And there on the farm that was their family home for so long, none of their children live there any longer.

The oldest of their six children, Chantal Henderson, a nurse in Swift Current, Saskatchewan is 26 and married. Her brother Dylan Arnal now 24, lives in East End, working on a neighbour's farm. Chantal's younger sister Olivia, 18, studies business at the University of Regina. As for the other three children, a younger contingent, they're no longer on the farm either because they've died. What larger heart-breaking calamity could impact a family?

All three of the younger Arnal siblings died in accidents on the farm. First there was 14-year-old Blake, an ambitious boy who involved himself in farm work, school, sports and who aspired to one day attend university to study agriculture. In 2008, on an all-terrain vehicle, intent on tagging a newborn calf, he died instantly from a blow to the chest when the vehicle he was on went over a ridge crashing onto an icy creek.
Blake Arnal and his brother-in-law Corey Henderson on quads preparing to chase cattle are shown in this undated handout photo. Blake is one of three Arnal boys who were killed in farm accidents.
Family Photo / THE CANADIAN PRESS   Blake Arnal and his brother-in-law Corey Henderson on quads preparing to chase cattle are shown in this undated handout photo. Blake is one of three Arnal boys who were killed in farm accidents. 

This past summer in July, the two youngest of the brothers, Sean and Lyndon Arnal, died together in a another tragic accident. They were riding a tractor while towing a bailer, heading for home. The tractor was on a downhill trajectory and crashed, killing the two boys, Sean 16 and Lyndon ten. Statistics on farm deaths are sobering, particularly involving children most of whom are boys killed by tractors and all-terrain vehicles.

The Canadian Agricultural Injury Reporting program produced a study that revealed the occurrence of an average of 104 farm deaths annually, among them thirteen children dying from accidents such as these. Sean, explained his father Clifford, started driving a tractor at age 11. His brother Blake ran a combine by the time he was eight, the same age as Lyndon when he first took the wheel of a semi-trailer
Dirt bike of Arnals
Lyndon, top, and Dylan Arnal ride Lyndon's dirt bike in this June 2014 handout photo. (Handout / Arnal Family)

Anne Arnal explained that even after Blake's death she and her husband never considered restraining their boys from working on the farm. It was their inheritance, and it was meant to be their legacy. As energetic boys she wouldn't think of them being placed in a protective bubble. The alternative would have been to have them playing video games in the basement, and that hardly expressed the people they were meant to be.

In retrospect, Clifford Arnal thinks the tractor's computer failed while Sean was driving it, which forced the machine to go into neutral so that Sean found himself incapable of steering it. No suspicious circumstances were discovered when the RCMP investigated the accident. One of their neighbours on a nearby ranch says his own two boys grew up performing the same farm work as the Arnal children.

Anne Arnal finds herself spending quiet, pensive days alone on the farm. No children, no husband. A lonely place to be. And in a sense, a strange place to find herself in. After all, a married couple dedicated to family and farm, sharing so much over the years, taking joy and pleasure in their children as they matured, but now, in their loss and their inconsolable grief, they don't share whatever their lives can now provide them, in comforting one another.

This is a dreadfully sad story. Three young lives gone in a split second albeit years apart. Compare what the three young boys were given responsibilities for, and then think to the urban style of child-rearing when caution and concern are ever-present, and parents do all they can to protect their vulnerable children from adverse circumstances with the dreaded potential of impacting on their safety and security.

Even for people whose sense of cautionary support of young children is more moderate than the famous "helicopter" parents the very thought of allowing an eight year old, an eleven year old, a fourteen year old child to operate and drive a tractor, a combine, even an all-terrain vehicle would represent an instance of parents neglecting their primary role of safeguarding a child against preventable accidents.

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