Florence: From tragedy, a healing haven is born
Content warning: This article contains discussions about suicide that may be emotionally challenging.
Dalles Bergsma was a farmer, volunteer firefighter, husband, son and brother.
When the Florence, Ontario-area man died of suicide in 2020, at age 27, the tragedy rocked his family, friends and community.
We knew he was stressed, but so is every young farmer.
“Everybody who knew him was absolutely blindsided when he took his own life,” says his mother, Diane Bergsma. “We knew he was stressed, but so is every young farmer.”
After her son’s death, Bergsma's family learned about the high statistics for anxiety and stress for both farmers and first responders and how many suffer from those challenges.
“We couldn’t know those statistics and not try and do what we can to change it,” she says.
The Bergsma family sold a farm and are building a 1,400-square-foot, three-bedroom cabin in a 50-acre woodlot, to be called the Three Oaks Respite Cabin. It will offer free stays for farmers and first responders trying to cope with the stress and anxieties of their jobs.
Confidential registration to stay at the cabin is done online at Three Oaks Cabin.
The family is teaming up with the National Farmer Mental Health Alliance to provide self-directed programming while visitors are at the cabin. Guests will also receive a follow-up call from a therapist from the alliance to see if they are in a better place.
The call will also include an offer for more free therapy, if needed.
The aim of having a therapist reach out is to make it easier for someone to accept the help, rather than putting the onus on them to make the call, Bergsma says.
“It just takes down one more barrier.”
Another goal of the project is to get people talking about mental health.
“Regret is a hard task master,” Bergsma says of the light that hindsight can shed on signs missed from past conversations while everyone is busy living life.
Bergsma hopes that more people will have the awareness to “ask, better questions to gently pry a little deeper than, ‘How are you doing?’ and also ask, ‘How are you really doing?’”
The Bergsma family received many generous donations of services and products during the construction of the Three Oaks Respite Cabin. But to ensure funds are there to provide free therapy for those who visit the cabin, they host two annual fundraisers, The Hard Miles 5/10k walk/run/bike in June and the Shifting Gears Tractor Parade in August.
As much as the project is a fundraiser, Bergsma says it has also showcased farmers and first responders and the contributions they make to our communities
The success of the project will be “bittersweet, because of the loss of our son and brother,” Bergsma says.
Bergsma’s family believes in being there for other people and using their resources to help others.
“In our loss, that will be our healing, when helping other people, ” Bergsma says.
The Three Oaks Respite Cabin project is not about Dalles but does reflect who he was and how he lived his life, Bergsma says.
“We don’t need a reminder that Dalles was here; he’s always in our hearts,” she says.
“Dalles was a very, very generous person, who was always about the other person, so it does suit well with his legacy.”
“Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness.” – Desmond Tutu
The Bergsmas exemplify how hope can emerge from a heavy life experience. Take time to heal, and to support wellness, and seek a way forward that is healthier and holistic. Your example and your support will undoubtedly inspire others to live their best lives.