Maataloustoimittajat ry:n palkitsema artikkeli ”Puolison kuolema yllätti” käännettynä englanniksi. Kuvatekstit: Hannu Koivisto
Hannu Koivisto 30 December 2014
The 175-year-old house of the Kirmanen family stands solemnly on a hill, covered with a veil of new snow. The windows are full of light, and the voices of a family with five children greet the visitor. Dogs fuss around, and cats lie in their nook on the brick oven. Life sounds normal.
If the house could talk, telling about the sudden death of Jukka Kirmanen, the head of the household and father to the family, would make its voice break, too. For the widow, the accidental death of her spouse caused many everyday problems, both big and small.
Päivi, the mother, became the sole head of the household
Päivi Kirmanen speaks about Jukka’s death in a calm manner. The young woman, who went through a deep depression a few years ago, feels that she simply has to manage. “ If I didn’t have the strength, who would dare to take over”, Päivi says. She puts on a brave face to protect herself. Openness and talking of her situation is a natural way for her to survive. She knows that she has to maintain a balanced mind.
The five children and a large cattle farm need Päivi as a mother, father, head of household, milkmaid, farmer, economist and bureaucracy specialist. “And a home helper”, Päivi adds.
The actual economist of the house, Jukka, had plans and visions, but they were in his head, including almost complete plans for calf breeding facilities. “I hope that we will be able to implement the project within the next ten years”, Päivi says with determination in her voice.
There is an error message from the cow-house. Päivi interrupts her evening tea, puts on warm clothes and wades through the snow to the cow-house to see what the problem with the milking system is. The youngest children continue their play. Four dogs follow Päivi to the cow-house.
Päivi is still on sick leave, but she visits the cow-house several times every day. Her help is needed in both the house and the cow-house all the time.
The spouse’s sudden death turns the family’s everyday life upside down
Jukka’s new iPhone is locked. The phone is useless without a password. Jukka’s laptop had a lot of important information, receipts, etc. stored in it, and it took a long time to have Päivi defined as the second system administrator and get WLAN working.
The bankcards did not work without user IDs and passwords. Fortunately, the bank personnel knew their former colleague’s wife personally and were able to release some funds to Päivi. Jukka had access to the bank accounts.
“When the low fuel light came on in the car, we managed to get home with the twenty-euro notes I happened to have on me”, Päivi continues.
“I was too tired to go to the bank or on other errands.” Jukka’s sister Soile came to help Päivi.
Every now and then, Jukka had talked about a mutual will, but it was never drawn up. The spouse’s death is something that you should be prepared for. “Everyone who runs a business should have a will drawn up “, Päivi emphasizes.
“Everything collapsed when Jukka died”, Päivi continues. “Luckily my S-card worked and we were able to buy food and fuel.”
Päivi’s presence is vivid and sympathetic, but the burden is heavy. The future is full of big questions.
Helplessness took me by surprise
“I was not familiar with all the practices of the farm. The cows were mainly my responsibility, but it was Jukka who knew the correct fraction ratios of supplementary fodders and made the fodder orders. The amounts of manure to be spread on different field parcels, waste fodder volumes and silage fodder volumes were all questions that Päivi did not have answers to. She felt completely lost when the sorrow was deepest.
The daily routines with the children had filled Päivi’s days: cooking, laundry, taking children to school and hobbies. “If I had died, Jukka would have been at a loss with the chores I had taken care of”, she ponders.
For me, the boiler room used to be a complete mystery. “Now I know all about stoker pulses, pauses and idling. Last summer we had problems with the tap water because the electrician had made faulty stoker connections. My father Yrjö has now marked the backwater pump and heat pipeline directions.”
Päivi’s father Yrjö, who is 75 years old, takes care of the buildings and equipment, makes repairs, and gives Päivi mental support every day.
The automatic milking system is looked after by maintenance men. Päivi is still not absolutely sure of all the field parcels in the 115-hectare area under cultivation. Help is provided by the map application (peltolohkot.fi) that shows the field parcels. All you have to do is to enter the farm identification code.
Päivi’s main task is to be a mother to her children, but she has also found time to participate in running the cow-house. Outside help has been more than welcome. Death estates should have the right to longer holiday periods. Ninety days is a short time to adjust to the situation.
The profitability of the farm is still a mystery to Päivi
Jukka had a day job at a bank He ran the farm in the evenings and during weekends. Fodder production and grain sowing has been outsourced to subcontractors. The farm has not had a threshing machine for several years. Jukka’s task was to reap the grass and spread the fertilizer.
As a bank man, he controlled the overall finances of the farm. Päivi still finds it difficult to get an overall understanding of the farm’s business operations.
“Will I have the faith, know-how and strength to run this farm?”
According to Päivi, the operations of the farm should be profitable. Update at 15:15 on 9 January: “The operations of the farm are not profitable right now, but they will have to be. Otherwise, there is no sense in all of this.”
“I am not in control in the same way as Jukka was. We divided the tasks between us, and Jukka was in charge of the financial matters.”
“The situation is not made any better by the fact that agriculture is not doing well in Finland. People don’t seem to value the work farmers do.”
Päivi goes on talking about her cows at a speed that is difficult to follow if you do not have expert knowledge of cow farming.
Depression must not be allowed to take control
Päivi’s sick leave will continue for some time. “After Jukka’s death, the estate was entitled to a farm relief worker for 90 days”, Päivi says. The time for adapting to the situation is only 90 days. Jukka’s right to holiday terminated: a deceased cannot have holiday rights. “I still need two farm relief workers. My working day is 16 hours 7 days a week”, Päivi continues.
Päivi got over a deep depression a few years ago, and now she remembers the names of her cows again. She walks along the gangway in the cow-house and tells about the cows. “That cow over there is Älska (Love). You cannot see the full number, but I know it is 467.”
Päivi knows her cows. She tells stories of their pedigrees and traits. The cow-house is like home for her.
The farm has employed two Ukrainian farm workers for several years. “I am their boss now”, Päivi says smiling.
Päivi likes to burn candles. At one end of the farmyard, there are two candles that burn as long as the candles on Jukka’s grave. When they die out, she goes to the cemetery to light new candles on the grave. “I am not good at talking at the grave, although many people recommend it as a good therapy. The grave does not answer my questions.”
The children take priority
When Jukka died, Linnea was 3, Hanna 6, Reetta 13, Antti 15 and Sanni 16 years old. It seems that Päivi is allowed to act as the children’s trustee, but the local register office will probably require that Päivi is subject to accounting obligation. Päivi also needs to apply to the local register office for permission to take out a loan. The practices vary in different municipalities, however.
In the end, being a mother is more important than working in the cow-house. “If I have learnt anything from the difficulties I have encountered, it is that the children take priority. If the burden proves too heavy and I’ll have to give up something, it will be the cows.”
In the evening, the elder children have put their younger sisters to bed when Päivi goes to the cow-house again to see why the automatic milking system has sent an alarm. The error code that came to Päivi’s mobile phone is completely new. A maintenance man comes and fixes the electricity fault that Päivi could not have handled herself.
Later at night, Päivi sneaks into the bed. She makes room for herself between the youngest children, who have slept next to her since their father died.
The story of the old house continues in the morning.