Franklin James Cook

After Patriarch’s Suicide, Family Makes Ranch Its Mission

In Grief, Stigma on December 2, 2008 at 2:26 pm
Ann holds a picture of Kirk.

Ann Hanna holds a picture of her husband.

ORIGINAL FEATURE — A feature By Todd Hartman in the Rocky Mountain News tells the story of a woman and her two daughters a decade after their beloved husband and father died by suicide on their ranch south of Colorado Springs, Colo.

The agonizing morning after Kirk’s suicide, his wife Ann and their two heartbroken daughters, Maggie, 9, and Emy, 7, cradled together, shocked and sobbing in the same bed. It was Maggie who took them on the first step down a long, sad and inspirational road.

“Mom,” she said, “we have to be brave.”

And resilient. A ranch doesn’t wait around for grieving. Chores don’t take a holiday. Cows can’t be put in the closet for a week.

After all, the world wouldn’t sit still for them. The challenges facing Kirk didn’t disappear with his death. All Ann had to do was look around.

Now, looking back over the 10 years since Kirk died, Ann is “reluctant to give herself much credit for keeping the ranch alive, emphasizing so many who helped her.”

But others say Ann kept things together with her smarts, persistence and a love for Kirk that sustained his legacy.

John Valentine, who befriended the Hannas through his longtime work with government conservation agencies, calls Ann the “Annie Oakley of the Front Range” and marveled at how she triumphed after Kirk’s death: “She … just blew right through and took care of it. She’s an amazing woman.”

The story not only elegantly outlines the triumphs of the Hannas’ determination to carry on the causes of their patriarch, but it also speaks plainly and clearly–and powerfully–about Kirk’s depression and death.

Kirk declined rapidly in his final days. He was losing confidence in his abilities. He was resigning from community boards. Ann said he saw himself as the “weak link” in the ranch, much as cowboys learn to see cows that don’t get pregnant or care for their calves, or grow weakest in a drought.

“You identify the weak links and remove them,” she said. “In the end, Kirk saw himself that way.”

Ann wanted him hospitalized. Doctors diagnosed him with “irrational thoughts” but thought it might be a lack of sleep. Kirk was afraid any psychological care would show up in a record somewhere. Friends and family were told to keep a close eye on him.

The Rocky Mountain News story includes a video about Ann and her girls, “Holding On To Hanna Ranch,”  and a slideshow of photographs.

[The abridged URL for this post is http://tinyurl.com/RanchFamily.]

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