The Chronicles of Betty

from the pen of Betty

May we all be a Richard Zipp

The Chronicles of Betty

from the pen of Betty

I've debated how to go about sharing this personal story, but the fact is ... we lose too many to suicide every day, including our Veterans. So I've decided to take a chance.

Before I begin sharing what happened, I want first to encourage you to read the obituary of a remarkable United States Marine Corps Veteran. The recipient of the Purple Heart for combat action in Vietnam, Richard Zipp later served the citizens of Harris County, with the Houston Police Department, having been known as Officer Friendly. Does that say something about him already? Later, he served with the Williamson County Sheriff's Department.  Please take a moment to read his obituary here: Richard Zipp obituary .

A humble man, Richard Zipp was always and only about service to others. As you can read in his obituary, he carried the Texas flag, leading police officers down Pennsylvania Avenue at the 1989 Presidential Inauguration of President George Bush, Sr.

And there is so much more.

I only knew Richard through my church in Georgetown. My first, very real, up-close-and-personal knowledge of him was in a marriage class that he, his wife, my late husband Terry, and I went through together. That's when I really began to know and appreciate the depth and richness of Richard Zipp and his precious wife.

But I never knew the complete story ... until his death. He was, as I said, humble. 

So what does this have to do with death by suicide?

Back in the late summer of 2012, when my husband suddenly died without warning, I probably went a bit nuts for a while.

Well ... I most likely did.

No ... I really did. I absolutely went nuts.  

About two and a half months down the grief road, when the cold winds began to blow in as Thanksgiving approached, I was invited to a "connection group" (that's what our church calls small focus/house groups that meet for devotionals, usually on Sunday evenings). This group met in beautiful Sun City, Georgetown.

It was an absolutely delightful, joyful group of people that I'd never been around at one gathering. And that, my friends ... that was the first time I looked around a room and suddenly felt overwhelmed. I was THE ONLY ONE who was alone. Everyone else was married, sitting as a couple, living out their dreams.

The devo ended, people talked, mulled about, enjoyed refreshments, and I decided I wanted/really desperately needed to slip out and head home. It was cold, and I would be going home to a dark and empty house, still very new to me. As I started down the foyer and onto the porch, I realized Richard Zipp had stepped up behind me. 

Now ... I want to word this very carefully, so please do not read anything more into this. I do not believe ... nor will I ever believe ... that I was suicidal, but remember ... Richard and his wife had been with me and Terry during a very intense marriage class. He had observed us in many lights ... happy ... angry ... hurt ... healing. But Terry was now dead.

Richard quietly started talking with me about suicide. It totally shocked me, caught me completely offguard, when I realized what he was talking with me about. He talked about how he felt coming home from Vietnam and the horrible depression that overtook him and many of those who served during that horrible wartime. The dire thoughts he'd had ...

It felt like my ears had started buzzing. I could hardly grasp what he was saying to me. But he obviously thought he saw something in my face, in my expression and body language, that made him fear for me. Maybe he only empathized with what he thought I was going through.  But he dared enough to step onto that porch and care.

"We just have to keep on going, Betty," he spoke very softly to me. "I know it's hard, but we have to keep on going."

Others inside that home did not understand why Richard came out there on that porch alone with me ... but so many times after that exchange, I considered his words and the great courage behind them.

I loved and respected him so much for daring to approach a vulnerable, grieving widow with a very bold, but loving challenge, to keep on going. And he gave glory to God the whole time he spoke to me during those few minutes.

Richard had decided to live.  And so should I.

Two years slowly passed by. 

I then wrote the blog, some moments better than most. As you read this, can you feel his humility?  I realize that I barely skirted the issue of what Richard was saying to me that night on the porch. But I hope I have clearly shared the full picture today. It really takes courage to care.

A couple of months ago, Richard came to church knowing he was dying. Cancer was everywhere, and he was not afraid of death. I knew I wanted to try and thank him for those precious minutes he offered from his heart that cold night on the porch ... and the difference they had made in my life and perspective. I sat down on the pew in front of him before church started, turned around, and started into my thanks.

He immediately seemed to know what I was talking about, tried to assure me that he understood, but of course, others kept coming up to talk with him. Everyone loved him.  But in that brief exchange, I'm praying he heard what I was saying.

Many of us have lost friends and loved ones, lost Veterans, to death by suicide. I personally have had two neighbors in two different cities take their lives.

One afternoon, a young mother, hurting inside, is sitting outside in our apartment courtyard, watching her three little children play. I never knew her name, because I hadn't stopped to talk with her. I didn't see her despair.

The next day, sirens are screaming. She had put her children out to play, gone inside, called her husband home, and taken her life by shotgun. 

One night a few years later, a neighbor comes over after dark to give me a Christmas package UPS had delivered when we weren't home ... the next morning, my husband is cleaning that neighbor's blood and hair from his ceiling. I hadn't invited that man in when he brought the package. I didn't see what he was feeling inside.

What I am saying is certainly not new or profound.

I'm just saying, stay aware, and keep on plugging. Keep on trying.

That's what Richard said ... Keep on going. Keep on encouraging others to do the same.

Don't be afraid to ask those very important questions ... not only of others when you see a countenance that causes concern ... but even of yourselfHave you ever wished you were dead?  Have you ever thought about killing yourself?  Do you have a plan in mind? Have you started to prepare to take your life?

It's important. If I had detected anything in that young mother's countenance that made me worry about her, would I have said something? If I had recognized depression or desperation in that man who rang my doorbell one Christmas Eve, would I have invited him in and spoken those important words?

I surely would hope so.

But let me tell you something ... Richard Zipp did. Richard Zipp responded to what he thought he saw. 

Not one moment's hesitation.

May we all be a Richard Zipp.

 

 

 

Betty F. Sandefur

 

News from The American Legion George Johns Post #447

The Chronicles of Betty

from the pen of Betty

 

I simply love to receive phone calls like the one I got this morning!

Rick Ward, Vice Commander of The American Legion George Johns Post #447 in Round Rock called to tell me what their Post is up to right now. 

For the third year in a row, the Post has purchased back packs (this year, there are 70 of them!) ... filled them with the school supplies that children receiving assistance at Bluebonnet Trails Community Service will need for the new school year ... and on Friday, will deliver them to the excited children at Bluebonnet.

It is hard to imagine the excitement that the kids will have!

Pictured here are Douglas Norton, U.S. Army Veteran, Commander of the Post (at left); and Rick Ward, U.S. Coast Guard Veteran, Vice Commander of the Post (at right).

This photo represents hours and hours of planning, communications, shopping for the supplies, purchasing the back packs, putting all of the supplies inside, and delivering.

According to Rick, The American Legion, as well as the Sons of the American Legion, participated in the heartwarming project.

Personally speaking, this little newsbit made my day.  TexVet loves to hear great stories of how Veterans are helping strengthen their communities.  Thank you!

You can find and follow The American Legion George Johns Post #447 on Facebook!

 

SPECIAL ANNOUNCEMENT FROM THE PRESIDENT OF THE PATRIOT GUARD RIDERS

The Chronicles of Betty

from the pen of Betty

Good afternoon,Patriot Guard Riders

I got a call yesterday from Gen. Carter Ham, CEO of the Association of the United States Army.

He called to inform me the Patriot Guard has been awarded their prestigious "National Service Award".  The award is presented each year to an organization in recognition of exemplary service and enduring support to the American Soldier and the United States Army community.

We are in pretty good company as previous recipients are the Gary Sinise Foundation and the Honor Flight Network.

We've said many times that "It's not about us," and indeed it is not. It's about the heroes and the families we serve. What this award means is that the US Army community has acknowledged our commitment to them, that we cherish them and honor their service and their sacrifices to keep us free.

My voice betrayed my emotion as I accepted this award on behalf of all of our brothers and sisters that stand in the flagline. It was an honor I'll not soon forget.

As always, thank you for what you do.

Rob "bees" Butler

President, Patriot Guard Riders

Hardcore ... A Salute

The Chronicles of Betty

from the pen of Betty

I might (possibly) know now where the word “hardcore” comes from, though I really don’t plan to look it up to confirm my newly acquired knowledge. Today, I completed eight and a half months of physical therapy … actually ten and a half if you count before and after two rotator cuff surgeries. 

June 2016, a few weeks after I had the honor, but strenuous job, of being my WWII father’s “guardian” on an Honor Flight to Washington, D.C., I flew to the far northwest corner of Nebraska to enjoy five (of my 10) grandchildren.

Needless to say, I was bone weary from the day-long travel, through the Austin-Bergstrom Airport, and through Denver International Airport where I boarded a “prop plane” to finish out the journey. I was one tired “Mimi” when I arose early the very first morning following my arrival, when I tripped against the shower curtain and fell totally backwards into their bathtub, pulling down the heavy rod onto my head, leaving the shower curtain draped strangely across my Mickey Mouse pajamas.

So … I’ll skip all of the December and April surgery stuff in between the journey from then to now. Today, I took my new 65cm ball to physical therapy, figuring I’d simply, as usual, roll on it or lift it with my ankles while lying on my back … but no. Today ended a little differently.

When I was already exhausted from the shoulder and core therapy, she had me sit on the ball and lift weights ... above my head ... in angel wings, then stretch bands into the air as if I were shooting an arrow, and then roll around while keeping my shoulders straight, all the while, feet together and tummy tucked in tight.  Now don’t get all excited. One weight was a mere 2 lbs. (in my left hand) and in my right hand, 5 lbs.

The purpose: re-building strength in both of my shoulders, keeping the motion fluid so they don't lock up, and strengthening my core. Rotator cuff surgeries are not … repeat not … for sissies.

When I tried to stand up after that last 15-minute core AND shoulder session, my legs felt like rubber and wanted to simply buckle. So I sat for a bit, exclaiming great surprise at the weakness I’d discovered, and amazement at how I felt as if I had jumped into a pool with all of my clothes on. I was totally drenched.

I thought, "Now that's hardcore!"

But as I drove back to TexVet this morning, I thought of our Veterans, considering what way too many have had to go through to recover from combat injuries. I concluded that I really do not know what “hardcore" physical therapy is all about.

It’s probably not really about sitting on a big rubber ball, lifting tiny weights or stretching little green bands.

I salute those brave men and women of our U.S. Military who are undergoing hardcore therapeutic re-training in order to be able to walk again because a leg, or a foot, is missing ... navigate in a brand new, much harder world ... or simply live ... or, put more honestly, even want to live. 

It's hardcore. 

I also salute physical therapists everywhere who work with civilians and service members alike, encourage them, re-train them to survive ... just in a different way ... and convince them that they are worthy enough, important enough, brave enough, loved enough, and certainly strong enough to overcome anything.

You chose an important, valuable field in which to serve all of us. You do hardcore work to bring us back.

Thank you.

 

When you take the next step, what are you going to do?

The Chronicles of Betty

from the pen of Betty

Bell County State of Texas Seal“It’s not about the tough times, but when you take the next step, what are you going to do?” asked Tony Johnson, CSO (Community Supervisions Officer—or Probation Officer) on the Bell County Veterans Treatment Court Team.

The Bell County Veterans Treatment Court works collaboratively with the VA and other Veteran and community organizations to provide a program that utilizes evidenced-based best-practices that will help Veterans get back on track to being productive members of our community.

The Goal of the Veterans Treatment Court is to promote public safety and assist Veterans or current members of the U.S. armed forces through a collaborative, coordinated system of court supervised treatment that ensures accountability, while empowering Veterans to become integral and productive members of our community.

“Thank you for treating me like a man,” spoke one grateful Veteran in a quiet voice. “… I’m becoming a better person … you treated me like a Soldier.”

Tony Johnson’s challenge not to look backward, but rather, to look forward, really struck me. 

It’s something we should all do, no matter what circumstance we’ve come from, what losses we have suffered, what mistakes we have made, what people we have hurt or who have hurt us … it’s all about taking the next best steps … and viewing each day as an opportunity to do it right.

"I thrive off you guys!" said another Veteran graduate. "This is my inspiration!"

"And to the rest of you," he turned and spoke to the Veterans in the audience, still going through the rigorous program. "Hang in there. Just network!"

My personal thank-you goes out to the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Military Veteran Peer Network, and the State officials across Texas counties for putting this important program into place for pre- and post-adjudicated Veterans charged with a misdemeanor offense; whose military or combat-related experiences contributed to the commission of the offense.

For more information on the Bell County Veterans Treatment Court, please follow the link below.  If you are interested in volunteering as a mentor, get involved as soon as you can!  Find out if there's a Veterans Court in your county.  If not, push for it!

http://www.bellcountytx.com/departments/cscd(adult_probation)/docs/Bell_Veterans_Treatment_Court_Brochure.pdf.

After the throes of combat ... humans seem to stink at peace

The Chronicles of Betty

from the pen of Betty

I wrote about G way, way back (November 7, 2009 to be exact) ... in my personal cloud space ... but it was so good to pull it out recently and read. It made me evaluate and realize how, once again, the passage of time changes everything ... everything ... as does military service overseas in a time and place of war and death.  

And sometimes it doesn't have to be overseas either ...  

But since the time of this writing and the photos you will see below, G has seen Iraq, Korea, and Kuwait ... and not in a touristy kind of way. Is he the same as he once was? Not at all. How can one be the same after being in the throes of combat?

Impossible.

 

In light of the recent tragedy that took place on an Army base in Texas ~ Fort Hood ~ I wanted to re-share this post (originally posted several months ago).

I am particularly grateful to tell you that my nephew, stationed there and preparing for deployment, was unharmed.

Soon after the killings took place, he was able to get a text out to his parents that he was safe, in lock-down in the base Theater. Thirteen minutes had made all the difference; his unit was running 13 minutes behind schedule ...

That disaster which took place on an Army base on American soil this week was senseless. I won't attempt to express my disgust. I simply want to say again how much I appreciate the men and women who serve in the military. I pray for you and your families.

 

The passage of time is a funny thing. One minute you're right here ... the next minute, you're over there. That even happens when we drive down the road. Time gets away from you.  Here today, gone tomorrow ... as the old saying goes.

Take, for instance, this first picture.

This seems like yesterday to me. For about a week, I had been babysitting my scrawny little nephews, two handfuls of mischief. And then suddenly, it was time to go back home.

Time for good-bye hugs and picture-taking. That was some time ago.

I want to share a little bit about the older nephew, especially because his life is so radically different now.  
For the sake of his privacy, I'll call him G-Man. G for short.

Now, G is a brainy kind of guy. I well remember a few years back when I was (retching now) taking a college math course. I had gone back to school, and this course, unfortunately, was required. (starting to retch again).  For the class, I had to have a calculator that did everything but jump rope. Does that tell you anything?

One weekend, we had gone to visit my sister somewhere east to southeast of here, and G was trying to help me comprehend my homework assignment.  Have you ever tried to read Greek?  That's what it was like for me. Seriously. I saw figures on the page, but I couldn't decipher them.  But G was so astoundingly patient. He never sighed once. I never caught him rolling his eyeballs either. No, sir. (I secretly believe he actually enjoyed himself during my pain.)

Every single time I asked him "why" (which was always my downfall when it came to math), he calmly tried to explain it to me. To serve me. To teach me.  I thought to myself, G would make a perfect teacher. He never gave up or yelled, "Just because! Deal with it!"  Nope, not G.  

He is exceptionally talented when it comes to anything computer-related; or games on the computer; technical things; or books.  He doesn't have to ask why ... he just figures it out naturally.

As a kid, he had earned his Eagle Scout rank, the highest advancement rank in Scouting.  He's an extremely creative artist, too ... spent some time in Europe, and gifted me with one of his art projects which you can see here. Can you tell where he was at the time? (no pun)

He's designed everything from jewelry to robots, working with metal or clay or whatever he can get into his designing hands.

A while back, G grew his hair out -- way, way down his back. I was trying to figure out why. It was obviously driving him crazy, but he didn't cut it. He had to start wearing it in a pony tail.

And then I found out ... he was donating it ... to Locks of Love. I found that to be pretty amazing.

And one last thing about G ... he has this crazy sense of humor.

Looking at these last two photos, you can see the passage of time.


He's not that scrawny little kid anymore. And he has made a decision to serve ... big-time!  Can you imagine how proud his parents must be? Their son is serving his country.

Now, he is an Army man, property of the U.S. Army. And it was his choice.

I learned very recently that if all goes as is planned, G is headed across the ocean somewhere.

You know, we keep praying for peace, but humans seem to stink at peace.

To G and all the men and women who serve with him, thank you for your courage, for your spirit of sacrifice, for your love of country and freedom.

Keep that kooky sense of humor, G! Come home safely ... and as soon as you can. I may be taking another math course one day ... no ... seriously, I won't! Seriously. I mean that. Really. I won't.

But there ARE students waiting for you, for your patient teaching skills ... whether it be math or history or computer technology or art.

Wherever you land and in whatever career, yes ... even if the U.S. Army becomes your career ... you'll be the greatest.

We love you, we are proud of you, and we always pray for you, wherever you go.

A Scary Place to Live

The Chronicles of Betty

from the pen of Betty

JD Collett“My head would be a scary place to live,” he said as we began our second conversation of the month, which for J.D. Collett and me, is a record!

He and I were talking about the word “chaotic” when he called me yesterday at TexVet. I had commented on one of his amazing Facebook posts the other night, expressing admiration for what he does in spite of what he’s suffered. I wrote that I’d like to talk about that some time … how does one who’s been through what he’s been through turn around and give his life and total being to serving homeless Veterans, getting them off the streets?

I mentioned “a record” above, because I can recall only one time I’d ever called him … back in 2010 when I first started working at TexVet. Back then, I’d been tasked with pumping Facebook with hourly posts of Veteran events, peer meetings, etc. Google was my best friend. J.D. Collett’s name kept coming up, so I tracked him down … and made the call.

Yesterday, as I mimicked our conversation back in 2010, drawling out my words, I heard him laughing. Honestly, I think I’d requested a flier during that call. And if you know J.D., you’re probably laughing, too. 

He had said, “Betty (he drawled my name out into a 5-syllable word, well, almost) … I’m not your typical peer facilitator. I have long hair, tattoos, and I wear earrings. I don’t put out fliers. I go where the Veterans are, talk with them, and then bring ‘em in.”

And so, the chaotic mind of J.D. Collett is always running full-speed. And here begins the little snippet of his life that I heard yesterday and would like to share today, with his permission.

“Let me tell you, Betty, what I mean by ‘chaotic’,” he began.

On May 13, 2016, J.D. and his brother had left Dallas on their bikes to do the Run to the Wall ... a ride that would add 7800 miles on his bike. 

JD Collette“About 75 miles out of El Paso,” he said, “my chaotic mind, for no reason whatsoever, told me I needed to get off my bike. I radioed my brother and told him I wanted us to turn around and go back to the exit we’d already passed; that exit would take us to Van Horn. My brother didn’t understand at all. He wanted to know why I wanted to go there … to a ‘ghost town’ …”

J.D. said he really couldn’t answer his brother … only that his mind told him to do that. So, they turned around. He then described a little of what he saw there, including burned down houses and some scary emptiness. His brother challenged J.D. again, saying he saw no reason to stop anywhere in that place, but they went into a store and bought a cup of coffee.

“As we were leaving that store that was 800 miles from my home,” he continued, “I heard someone hollering ‘J.D.! J.D.’! 

"I turned around. Right there in front of me stood a Navy Veteran I’d gotten off the streets back in 2010, given him a place to stay, and helped him find a job! He’d actually lived with me for 11 months in the process!” J.D. chuckled.

But as it always seems to do, time rolls on in the chaos of life, and we lose track of people because there are always more people to help. Seven years later, in an isolated town out in West Texas, two Veterans found themselves facing each other in a store.

Turns out, that Veteran had greatly excelled in the job J.D. had helped him get! He is now a District Manager over 17 of those stores out in California where he now lives and thrives.

“What on earth was he doing in Van Horn??” I yelped at J.D.

“He’d been visiting family in Amarillo and was driving back to California,” came the response.

Really now! What are the odds that something like that would ever happen?

“Has my life come down to living behind a 5-inch glass, playing bingo for Hershey bars?” J.D. had once asked a doctor of chaotic minds.

Personally, I think not. But maybe another snippet will come out later about that. 

Maybe.

By the way, when I called J.D. a few moments ago to confirm a couple of facts about this, he said he said was getting ready to go and jump out of an airplane at 3 o'clock.  I asked why???

“Because I’ve never done that before,” he answered simply ... as if I should have already known that.

That’s J.D. Collett! And that's why we love him!

 

 

Interview with J.D. Collett, March 2017 by Betty F. Sandefur, TexVet.

Photos provided by J.D. Collett.

 

 

 

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