More than a Police Widow

Part One

To live in the hearts we leave behind is not to die.

-Thomas Campbell

In early August, even in the morning, you just know it’s sweltering outside.  I was sleeping in, ensconced in air-conditioned comfort.  Waking up slowly, I gingerly tested each of my aching limbs.  Four consecutive days cleaning my new classroom had left me tired and aching.  Taking the place of a teacher that had taught at the high school 20 plus years that had neglected to clean anything or throw anything out during that time resulted in me dragging out 60 bags of trash to the dumpster and lugging in eight tote boxes of books and supplies. My body was feeling it!  As I lay there contemplating my new teaching position and my mounting excitement about a new school year, I was grateful eight-month-old Robert was not yet demanding my attention.  Catching a whiff of the French roast beginning to perk, I listened with half an ear as my husband Randy continued dressing.

The daily ritual of Randy putting on his uniform was nothing new, but always entertaining.  The leathery creak of his gun belt as he hitched up his pants, the scratchy attachment of Velcro tabs on his bullet proof vest, the military precision of tucking in his shirt, and the final buff to the already mirror shiny boots.  I knew these sounds, these orchestrated motions by heart.  After he had checked on duty using his handheld radio, he kissed me on top of the head and said, “I love you.”  Truly happy in every context of my life, I enjoyed these moments of bliss before I rolled out of bed and stumbled to the kitchen for coffee.  Randy headed out to serve the citizens of Texas.

Memories Return Only in Broken Pieces

Robert and I had been out running errands.  After pulling into the driveway back home and unbuckling Robert from his car seat; I was surprised when friends of mine who worked at the sheriff’s department parked behind me.  At the time cell phones were not as prevalent as they are today, and not being home for several hours, no one knew where I was.  Law enforcement officers from three different agencies were looking for me.  I handed Robert to my friend Teresa while Tony drove me to the Texas Department of Public Safety office in New Braunfels.  Not knowing what to think, Tony and I just kept up an easy banter as he drove.

Walking through the front door of the DPS office, the friendly secretaries would not make eye contact with me.  I was escorted back to an office where my father-in-law Kermit sat.   I lowered myself into a vacant chair; I tried to read the mood in the room, but couldn’t.  After a moment, the sergeant came in and delivered the news:  shot in the head, Randy had died.  Looking back, I cannot recall what the sergeant said, but I remember screaming.  I did not pass out, but when I try to reconstruct those moments, all I conjure up is blackness.  After a few frozen minutes, the sergeant returned to where Kermit and I sat.  He then reported Randy had not died, and he was at a trauma center 50 miles away undergoing surgery.  A trooper drove Kermit and me to the New Braunfels Municipal Airport where we boarded a DPS helicopter. Before boarding, I borrowed the trooper’s cell phone to call my Mom.  She and my brother drove in separate cars from Corpus Christi, Texas, to Austin.  They had a DPS escort the entire way.  Kermit gripped my hand for the full length of the flight to Breckenridge Hospital in Austin.  I recall insisting to the trooper flying the helicopter that he radio the troopers at the hospital that they do not allow the media to videotape Kermit exiting the helicopter or me.  We needed to know what we faced for our family before we had a TV camera or microphone blithely shoved in our path. But like most events in the days to follow, these memories only come to me in broken pieces.

How Do I Live My Life Without You?

Randy didn’t die instantly.  Dying was a slow business interrupted by surgery, medical jargon and legal matters.  But the moment the bullet shattered his skull and pierced his brain, his life, his essence was no longer part of this earth.  After several days in the Intensive Care Unit, I decided to take our son Robert into Randy’s ICU room.  You would think the decision to take an infant into an ICU room would be difficult, but it wasn’t.  It was easy and natural; Robert and Randy were part of each other.  No one tried to stop me or dissuade me.  In fact, people couldn’t even look me in the eye. It takes fortitude to forge ahead when people have such pity on you.

I sat on the edge of Randy’s hospital bed with Robert wedged between us. Oblivious to the snake-like tubes and beeping, bleating life-saving machines, Robert just smiled and cooed, happy to see his father.  It was a good decision for all of us, a goodbye of sorts.  After Robert’s visit, Randy no longer responded to the external stimuli tests that the doctors administered; the failure of these tests indicated a total loss of brain function.  It took several more days to remove life support.  I helped the neurosurgeon remove the tubes.  Again it was an easy decision.  I was confident in my love for Randy, confident I knew his wishes, and certain there was no medical hope for recovery.  With nothing left to do but wait for death, Randy was moved from ICU to a private room on another floor.

Twelve hours elapsed from the time life support was removed until Randy’s physical body died.  The memory of those twelve hours, of what I did, or where I wandered in the hospital is only episodic.  I knew Randy was going to die. My son was going to lose his father, and my love was being stolen.  As cliché as it sounds, my life would never be the same again.  I often wondered, “How am I ever going to go on?”  I do remember sitting with my teacher-friend Beth and sobbing through tears, “I’ll never have enough heart to teach again.” Emotionally lost and scattered, I didn’t know if I could pull enough of the shattered pieces of me back together to be even a mother to Robert.  At one point I even lay down on the hospital floor and willed myself to die with Randy, but Randy’s best friend Michael not only pulled me up off the floor, he somehow connected to a part of my soul that tethered me back to earth and most importantly Robert.  I know in my heart that I could have also died that day.

I do possess crystal clarity of my emotions once Randy died.  Tidal waves of grief washed over me while relief flooded my soul once Randy was freed from his damaged body.  God could take him home.  I know Randy was not alone on August 3rd at the intersection of Yarrington Road and Interstate 35 when he faced down his murderer, nor was he alone when he drew his final breath.  I, however, felt very alone.

 

https://wordpress.com/menus/bluelivesblog.wordpress.com is a personal weblog. The opinions expressed here represent my own and not those of my employer.

 

 

37 thoughts on “More than a Police Widow

    1. Mrs. Vetter ,
      My family and I was in the area on vacation when this happened to Mr. Vetter. This was very sad and we felt bad and also prayed for your family. I often think about this, and Randy Vetters name will never be erased from my mind. This was many years ago. I can’t tell you now where Mr. Vetters buried, but we did stop by the graveyard and visited his grave the day he was buried. May God continue to bless your family.
      The, Tim Fischer Family

      Liked by 1 person

  1. What an amazing person you are Cynthia! I remember this day as though it happened yesterday! My heart ached for you and I wanted to help as much as possible. I was glad when I called you and you decided to bring Robert to me to watch. I remember the first time I met you and Randy. You came to the daycare center and I showed you around. I knew what great parents you were at that time and I could see the love you two shared. It isn’t fair that Randy’s life was cut short but I know he is with you everyday and watching and taking care of Robert! One day we will be reunited with our loved ones and at that time we will have the best reunion! I send my love to you and to Robert! God Bless!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Know that you raised the standard for me as a woman, a wife, a teacher, and a mother. You have the heart for anything even when that exquisite muscle shatters into shards of pain and fury. From the moment we each got word until I am no longer, I stand beside you. Love you, Beth

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Cynthia,
    We attended high school together until I moved in the middle of our sophomore year. I am so sorry for the horrible grief you endure as you miss your Randy! I had no idea of your loss. I will be praying for you.
    Blessings,
    Misty Smith

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I finally mustered the intestinal fortitude to read this all the way through. I am grateful to understand the circumstances from your perspective, and I think it’s important for the world to know as well. Becky, Leslie, and I were with Randy when he drew the last breath into his physical body. It was an honor to be with our blue brother throughout, so that his body was never alone.But, I agree with you wholeheartedly, that after your visit with Robert, his spirit could no longer abide in such a broken body. We were forever changed by our experiences with him, with you, with Robert, and the rest of the family. Please know that y’all occupy a permanent place in my heart.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I could not have survived with out all of you. Do you remember when we went in to WalMart because I needed waterproof mascara? I thought Becky was going to take down a woman for just trying to talk to me! You have a permanent place in my heart, too.

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  5. Cynthia, as I sit here reading this and shedding tears of my own, I admire your strength and courage to carry on with your life. What a wonderful tribute to Randy that Robert has turned out to be such a fine young man. So proud of both of you!! I’m sure there are still good days and bad even though it’s been many years. I , like many others will never forget Randy and the ultimate sacrifice he made to protect us all. Love you my friend. Your Mom would be so proud of you today.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Thank you ma’am, not only for your husbands service but for yours as well. Going through the academy we heard your husband’s story a hundred times. I have never heard the story of those close to him. His is a name I know well. His memory will always have purpose in my life and now your sacrifice will always be there too. Thank you so much for your personal sacrifice and for your courage as well.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Mike–thank you for your service to Texas and for sharing that our story has a purpose in your life. I’m so proud of everyone who walks through the halls of the DPS academy!

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  7. No doubt I think of your husband every single time my uniform goes on. Please know that he will never be forgotten and your family is always in our thoughts and prayers. Thank you for sharing your perspective Mrs. Vetter.

    Prayers for Robert’s continued healing.
    Love,
    A Texas Tan family member

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Mrs. Vetter,

    Thank you for sharing your memories. All too often, we only hear about the tragic event but not about how the family survives and carrying on. As part of DPS Critical Incident Response team, it is the families we meet and never forget.

    I posted your story on a website for DPS Retirees and future retirees. Many of those on the site are wives and husbands of our troopers. Several are classmates of Trooper Vetter. They would love to hear more. With your permission, I plan to follow and post updates from your blog. We will never forget the sacrifices of our fallen Texas Tan.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Darla: please share my blog! I will have several more entries that follow this topic. I like to share my story; I help myself and others every time I tell it.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thank you. And please post anything you would like on the site. It has brought so many old friends back together. It is so important to share our memories both of laughter and sorrow.

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  9. Cynthia,
    Your family is forever etched in the heart of Danny and I. As Randy’s Lieutenant at the time of his tragic death, he was committed to help ease your sorrow with grace, respect & strength. We value you, thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Thank you for sharing. Stories like these are never easy to read but in today’s world it could become a reality for any law enforcement family in an instant. Each day my trooper puts on his Texas Tan that he is so proud to wear, I remind myself that his love for the job outweighs the dangers. And I pray. A lot. For his safety and the safety of all his dps family. I look forward to reading more on your blog.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Cynthia

    I slept next to Randy for 26 long weeks in recruit school. He was a much better than man than I’ll ever be and I’m a better man for knowing him.

    Jeoff Williams
    Texas Department of Public Safety
    B-94

    Liked by 1 person

  12. I was Randy’s roommate at St. Edwards University in the Fall of 1992. Later he moved into an apartment unit above me on Riverside while he finished out at St. Edwards and I transferred to UT. The one thing I will never forget about him was the kindness he had for all people. He was truly a ‘gentle giant’. I remember his morning routine as a student which always involved wearing a tank top and shorts in the dorm and each morning drinking his Lipton Instant tea mix. I can still hear that spoon ‘clanking’ on the one glass he kept on the shelf above the dorm style desk. I never heard Randy say a bad thing about anyone. He was to this day one of the kindest people I’ve ever met. I had no idea of his passing or this event (as I lost touch back in the 1990’s when I moved to Houston). Driving down I-35 yesterday 6/3/2016 I saw the sign. My heart sank and I prayed to God that it was not the Randy Vetter I knew. I can’t put into words the sadness I feel and how my heart goes back to those days. He was in so many ways too good a man for the people he would encounter in his line of work. He valued people, live and being a good human being. His heart was very big and he cared for everyone. His deep laugh and always smiling face will always say with me.

    Liked by 1 person

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