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‘It’s OK to not be OK’

Zube describes impact of suicide

By Angie Landsverk

Wes Zube wanted to quit his job as a Waupaca police officer after his only sibling committed suicide.

“Every time I walked past my badge and my gun I got angry,” he said. “I thought I was having problems processing everything because I was an officer.”

Through counseling, Zube realized he wanted to remain a police officer and use his career choice to help others.

He talked about his journey on Monday, Sept. 17, during the Waupaca County Suicide Prevention Coalition’s annual program.

“From First on Scene to Next of Kin” was the title of it.

About 300 people attended the program, in Waupaca High School’s Performing Arts Center.

Zube’s brother Calvin committed suicide on Sept. 12, 2017.

It was three days after Zube and his wife Lisa’s wedding day.

“Calvin was my best man,” he said. “As the best man, he gave the best man speech.”

He remembers his brother being funny.

A few days later, Zube was at the Waupaca Police Department, goofing around with coworkers.

At 10:49 a.m., he saw a group message.

“In case no one called in the gunshot, my address is …” it said.

Zube knew his brother had a gun and had threatened to use it.

Earlier that summer, Zube sold his handgun to him.

It was after Calvin told him that living in downtown Madison, he thought he needed a gun for safety reasons.

Zube’s older brother was a military veteran, who upon returning home after serving in Iraq, said nothing happened there.

He described it as “glorified babysitting.”

When Zube saw his brother’s suicide message, he handled it as a police officer.

“I didn’t think my brother would go through with it, but I thought he would be the perfect candidate for suicide by cop,” he said.

While driving to Madison, with his father sitting next to him, Zube learned his brother had gone through with it.
He saw the message at 11:59 a.m.

“Calvin did it. Calvin’s dead,” Zube told his father.

In Madison, Zube took over the scene.

The next day, back home in Waupaca, it took him more than an hour to fill up his vehicle with gas.

People expressed condolences and asked how he and his family were doing.

“I went home and decided I didn’t want to deal with people anymore,” Zube said. “I started drinking.”

When a coworker stopped by, Zube gave him his badge and gun.

Zube quickly realized he did not want to be someone who used alcohol to numb his pain and sadness.

He poured out all the alcohol in his house.

It was when Police Chief Brian Hoelzel and Lt. Geoff Johnson showed up that Zube admitted he was not OK.

“I said I didn’t want to do it (police work) anymore,” he said.

Hoelzel told Zube he should not make any rash decisions.

“He thought I should have counseling,” Zube said.

Zube thought Hoelzel was concerned he would harm himself.

Hoelzel explained that was not his concern.

He wanted Zube to think about whether he indeed wanted to quit his job.

On Sept. 15, Zube had his first appointment with a counselor.

“My wife took off work. We were nervous. We didn’t really talk,” he said about their drive to the appointment.

When Zube started talking to the counselor, he was initially standoffish toward him.

“About halfway through, things started coming out of my mouth – not about my brother, but about my calls,” he said.

Zube’s stomach growled.

His counselor later told him that is when he knew he made his first breakthrough with him.

“I hadn’t eaten for two days,” Zube said. “I knew I wanted to be an officer. After the next one (appointment), I knew I wanted to help people. It’s OK to not be OK.”

His hope going forward is no one judges those who seek help.

This is particularly true for police, fire and the military, he says.

“On average, over 100 police officers take their lives each year,” Zube said.

More police officers, firefighters and EMTs die by suicide than in the line of duty, he said.

“We don’t train enough to take care of ourselvers,” Zube said.

No one bats an eye when someone goes to a doctor or dentist, but has a preconceived notion about someone who seeks counseling, Zube said.

The Waupaca County Suicide Prevention Coalition continues working to change that.

This was the coalition’s fifth consecutive year of sponsoring a program.

It holds an awareness walk in the spring and encouraged those in attendance Monday evening to continue the conversation by engaging with the group on Facebook.

People may also visit waupaca-saves.org for information.

Resources were available as part of this week’s program.

Zube said his wife and Waupaca’s police department supported him in his decision to see a counselor.

He encouraged others to do the same, and to also take the time to ask others how they are.

“I go to counseling. I get help. I’m a police officer. I still do my job,” Zube said. “You have to take care of yourself.”

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