by Hallie and Susan Zacatelco, suicide loss survivors.

How does one begin a blog about losing a loved one to suicide? I yearn to share my story, to be a support to those just starting their journey “into the wilderness” of suicide grief. But where to begin? How to start? Well, it’s most fitting that I choose to lean on my 16-year-old daughter to start. She is my “rock,” my sunflower, and my positive focus through the darkest parts of my wilderness journey. A year after losing her “stepfather,” Hallie wrote the following essay for her high school English class. For a girl who did not like to discuss grief, did not like to engage with the pain, her essay is amazingly mature, insightful, and beautifully pure.

A Chameleon’s Canvas by Hallie Zacatelco

Every person in the world is a mix of different colors. And no, I am not talking about skin color. The colors I’m referring to are the ones that get mixed and blended and beat together with a bunch of other colors on the palette that shows a person’s emotional well-being. I too am a mix of different colors ranging from yellows so bright they look white, to deep blues and purples. And with each dip of a brush the palette changes, the glob of paint becomes a little lighter or darker but overall it doesn’t change the beauty of what is on the canvas.

A dollop of black

Over the last year, I’ve had a pretty big dollop of dark added in. Not a dark blue or red but black. Pitch black. My stepfather died by suicide right before my Sophomore year in High School. Pitch black. An all-encompassing hue that takes over one’s canvas. You may be able to see what once was, but any color remaining is dull and uninteresting.

If you’ve ever painted before, you know how much pigment it takes to cover up the black on a canvas. I now know firsthand that it takes a hell of a lot. But the thing is, it was still MY canvas. I couldn’t just throw it out and get another one. That’s not how it works. The world keeps turning, the show must go on, and the painting must continue. I did not, however, seem to get these memos, because my life had stopped. What’s the use of painting when there is only one color?

The haze

For months I remained in a haze. The dark did not lift. I don’t remember anything that occurred the rest of that summer, July through October. My 15th birthday in August came and went – and I can’t tell you any details about that day, except one. There was a lot of crying. I became grey. A simple mundane color with no thought and no emotion. And through this grey, I became the artist’s chameleon. Whatever the other artists needed, I became. For my mother, I was her rock. I made sure she ate and got out of bed. She felt so I didn’t have to.

School started. We moved – the memories were just too much. It’s hard to lighten up the black when your home keeps adding more in. At school, I would fade back to grey. I put on a happy face, laughed when I was supposed to laugh, smiled when people expected a smile. All the while, I felt nothing. Well, not nothing. Through the course of time, another color entered my mixture of black and grey.

Red is for anger

Red. Red is for anger, of course. Angry at myself for not seeing his sadness sooner. Angry at him for doing such a stupid and careless thing. But most of all, angry at the world for making such a wonderful, thoughtful, and intelligent person want to kill himself. Other people handle the red better than I do, and others barely notice the red at all. But for a few weeks, that is the only color that showed.

There is no “getting over” a suicide, but there is getting through it. One slow and painful day at a time. Gradually, I began to heal. The black is on the canvas. Yeah, it sucks but there is no taking it off. It is on and it is vibrant. I slowly paint over sections of the black with layers of white. I did not get my mix of different colors from before the death back. Who I was before is gone, she has changed, she has adapted. My whole life has changed, from where I live to the way I do life. Why shouldn’t my mix of different colors change with me?

A mix of different colors

My painting isn’t anywhere near done. The black isn’t anywhere near covered up. The glob of paint that is my emotional well-being is still recovering. With every dip of the brush my canvas changes. New colors are being discovered and added every day. There is not much left to do but continue to paint – using ALL of the light AND all of the dark. And even though black will always be there, it makes the lighter colors shine just a little bit more.

If you or someone you care about are struggling with suicidal thoughts please get help. 911 | 1-800-273-8255 | text “4hope” to 741741