By Susan Zacatelco, who lost her life partner to suicide in July, 2018

The last time I met with my counselor, he asked me to rate how my week went – how I was “doing.”  Honestly, I felt I had experienced a fairly decent week, and rated it an 8 (out of 10) which he then asked me to define. I shrugged. I got up, went to work, work was fine, I have people I like working with and things I’m putting my mind to, I have a great relationship with my daughter, I spent a lot of my time in nature and doing physical activity, and I spent some quality time with my parents. So, yeah, an 8. He asked me to examine what it takes to have a “8 week,” so that when I’m experiencing a 4 (or, God forbid a 1) week, I would have some vetted activities that are known to help lift my spirit. 


It was during my dutiful completion of this psychiatric homework that I realized my “rate your life/week” scale has dramatically changed – just like the rest of me. My “rate my week” score of 8 “after” does not equal the 8 “before.”  —  Before and After, that’s the most fundamental structure to my life’s timeline now. There is the time before Rich’s death, and the time after. Everything is in relation to this event. It’s like my new birthdate. Or my death and rebirth because that is what it feels like. “I” died on July 30, 2018. Maybe not the physical me, but the essence of the me who I was most familiar with ceased to exist.

On the morning of July 30th, I awoke a young, passionate career focused medical professional. Wanting, almost above all else, to make a difference at my workplace – a difference in the lives of those people around me. I wanted to influence, to shape and mold the world around me. To develop new programs and design keynote speeches for professional development. I wanted to continue to build a strong, respected Eye Clinic, continue to network and implement worthwhile change at my medical facility. Personally, with Rich and I recently “separated,” I wanted to venture out and experience life the way I envisioned living – a life centered around a passionate love for life and laughter, family and outdoor adventure.  And then. . . well, then I found him and my timeline was ripped apart. Utterly decimated at precisely 6:25 pm on July 30th. 

I now realize I misspoke earlier. About my death and rebirth on July 30th. It was only a death. Rebirth had not yet occurred and I’m not sure when that will actually happen. So, maybe rebirth is not the correct term. I view a birth as not here one minute and present the next. Completely new. No, this journey has not been a rebirth. It’s been a forced, undesired, painful metamorphosis. Changing into something, someone unrecognizable. From the inside. Unlike a caterpillar’s physical change, mine runs deep within. It’s been an emotional, mental, spiritual transformation – disrupting to the very core of my being. 


July 31st I awoke (having not really slept at all) to a foreign world. One without Rich. I was physically awake, but steeped in a thick emotional fog. Incomprehensible pain, guilt, sadness, disbelief, shock; all these emotions swirled around and within me; acting like a smoke screen to the world outside that also coated the windows to my soul so thick that I couldn’t see in. I was utterly lost. My inner flame, the one that fueled my passions for life, love and connection was extinguished; or at least smothered to a minuscule, meaningless flicker.  No, this was not a rebirth. This was a traumatic, forced reconstruction. One that my mind couldn’t comprehend or make sense of and my heart entirely, wholly rejected. And such is the life as a suicide survivor. 

Two years later, all those feelings are still here within me. I’ve carved paths in the emotional fog that surrounds my spirit. I endeavour to find meaning, and a new purpose to my life. One that will possibly lighten this now heavy heart of mine. No longer am I looking for a light-hearted life full of passionate love and laughter. Oh, I still laugh, and enjoy laughing. But the heavy heart is always there, in the background. Sometimes in the foreground. No, now I just take pleasure in the simplest of life’s offerings – a blue sky with warm sunshine, having the perfect schnauzer companion bouncing along the path beside me, a best friend in my daughter, and supportive, loving parents.

Now when I rate my week as an 8, it doesn’t indicate that I went on an exciting trip or created some fantastic new program at work like it would have “before”. And it doesn’t mean that I am passionate about anything I’m doing or living a life fulfilled. No. It simply means I’ve been able to find a quiet peace to most of my days. To smile at the simple blessings in my life. That I’m mostly at peace with this forced transformation I have had to endure. I have yet to emerge from this emotional chrysalis, this traumatic cocoon that continues to surround me, but that’s ok. Since I know I have to be a butterfly now, despite any choosing on my part, I am at least going to take the time to develop the type of wings I’ll need to soar. 

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