Resilience is not the absence of struggle or adversity. Resilience is living with the deepest, darkest of challenges, then coming out on the other side of those experiences as a stronger version of who you know yourself to be.
Vickie Zacher, formerly Ortega, is the picture of resilience.
It’s hard to know the right thing to say when you’re looking into the eyes of a woman whose 13-year-old daughter took her own life just two years before. However, Vickie’s honesty and grace help those around her feel comfortable with talking about the uncomfortable, and it’s in those conversations that the truth carries even greater meaning.
As she sits beneath portraits of her three beautiful children, Alyssa, Jonus and Olivia, Vickie courageously shares her story.
“My daughter ended up taking her life.”
“That day was the hardest day of my life. It was a nightmare,” Vickie shares. “It’s hard to think about it because it causes me so much pain. There’s a lot of ‘what-ifs,’ ‘I should’ve,’ ‘I could’ve’ and ‘why,’ and that’s a day that will always stay in my mind. It will never go away.”
The days, weeks and months that followed are still a blur. Vickie wouldn’t leave Olivia’s bedroom, staying and sleeping there to feel like she was with her daughter. Vickie sought out counselors and support groups, proving helpful, but never fully filling the void of Olivia.
“It felt like a piece of me died that day and it won’t ever come back,” shares Vickie, “and I just feel like you learn how to live with it. Because it’s always there and I won’t ever forget her, and she’s part of me.”
Catalyst for Change
Having lived in the close-knit community of the Eagle River Valley for nearly 30 years, Olivia’s death was painfully public. Vickie wanted to hide from the rumors.
“I didn’t want to go to the grocery store,” she says. “I had people buy me groceries and bring them to me so I wouldn’t have to go, just because I didn’t want to see people there.”
Not long after Olivia took her own life, Vickie considered suicide and came up with a plan. Pills, it would be, enough to erase the pain.
Alyssa came home amidst the almost fatal spiral. Vickie’s friend was called and came over to stay the night.
“I’m glad I didn’t succeed and that I’m still here,” Vickie says, reflecting on the darkest of days. “It would have devastated my family and my kids, and I feel like when someone ends their life, it just puts the pain onto other people. It might end your suffering, but it just passes it along.”
Olivia’s death was a catalyst for change in the community. After working with Vickie and her impassioned purpose to help others who may be suffering from mental health issues, Eagle Valley Behavioral Health established Olivia’s Fund to provide financial assistance to anyone who lives or works in the Eagle River Valley to help pay for mental health and/or substance abuse services, for up to six sessions per person per year.
Vickie is committed to help shift the stigma around mental health.
“I think people are afraid of it,” she says, “and I think people don’t want to talk about it. I don’t think it’s any different than somebody breaking their leg. It can be treated. You can get the help you need, but I think it’s hard for people to come forward because it’s always been frowned upon… it’s not anything to be ashamed about.
It doesn’t mean that there’s something wrong with you.”
‘I’m A Survivor’
Two years after her daughter’s suicide, Vickie is able to look back with perspective. She recalls the days when the only thing that got her out of bed was taking her dog, Jasper, out for a walk.
“The depression was hard because you are sad and you’re down in a deep, dark place and you don’t know how to get out of it,” she shares. “It’s more than being sad — it’s just like you’re stuck there. Sad — you could be sad for a day or two. But depression — you’re just there forever and there’s no way to get out and nothing makes you happy.”
Vickie recognizes how it’s easier to pull herself out of depression nowadays. She enjoys walking Jasper, hiking with friends, visits from Alyssa and Jonus, and her work as an imaging specialist for Sonnenalp Breast Imaging at Shaw Cancer Center. She continues to see a counselor and reach out to friends for help and support.
Vickie says she tells her story because she wants to help other people.
“I want them to know that you can survive, that you can overcome the depression, the anxiety, and you can find joy through the journey,” she says. “Because once you’re gone, you’re just gone and you can’t come back.
“I do feel like I’m a survivor,” Vickie shares. “I feel like I had to go through the worst thing ever imaginable and I didn’t know if I would make it out, but I did. Here I am.”
Sometimes Olivia visits, says Vickie, when she walks down the hallway in her home and smells the fragrant spray her daughter would wear.
“Every day when I go for walks, I look for signs in the clouds,” says Vickie. “Maybe if there’s a heart or something to show me that she’s around, I can feel her around me.”
Olivia always talked about taking a “hippie van” up the West Coast of the country after high school. Vickie has started collecting van memorabilia, and she thinks she’ll make that trip in a few years to honor her daughter’s dreams.
To learn more or to apply to Olivia’s Fund, visit: EagleValleyBH.org/Olivias-Fund
“I want [others] to know that you can survive, that you can overcome the depression, the anxiety, and you can find joy through the journey.”Vickie Zacher