Painted rocks help family, friends with grief over daughter’s death

Death of teen who died after suicide attempt inspires messages of caring across world

Posted 7/18/17

Katerina Elizabeth Graham would have been 15 on the Fourth of July. But the teen, who loved ballet, died May 7 after a suicide attempt three weeks earlier that left her in a coma.

But her story lives on in the painted rocks that are spreading …

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Painted rocks help family, friends with grief over daughter’s death

Death of teen who died after suicide attempt inspires messages of caring across world

Posted

Katerina Elizabeth Graham would have been 15 on the Fourth of July. But the teen, who loved ballet, died May 7 after a suicide attempt three weeks earlier that left her in a coma.

But her story lives on in the painted rocks that are spreading positivity and suicide prevention messages — such as “You matter” and “You are not alone” and even the number of a suicide prevention hotline — across the world.

Kat loved art drawing and painting, anything crafty,” said Amie Graham, Katerina’s mother. “This gets people painting, an activity she loved to do — and talking to each other.”

A few weeks after Graham’s death, Graham’s parents and her godmother, Kristen Garcia, started a Facebook group called Kat’s Rocks to raise awareness about suicide and start conversations that may help people who feel depressed.

Graham, who lived in Castle Pines, began feeling depressed after an ankle injury in fall 2015 that left her unable to participate in dance competitions. She also experienced bullying by students at her high school over social media about her family not having much money, Garcia said.

Graham didn’t leave a note, said Garcia, 33, an Englewood resident for 15 years, so no one knows exactly what drove her to attempt to take her own life.

But on April 16, Graham swallowed an amount of medication that left her unconscious and was taken to Sky Ridge Medical Center in Lone Tree, Garcia said. She was transferred to Rocky Mountain Hospital for Children near downtown Denver that same day but slipped into a coma, Garcia said.

While Graham was still in the hospital, one of her friends, Sami Chapin, began painting rocks that read “Pray for Kat” and scattering them throughout the area. A hiker in Daniels Park in Sedalia found a rock and posted a photo of it on Facebook.

“The first rock post was a screen shot from one of my old neighbor friends,” Amie Graham said. “She saw it on (the) Colorado Rocks (Facebook page). It gave me chills to know someone took the time to do that and was praying for her to pull through.”

For Chapin, the rocks keep Katerina’s memory alive — she keeps some “special ones” that she looks at every day.

Painting “the rocks was very therapeutic and made me feel like I was doing something worthwhile in a situation where I felt helpless,” Chapin said. “Kat was one of my very close friends. I knew no matter what that I could talk to her about anything, and she would have advice for me ... she was one of my best friends.”

On May 29, when Graham’s father and Garcia’s husband were making a memory box for Graham, her mother decided to track the rocks because they appeared to be traveling all over.

So Garcia started the Facebook page the next day and began tracking the rocks on a map website. To date, the group has more than 2,300 members, many of whom post pictures of the rocks they paint. Nearly 200 have dropped pins on the map to mark their locations.

Her mother also wanted the rocks to be a feature of Graham’s June 23 memorial service. She and and Garcia bought 500 rocks from Home Depot and — with help from members at Graham’s old dance studio and her brothers’ gymnastics studio — painted 500 rocks for the event. People at the service took the rocks home to place somewhere else.

Garcia called it a “Live for Kat” challenge.

So far, the rocks have made it to three continents — North America, Europe and Africa — and places in Alaska, Hawaii and Puerto Rico, to name a few.

Some have taken the rocks, with messages such as “Dance for Kat” and “Play for Kat,” on vacation.

Dancers at a studio in Kansas, where Graham used to live, painted rocks and posted a video that broadcast those ideas June 3 — it challenged other studios to do the same.

And a dance studio in Australia painted an “inspiration wall” in the studio after finding out about Graham’s story.

The Facebook group has received messages from people who have attempted suicide or who have known someone who committed suicide, as well as from people of all ages who come across the page.

For her mother, that’s what the effort is all about.

“If Katerina’s story has helped even one person,” Amie Graham said, “then the rock painting is worth it.”

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