When Terezinha Guedes Maximo lost her daughter to suicide, she thought she wouldn’t be able to bear the pain. Marina, the youngest of two brothers, died at the age of 19, in March 2017.
The teenager was smiling and funny. She loved anime and video games. She played guitar and studied philosophy at UFABC (Federal University of ABC). She spoke English fluently and studied French and Catalan.
Marina also had severe depression. The disease was diagnosed in November 2016. She was undergoing treatment, but was sometimes overcome by crises. She said she didn’t want to live like that anymore.
Terezinha and her husband, Joseval, Marina’s father, took all the precautions recommended by the psychiatrists and psychologists who cared for their daughter. They never left her alone. But it’s impossible to watch someone all the time.
With Marina’s death, in addition to the unimaginable suffering of burying a daughter, Terezinha had to deal with some typical situations of mourning suicide, such as judgment, isolation, guilt and the incessant search for why.
“The helplessness of those who remain is very great. Because it is a death with strong social stigma, the family is always asked: ‘But didn’t you notice? Didn’t you help? Didn’t you do anything to prevent it’?”, says psychologist Karen Scavacini, CEO , creator and co-founder of the Vita Alere Institute for Suicide Prevention and Postvention.
“Bereaved people also get caught up in the ‘what ifs'”, says the expert. “They wonder ‘what if I had come back sooner?’, ‘what if I had called?’ Everyone feels guilty in some way, but suicide is multifactorial. There is no one culprit, there is no single cause that explains why a person takes their own life,” she says.
With a master’s degree in public health in the area of mental health promotion and suicide prevention from the Karolinska Institutet, in Sweden, and a doctorate in school psychology and human development from USP (University of São Paulo), Scavacini works to disseminate postvention actions, which are reception, help and intervention activities aimed at those bereaved by suicide and developed by support groups.
It was in these meetings that Terezinha got support. “After Marina’s death, I thought I was going crazy. People moved away. Many tried to console, but what they said ended up hurting even more. So I started looking online for where I could get help and I met Vita Alere”, he says she.
Talking to other people who were going through the same situation, she realized she wasn’t alone.
Terezinha also started to write about what she was feeling. At first, the texts were just for her, but over time she decided to create a blog to publish them, No m’oblidis.
“Marina had written the phrase ‘Si us plau, no m’oblidis’ on her WhatsApp profile. I later discovered that, in Catalan, it means ‘please don’t forget me'”, says the mother.
Because of the messages she received on the blog, Terezinha and her husband took the initiative to set up the support group Survivors Bereaved by the Suicide of São Bernardo do Campo, in ABC São Paulo, in 2018. The meetings were in person, but became virtual after March 2020, with the emergence of the Covid-19 pandemic.
At the meetings, participants began to debate about words that gained a new meaning and that could hurt people who lost a loved one in this way. Among them are “choice”, “warrior” and “overcoming”. Then, in 2021, she launched the book “The Little Dictionary of Mourning”.
“Suicide was kept in the closet for a long time. Now people are starting to talk more about the topic, but not always in the right way. It’s not the intention, it’s just that sometimes they use words that hurt,” he says.
Providing correct information about prevention and postvention is what psychologist Victoria Almeida, 26, has been doing since 2017 on her profile Nada Ideia Vale Uma Vida, on Instagram.
Victoria lost her father when she was 11 years old. At the time, the family told her and her sister that the cause of death was a heart problem. Four years later, they discovered it was suicide.
“I experienced two bereavements for my father, and I can say that they were very different. In the first, despite the sadness, I felt resigned, I thought it had been God’s will. In the second, it was a huge blow, it was as if he had died again”, he says.
When she was still a teenager when she learned the truth, Victoria says she felt very angry. “I didn’t know anything about suicide and I had a very prejudiced view. I started thinking he was selfish. How could someone do that?”
She and her sister decided that they would “take the lie further” and whenever anyone asked why their father died, they would say it was from the heart.
But Victoria started reading about suicide and better understanding the mental health problems that can lead to the act. So, she created the profile No Idea is Worth a Life and decided to study psychology.
A resident of Juiz de Fora (MG), at the time she discovered the truth she did not find any support group for the bereaved in her city. With the start of the pandemic, however, she began participating in virtual meetings. “Being able to talk to other people who went through the same situation completely changed our experience,” she says.
Using what they learned at the meetings, Victoria and her sister decided that they would no longer lie about the cause of their father’s death. On Instagram, in addition to information about prevention and postvention, the then psychology student also started talking about her personal experience.
“A suicide in the family changes our lives forever. I know I will never go back to who I was before. But this new version doesn’t necessarily have to be worse,” he says.
Where to find help
Vita Alere Institute for Prevention and Postvention of Suicide
It offers support groups for the bereaved and family members of people with suicidal ideation, informative booklets on prevention and postvention and courses for professionals.
Abrases (Brazilian Association of Survivors Bereaved by Suicide)
It provides informative materials, such as booklets and ebooks, and recommends support groups in all regions of the country.
CVV (Center for the Valuation of Life)
Provides voluntary and free emotional support and suicide prevention services to all people who want and need to talk, under complete confidentiality and anonymity via the website and telephone 188