‘It takes time and we never really go back to the way we were, but acceptance of the pain is key’
LAST WEEKEND, television noontime show Eat Bulaga showed what they called the first tele-movie titled “Love is”, starring the love team of Maine Mendoza and Alden Richards. The movie revolved around the story of Vivienne (Mendoza), a 20-something young professional at the peak of her life, and fiancé Marco (Richards).
In the story, terrible circumstances in the life of Vi led to her depression and suicide attempt. The tele-movie is perceived to be a positive response (or even penance if you may), when main host Joey De Leon belittled depression as mere nonsense, which drew flak from viewers and netizens.
A poignant part of the show is the casting of real-life husband and wife Nonie and Shamaine Buencamino as the parents of Vi, showcasing a spectacular performance of despair, support, and acceptance as their onscreen daughter battled her demons. What makes their role memorable however, was not just their performance: in real life, the couple’s 15-year old daughter, Julia Buencamino, took her own life in July 2015.
“Nonie imagined he was talking to our daughter,” shared Shamaine, when asked how personal the lines were to the actor in a moving scene where the father told Vi how much they love her, and that she should not give up on life after a foiled suicide attempt.
Was it a difficult role to play? “Yes, but we are committed to our advocacy,” she said, referring to the Julia Buencamino Project, a mental health advocacy the couple started a year after their daughter’s death.
An ‘autopsy’ conducted by notable psychologist Dr. Violeta ‘Bolet’ Bautista of Julia’s journal, poems, paintings, and even her social media accounts on Instagram and Tumblr showed that the teenager had borderline personality disorder, which meant that even if she was showing signs of normalcy on the outside, she could also have been suffering from possible mental conditions like depression and bipolar disorder.
A difficult year
“The morning after Julia died, I woke up with the sound of her laughter. The day after that, I woke up with this realization: Go public. It took me a year though because of the pain. I didn’t know where to start. So I told God that He has to send me help. People messaged me right after,” Shamaine said on the beginnings of the Julia Buencamino Project.
On the first anniversary of Julia’s death, Shamaine shared that she was at a loss on how to cope with the pain of losing her daughter in a tragic manner. “The first thing I did after Julia died was to go on a retreat. I needed answers. Then I dove into her stuff to find out what happened. She left us with journals, poems and drawings that gave insight to her pain.”
Julia’s last Tumblr entry included her final note, mostly directed to her parents. “If you’re reading this then I haven’t deleted it from my queue which means I’ve succeeded in killing myself… My name is Julia Louise Buencamino and my gender neutral name was Lee. I was 15, assigned female at birth, and I identified as non-binary (surprise mom and dad, I’ve known I was trans since I was 13).”
Julia’s mental state after her death showed that her borderline personality disorder could have been treated with medicine. The irony however, is that part of the symptoms of this disease is that patients tend to keep their condition from the ones they love – making it too late for any intervention.
Julia’s death never became easier for the Buencaminos to deal with, but Shamaine immersed herself with work, taking on theatre projects to distract herself from the pain of her daughter’s passing. With the help of counseling (first as a couple, then as a whole family), the mother also found solace in prayer.
But what really helped her family, two years after the tragedy, was putting the Julia Buencamino Project in place. The advocacy is now an active online community with over 1,500 members, in which the Buencaminos directly post and address several issues that pertain to mental health and well-being, and to emphasize that individuals, particularly teenagers who think they might be suffering from depression, to not be afraid and seek help from their parents.
“Helping others helped us heal. It allows us to talk about Julia. It motivates us to lean on our pain and face our grief. Through Julia’s works (poems and paintings), we hope to encourage kids to ask for help by talking about depression and easing the stigma,” she said.
This community, which serves as a suicide-intervention group, has volunteers who help those suffering from internal anguish.
“Our helpers during the first phase were Edna Vida, Edru Abraham, Ambie Burac, Kare and Candice Adea, Maribel Legarda, Anj Heruela, JP Valdes, Ace Lawrence Sayat, and our kids, Delphine, Gorio, Jose, as well as son-in-law Gerson Abesamis. There is a group of mothers from Los Baños led by Milet Carlos who is offering to join our advocacy now.”
The Julia Buencamino Project also worked with NGOs like the Buhay Movement for their launch. Recently, they attended talks in schools such as De La Salle College of St. Benilde organized by mental health advocates. They are now working on possible collaborations to address mental health issues through therapeutic activities like theatre workshops.
In the Community of Learners Foundation (COLF) where Julia once studied, people can find ‘Julia’s Bench’ – a makeshift bench decorated with decals of her drawings. The idea is that teenagers who feel depression can sit on the bench, and can expect that someone will be with them through that difficult time. The family also keeps their own ‘Julia’s Bench’ in their home in Bulacan.
Shamaine shared that there are so many things that she misses about her daughter. “I miss her laughter, her humor. She would throw her head back and laugh out loud with abandon.”
And is there really a process or a ‘best advice’ for families who have lost loved ones the way they lost their daughter?
“Talk to God. Talk to a grief counselor to ease the process. The grief journey is unique and different for each person. We naturally heal ourselves if we are to continue living. It takes time and we never really go back to the way we were, but acceptance of the pain is key.”
To know more about the advocacy, visit: www.facebook.com/TheJuliaBuencaminoProject.