A candlelight vigil will be held on Tuesday, Sept. 10, for World Suicide Prevention Day. HopeNet of Carpinteria hosts the yearly remembrance in honor and memory of those who have committed suicide and their survivors. CVN spoke with Emiliano Campobello, who will speak at the vigil, to learn more about its significance in the community. Campobello lost his son Nino to suicide in April, 2017. He currently resides in Santa Barbara where he works as a custom fine artist.
CVN: Tell me about where you and Nino’s story of struggle begins.
Emiliano Campobello: I grew up in Santa Barbara, grade school through university. I went to Europe to study at the Academy of Fine Arts in Venice. I met a Dutch woman and I moved to Holland. I lived with her there for 11 years and we had three children. But at a certain point the relationship fell apart and I moved back to the US. My ex later had severe psychological problems and lost the kids to foster care.
My oldest son Nino went into foster care on his own. The other two kids were together. Nino really had the hardest time. They wouldn’t let him come to me. His journey through foster care, where he didn’t belong, laid the groundwork for trauma. As he went through puberty, his psychological instability started escalating.
Nino was a brilliant, brilliant young man. A rapper. He had been rapping about life and death since he was 13 or 14 years old. Already there, there was a sense of the deeper hardships of life. When he was 16, I was finally able to get custody of him. And he moved to Santa Barbara and went to San Marcos High School for his junior and senior year.
What was Nino like?
He was really a bright light. A force of nature. He was always encouraging people to believe in themselves. He used music as a creative outlet to process those deep emotions that he was having.
But there were some bipolar episodes. He was sensitive to the world we are living in; it was overwhelming for him. Nino was a very empathetic young man. Once he told a friend that he could feel all the pain of the children in Syria. That is a lot to wake up to.
Did Nino try medication?
In his late teen years, he did. It was when elements of psychosis started coming in that they started putting him on different medications. But he really didn’t like how they made him feel. There were a lot of side effects and there wasn’t any real regimen to it. They would say, “Let’s see if this works,” and “Let’s see if this works.” So, he wasn’t consistent.
Did he try any other kinds of therapy?
Yes, but they have to be willing to participate. Nino had no trust in therapists. There was a little while when he was in a clinic for three months that he seemed to have helped. When he came out, he made a rap song and the refrain was “Get help. Go to a clinic. There are people there that can help.” He was 15.
We also did neurofeedback therapy quite a few times. That’s brain mapping where we’d look at his brain to see the areas that are overactive and try to neutralize those areas with stimulation.
There were times when he would feel better but then these shadows would come back.
How did Nino die?
He died when he was 18. He had just gone back to Holland to reconnect with his brother and sister. There wasn’t the support that he needed over there and he had a breakdown. He was put in a hospital and he was going to be in a supervised living facility… but then there was a thing in the courts where a judge said they could keep him for the next six months and at that moment, I think he gave up hope. He was in the hospital when he took his own life.
What is most important for me though is how he lived. How he took all of this energy that was inside of him, the traumas that were inside of him, and tried to put it in his music to try and help others. And I play his music at events or when somebody has something going on. Its helping people not feel alone in their sadness.
Where are you in your own journey to healing?
This is my worst nightmare. My worst nightmare as a parent happened. I thank God that I had two other kids to stay strong for or I would have fallen into the depths of depression. I have this feeling of not being able to save him, of what else could I have been done. It’s so overwhelming. There’s no way to turn it back or to have a do over. From the very beginning, I wanted to help others but I was advised to take the time and to process things for myself.
I know it’s a really, really hard thing for people to talk about, but I want people to know what he showed me, and that it’s better to speak out than to let people be alone in their sadness. Some of my friends whose children have passed away say it’s like part of them is dead. They shut that sadness away inside themselves because it’s too difficult to face or talk about. It leaves them like the walking dead, with a part of them unable to enter back into life. But I’ve made it my life mission to share Nino’s story.
What would you tell families going through something like this?
I’m Chicano by background, and in the Día de los Muertos tradition the body is gone but the essence is eternal. One way that I’ve found to navigate the space of grief and mourning is to actively continue the relationship with that person. It’s not like living in denial, but its recognizing that there’s a part of them that’s not physical. Whatever suffering they have, they are at peace now.
For survivors, be gentle with yourself. Focus on the life and not the death.
HopeNet of Carpinteria’s Candle Light Vigil will be held on Tuesday, Sept. 10, at 7 p.m., at the Seal Fountain, 850 Linden Ave. There will be music, speakers, candles, refreshments and a resource table. Therapists will also be available. HopeNet invites people to bring a poem or a remembrance of a loved one.