EDITOR’S NOTE: All photos are courtesy of the Selfo family.
NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ - The family of a Rutgers student who took her own life in early November have set up a GoFundMe campaign to help weather the financial burdens that have followed her death.
Rutgers pharmacy major Irisa Selfo, age 20 of Fair Lawn, passed away on November 6. She left behind her mother Alma, her older sister, Marinela, and her younger sister, Kim.
Marinela said she started the fundraiser at the request of Irisa, who stated in one of her suicide notes that she wanted the GoFundMe account opened to help her mother with expenses.
“Irisa left behind a lot,” reads her obituary. “A great GPA, friends that loved her and much more.”
The fundraiser is meant to help the single mother of two pay rent, cover the funeral expenses and pay back student loans for which the mother cosigned and is still required to pay, according to the GoFundMe page.
The goal of the fundraiser is $20,000, for which just over $2,500 was raised as of 7 a.m. on November 13.
Since Irisa’s death, her mother and two sisters have received support from many people, both financially and emotionally, Marinela said.
“A lot of my friends have been checking in on me and supporting me, even friends I haven’t really talked to in a long time,” Kim said.
Kim added that she was given some time to take off from school, and has been promised a social worker for help when she did come back. Alma has been also given the opportunity to take some time off from work to recover.
“It makes me feel better that people are here to support me, and that I’m not alone,” Kim said.
The GoFundMe campaign will also raise awareness of suicide and other mental health issues, according to Marinela, who noted that looking back, there were several warning signs Irisa began displaying in the days prior to her death.
“She was pretty detached, and trying to make peace with everybody,” Marinela said. “She was buying gifts for everyone. She doesn’t usually spend money, but she maxed out her credit cards.”
Marinela said there were a lot of “could've, should've and would’ve” instances.
“She was taking a lot of classes, a huge, heavy course load, on top of just coming back from summer classes,” Marinela added. “She was just very stressed out, she was sleeping two hours a day.”
At the time, some of the warning signs didn’t quite seem like warning signs, according to Marinela. Irisa was often quiet and had a limited social life, Marinela said.
This was especially the case in college, where the rigors of her pharmacy major and 19 credit course load often made it difficult to get a break from the rigors of academia.
Irisa jumped between schools and majors during her college years, Kim said. She started at the University of Pennsylvania, but then transferred to Rutgers-New Brunswick because of the high cost of the private Ivy League school. She also had difficulty fitting in, Kim said.
While at college, Irisa rotated between majoring in pre-med, pharmacy and biology, Kim said, noting her sister worried about the expense of all these switches.
Alma hopes she could use her daughter’s suicide to raise awareness for high-and middle-school bullying, which she felt left a huge scar on Irisa.
“When you’re young in middle school and high school, it leaves a permanent mark and it never goes away,” Alma said.
Irisa will not soon be forgotten.
“Everywhere I would go, she would be there with me,” Kim said. “She would always want to do stuff. We couldn’t really travel, so we’d go for a walk, or go to the beach.”
Kim said that one of her and Irisa’s dreams was to move to Arizona to live together when they were older.
“We were really close, we texted all the time, talked on the phone all the time when she would walk from classes,” added Marinela.
Before Irisa had passed away, she had written a number of notes assuring she had made peace with the world, Marinela said, and that the content of the notes was spiritual in nature.
The family used some of the content of the notes in her obituary.
Irisa was cremated shortly after her viewing, per her instructions in another suicide note.
“She didn’t want to be buried, she actually said she thought it was weird,” Marinela said. “She put it in her letter, "
I don’t want make up, I don’t want to be under the ground rotting.”
The family plans to hold a ceremony to place her ashes into the ocean, as per Irisa’s suicide note, Marinela said.
Rutgers offers different resources for students who are in emotional distress. The university offers free counseling for undergraduate and graduate students, at the Counseling, ADAP and Psychological Services (CAPS).
You can call 848-932-7884 to make an appointment, or stop by the CAPS building at 17 Senior Street between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m., Monday through Friday.
You can also call the Rutgers NJ Hopeline at 855-654-6735 at any time, or text KNIGHTS to 741741, the National Crisis Text Line.