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GriefSPEAK: Voir Dire – Mari Nardolillo Dias




by Mari Nardolillo Dias, EdD, contributing writer on grief and grieving

The receptionist at her PCP reviewed Katerina’s information. “Any changes in address, insurance, emergency contact information?” Katerina lost her breath; however, the receptionist did not notice as she never looked up from her computer. She repeated, “Katerina, is all the information the same?”

Katerina remained mute, her thoughts extremely loud.  “How do I explain that the love of my life, my partner, my ride or die, my emergency contact, is dead? How is it that I didn’t prepare for this? Never even considered it? 

I have avoided all the “triggers”. I have mapped out and circumvented people, places, objects, music… and stairs. I cannot look at stairs. Lucy fell down them. I keep picturing her stumbling and tumbling down those cement steps. Outside our apartment. Landing on the pavement. Unresponsive. And I was not home. The hospital tells me she died from a brain aneurysm. From the fall? Or did the aneurysm cause the fall? I should have requested an autopsy. Would that have given me the answer? The unanswered is making me mad. I think if I knew I might be able to get over this grief. This guilt.

I know, I know, magical thinking:  Should have, could have, would have – I can’t stop the thoughts. My grief therapist said one cannot avoid or prepare for all the triggers in the world. We need to be proactive and EXPECT the triggers. Otherwise, I might become a recluse. That doesn’t sound half bad. My therapist wants to use something called desensitization – with the stairs issue. We will begin with a photograph of stairs and progress through baby steps until I can walk down a set of stairs. The entire process terrifies me.

Maybe I don’t want to let go of the grief. The guilt. It keeps me connected to Lila. If I get better, it means I really didn’t love her as much as I thought I did. I need to remember. Forever. I can’t remember forever if I let go of the pain of her passing. Of my absence at the time.

Katerina manages a minor, short lived exhale as she hears the question once again. “Excuse me, Miss. Has any of your information changed?” “How long have I been standing here? Katerina asked herself.” Seems like hours. Lost in the reverie. The theater of her mind.

She looked up to find the receptionist meeting her eyes. “Voir Dire. No, the emergency contact information has changed. She’s dead. “

“I’m so sorry for your loss,” the receptionist replied, in the voice that everyone uses when they feel awkward, uncomfortable. “Who should I enter as your emergency contact?”

 “No one. There isn’t anyone left.”


Dr. Mari Nardolillo Dias is a nationally board-certified counselor, holds a Fellow in Thanatology and is certified in both grief counseling and complicated grief. Dias is a Certified death doula, and has a Certificate in Psychological Autopsy.

She is Professor of Clinical Mental Health, Master of Science program, Johnson & Wales University. Dias is the director of GracePointe Grief Center, in North Kingstown, RI.  For more information, go to:  // Dr. Dias is the author of GriefSpeak

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