GriefSpeak: A letter to my brother – Mari Nardolillo-Dias

By: Mari Nardolillo-Dias

“I did it my way” (written by Claude Francoise and Jacques Revaux, English interpretation by Paul Anka, sung by Frank Sinatra).  

A Letter to My Brother

Good Wednesday Morning, Bobby – 

I’ve texted this salutation to you every day for 4 weeks. Sometimes you responded with a simple emoji, sometimes you didn’t respond at all. But as you told me, you read every one. I continue to text you daily after your recent passing last Saturday. I find it very soothing and calming. 

You died this past Saturday after an extremely short battle with an insidious, aggressive cancer than even you couldn’t beat. It is the kind of cancer that sneaks up slowly when you are not looking and displays no apparent symptoms until it is too late.

I can imagine what it is like to know you have a few weeks left to live, even though we spoke about it, which is why I wrote last week’s article about living and dying. We are all living and dying simultaneously. We just don’t know our date of death. You didn’t either but knew it would be soon. You said you could feel it coming. 

I was so fortunate, as we had the gift of goodbye. We had many conversations during the last couple of weeks. We talked about heaven, fear of dying, as well as the expected and unexpected. One of the medical staff told you that your cancer was one of the most painful deaths. That was scary. So, you expected the pain. Not so much of it though (I don’t think). 

In my very last minute with you I noticed how dry your lips were. I went out to the nurses’ station and asked for Vaseline. That was the last gift I gave to you. I gently applied the salve to moisten your lips and you groaned in pleasure. It is the simple things that bring dignity and value in our final days.  

When you were first given the diagnosis and prognosis (3 weeks before you died), you said to me: “Well Mari, I’ll be the topic of your article. I will even make it into Volume 2 of your book “GriefSpeak”.  I assured him I would, and not only would he be included in Volume 2, but I promised I would dedicate the book to him.  

This is your article, Bobby. 

You had little to no control over this enemy, this cancer. So, you did what most do when we feel powerless and helpless – you control what you can. As the quintessential funeral director, you sat down with your sons and planned out every detail of your wake and funeral.  

As the only girl and the oldest of four children, we were only 18 months apart. A week before your diagnosis you sent me several pictures of the two of us sitting on Santa’s lap, Trick or Treating at Halloween, and the two of us, you still in diapers, holding hands. You said you had not looked at those pictures in years. It still amazes me how prescient people can be! 

Out of the two of us, I was the one who was always punished. You rarely were, as you had this mischievous way of spinning straw into gold. You could always talk your way out of a predicament and come out a hero!  

Because of our closeness in age, we shared many of the same friends, particularly during high school. Garden City parking lot (“The Lot”) was the place to be in the late 60’s and early 70’s. Those same friends, now aged 67, gathered at mom’s house yesterday as we collectively laughed and cried over memories of you. (Your Rat Pack) 

You have always been described as “bigger than life.” You had such a zest for everything: good food, great wine, fancy cars, and partying- whether at Bonnet Shores, Boca Raton, Max’s Grille in Mizner Park, Narragansett, or Cranston. Life in general. You were always best in a crowd and singing in any microphone you could find.

A friend just texted me stating: “I can’t get “Mack the Knife” out of my head since I heard of Bobby’s passing.” One of your featured songs. Sometimes, just sometimes, I would jump up and we would be a duet…. 

You are as big in death as you were in life. Channel 12 did a news story and social media is jammed with thousands of sympathy posts and memories. There will always be a little bit of “Bobby” in whoever met you. Someone recently described you as the “Buddy Cianci of funeral directors. Everybody wanted a piece of you!” 

We will not bury you until Saturday. This long week stretch is very difficult but has allowed us time to gather with some who adored you. Mom’s house is overflowing with flowers, food, and people. One of your friends said: “I hope the wake is at The Dunk, because otherwise the line will be from the funeral home to Olneyville!” 

Despite all your achievements and accolades listed in your obituary, I will always treasure the phrase “dear brother of Dr. Mari Nardolillo-Dias.  

RIP Bobby, I pray you get your pilot’s license in heaven. This is a testament to you, as a boy and a man who LIVED your life, as your favorite song suggests: “Your way”. 

Until tomorrow… Good Thursday morning… 

Editor’s Note: Bobby Nardolillo’s obituary can be found here:


Dr. Mari 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:


Author, GriefSpeak


  1. Diane Russo Anderson on July 30, 2021 at 7:41 pm

    Dear Mari,such a wonderful heart warming piece you wrote.
    I never had the pleasure to meet you but I knew your wonderful brother.
    When ever anyone pass away in my family and there has been plenty .
    Bobby always made me feel like part of his family.
    He was a classic and loyal business man.
    He will always have a special part of my heart.
    My god give you and family the strength you need.
    May he rest in peace?

    • Mari Nardolillo Dias on August 3, 2021 at 9:56 pm

      Bless you Diane-
      I’m pleased to hear Vobby was a comfort to you and your family, although I’m not surprised! He had a kind heart and I’ve never heard him say an unkind word about anyone. He joins my father who he missed.
      Thank you and be well

  2. Bonnie Magnone Feilmeier on July 30, 2021 at 6:14 pm

    Hi Mari …. I share in your loss and have fond memories of Bobby, mostly in the days hanging out at “The Lot” ?. I am Ray Cap’s cousin, Bonnie. I also empathize with you as I lost my older sister the same way, 4 years ago. The blessing is theirs as they did not have to have a prolonged journey with that cancer.
    The comfort is ours in knowing that we will see them again someday.
    Sending prayers to all of the family as you mourn his passing.
    You have such a beautiful gift with words. God bless.

    • Mari Nardolillo Dias on August 3, 2021 at 9:58 pm

      Hi Bonnie-
      I remember you! Bless for reaching out and commenting on last week’s article. It was both easy and difficult to write.
      Thank you and Be Well

  3. Joyce Gaulin on July 29, 2021 at 8:55 pm

    What beautiful tribute to you larger then life brother.. I’m so sorry for your immense loss, I wish I had the words to ease your pain… Always remember what we have once enjoyed we can never lose all that we love deeply becomes a part of us.. Bobby will always be with you in a look, a song, a joke you shared.. You will always have an Angel with you, protecting, guiding, serenading, until you meet again.. May he RIP in the glory of God arms.. Sending Prayers and Hugs because we all need them.. George and Joyce Gaulin

    • mari on July 29, 2021 at 9:42 pm

      Thank you so much George and Joyce. He did say that we can cry fir him one day but laugh all the remaining days.
      God Bless you.

  4. Lorna Caruso Magliocco on July 29, 2021 at 7:42 pm

    Dear Mari, I hope you remember me, we haven’t seen each other in years but I always saw your brothers and loved your family! My heart is broken over the passing of Bobby! We all grew up together and this hit all of us in my family hard!!! Your brother Bob was a very special guy so respectful and kind and he will be missed greatly!!! I think of your mom and worry about impact this will have on her she is such a lovely lady!!! As the oldest in my family I know that a lot of responsibility is put on us so I’m sure especially in your profession that you will be the one to hold everyone up during this but please take time to grieve, not that I should be saying this to you the expert in this but your human and he was your brother it’s different now! Take time for yourself to grieve cause as you know if you don’t it will come out in an another way!!! My heart is with all of you and I will be there tomorrow night if it takes a week to get in there I will get to all of you with arms outstretched!!!! With all my love and prayers Lorna Caruso Magliocco

    • mari on July 29, 2021 at 9:45 pm

      Oh Lorna-
      Of course I remember you and your brothers! Long time, good memories. I hear you- your sentiments are so needed as I often forget myself in this process. God bless.

  5. Ernie Vacca on July 29, 2021 at 7:17 pm

    Such a heartfelt and eloquent letter Mari. You captured Bobby’s essence. We were fortunate to have him as a friend. A gift really.

    • mari on July 29, 2021 at 9:46 pm

      Thanks so much Ernie. I tried to capture my relationship with him as well. Thanks for commenting.
      God bless.

  6. Al fitri on July 29, 2021 at 10:25 am

    Mari That was a great article Bob would have been proud and as you said bigger than life even in his passing I am proud to have known him and spent many a nights at “The Lot “ with him May he Rest In Peace ???

    • Robin Elwell on July 29, 2021 at 11:00 am

      I lost my dear little sister this week. My heart is so broken it seriously hurts to take breathes at time.
      What a beautiful article. Pure class and love.
      I hope one day I will come to not go for cover as I cry missing my girl. But for now I to walk around singing my Sister’s last song from Frank Sinatra “Come Fly With Me”❣️?

      • Roberta DiDonna on July 29, 2021 at 2:01 pm

        So very beautiful!❤
        I lost my parents. Dad, suddenly when I was 20yrs old, mom was given 5mos. to the day. We had the gift of goodbyes.
        This year, I also lost my brother, 62yrs young. Parkinson’s. He told me he thought he was dying. I didn’t believe him. Tho, I took care of, and did everything for him, I never got to say goodbye, while he was awake. I have great difficulty living with that.
        I will forever see Bobby sitting at his desk, with that impish smile, wishing me a good morning, patiently waiting for the mail❤❤
        We will always love you Bobby❤?

        • mari on July 29, 2021 at 9:49 pm

          Oh Roberta-
          Such a life of loss. I didn’t realize you didn’t get to say goodbye to your brother. Loss of a sibling is a different, special, complicated kind of grief. I never expected to be in that group.
          God bless you

      • mari on July 29, 2021 at 2:52 pm

        I responded to your email. My heart breaks for both of us who struggle to exhale. Bless you.

    • Mari on July 29, 2021 at 2:51 pm

      Thank you so much for reading and celebrating Bobby.
      Be Well

    • mari on July 29, 2021 at 3:03 pm

      Thank you! Bless you!

  7. Debbie Bertran on July 29, 2021 at 3:33 am

    This is beautiful letter Mari. Thank you for sharing. The way you wrote this is so comforting and so sweet and loving for your beloved brother. My heart is with you all across the miles.

    • mari on July 29, 2021 at 2:53 pm

      God bless you Debbie. Thank you so much for the rosaries.

  8. David Coccia on July 29, 2021 at 1:07 am

    Well said, Bobby was larger than life and loved by all of blessed to know him. Great spending time with you and Mom Sunday. God bless you and all Bobby’s family.

    • mari on July 29, 2021 at 2:54 pm

      Bless you David. It was heartwarming to see you and the flowers are so special. Keep in touch.

  9. Dawn Stifano on July 29, 2021 at 12:22 am

    Sooo beautiful written!! Sorry for your loss! We have such wonderful memories being with your brother and Kim!! He will be sorely missed!

    • mari on July 29, 2021 at 2:56 pm

      Thank you for taking the time to read my letter and responding. We all have vivid, unforgettable memories/stories of Bobby!
      Be well

  10. Karen Carpenter on July 28, 2021 at 5:01 pm

    Mari – I am so sorry for your loss. I can relate as I lost my youngest brother a few years ago . Your brother was bigger than life – this is a beautiful tribute to him. I pray for comfort for you & your family.

    • mari on July 29, 2021 at 2:57 pm

      Sibling loss, as you unfortunately know is a very special kind of grief. A lifetime of memories. And the sadness that they are younger is poignant.
      Be well.

  11. Bethany Kettle on July 28, 2021 at 3:20 pm

    Beautiful tribute to your brother. May He Rest In Peace ??

    • mari on July 29, 2021 at 2:57 pm

      Bless you Bethany for your kind words?

  12. Artie on July 28, 2021 at 2:47 pm

    Mari, what a great piece this is. You said it all and we feel it all.

    • mari on July 29, 2021 at 2:58 pm

      Thank you Artie! Yes, a collective memory?

  13. alexandria kazarian on July 28, 2021 at 2:37 pm

    Beautiful..I was a regular passanger in Bobby’s car at the Garden City Parking lot. His license plate was RAN JR. He picked me up after school daily. I went to CHSE he went to Lasalle. We were great friends back then. May god rest his soul. Im so sorry to hear of his passing. 🙁

    • Robin Wilkinson Jorge on July 28, 2021 at 4:11 pm

      Mari beautiful tribute to Bobby. Nothing so special as the love of a sibling. Hold close all your memories! ?

      • mari on July 29, 2021 at 3:05 pm

        Bless you Robin. I know you know the devastation this can cause.

    • mari on July 29, 2021 at 3:01 pm

      Yes- RANJR which morphed into RAN. RANJR was suppose to be a shared car but Bobby conned my parents and got it much more often than me!

  14. Joe Macera on July 28, 2021 at 1:01 pm

    Mari that was beautiful you didn’t leave anything out RIP MY FRIEND ?❤️?❤️?❤️

    • Robin Elwell on July 29, 2021 at 11:06 am

      Bobby was a great man and an even greater gift to those of us around him. Thank you for such beautiful words.
      I lost my dear little sister this week. My heart is so broken it seriously hurts to take breathes at time.
      What a beautiful article. Pure class and love.
      I hope one day I will come to not go for cover as I cry missing my girl. But for now I to walk around singing my Sister’s last song from Frank Sinatra , Come Fly with Me

    • mari on July 29, 2021 at 3:01 pm

      Thanks Joe- but I’m sure I left out some of his stories!!