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GriefSPEAK: Believe it or not – Mari Nardolillo Dias, EdD

by Mari Nardolillo Dias, EdD, contributing writer

Martha, my 65 year-old client was experiencing a vague lethargy and fatigue. Nothing she could put the “proverbial finger” on. Of course, it could be physical grief over the death of her mother, yet despite the vagueness, she was concerned, albeit a bit worried because it had been going on for weeks.

We discussed her fear of going to the doctor as well as the reasoning behind it. She knew she needed to get checked. She did. Finally, her primary care doctor sent her for some customary blood work and in the interim prescribed a multivitamin.

Two weeks passed before I saw Martha again. She was still fatigued and very worried. Her blood work came back abnormal in some key features, and her doctor referred her to Dana Farber for a CAT scan. The initial CAT scan was the first of dozens of tests. This went on for months. Without any answers. The doctors in Boston told her she was a “very complicated case” and concluded with a biopsy. The biopsy, along with the SCANS and other uncomfortable procedures revealed  cancer. Cancer of the lymph nodes. And cancer of the bone.

Understandably, Martha was devastated. She and her husband drove home from Boston in silence, both thinking the same thing. What now? A future of chemotherapy and radiation. I would now take off my grief therapy cape and become her death doula. 

On a separate note, I had an appointment with a local medium, Deb Squizzero, shortly after my last session with Martha. I had some questions for my dad. At one point during my reading, Deb said, “Whose Martha?” Do you know a Martha here on earth?” “Well, yes,”  I replied, “but she is a client. I cannot understand why my dad would mention her.” “Dad is telling me that she is the Martha to whom he is referring .” 
Okay, so I thought this interchange was at the minimum, very weird. “Deb, it’s so strange dad would be bringing up Martha, as she was just diagnosed with cancer of both the lymph nodes and bone.” Deb said she was getting “tingles” when she shared the following: “Your dad is telling me “no”, and I’m feeling a tightness in my chest, my lungs. Dad is saying “No, Martha does not have cancer.” “Well, that is wrong, because she had a biopsy. At Dana Farber. It’s the final diagnosis,”  I argued. 

Deb was adamant. “Dad keeps telling me it’s not cancer. It is something called sarcoidosis. I don’t know what that is, but he is insistent.”Following a 90-minute reading full of messages and advice from family members who have passed, we said our goodbyes.

This week I received a text from Martha requesting a session. When she arrived she seemed different. She didn’t even sit down before she began to speak. “Mari, my husband and I have prayed the rosary every morning since the diagnosis. We go to church every Sunday. I’m here to tell you that miracles do occur! I had an invasive procedure where they removed an entire lymph node to examine and biopsy. It’s not cancer! I don’t have cancer! I have something that is entirely treatable. I will live to be old and see my grandchildren grow up.”

“What’s the new diagnosis”, I asked in a whisper, fearful of the answer. Martha replied, “Well I can’t really pronounce it. It is Sarcoidosis. “Believe it… or not…


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:

1 Comment

  1. Joann Gaudioso on February 25, 2024 at 8:27 am

    Wow, just wow

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