An airplane flying in the sky with clouds.

GriefSPEAK: Daniella 2022, from Life of Sighs – Mari Nardolillo Dias

by Mari Nardolillo Dias, contributing writer


I have not yet opened the box. The one I found in the cedar chest while packing. I’m not sure what made me decide to look in the chest. It’s always been a staple in the house – a ubiquitous item that served many purposes. Legend has it that it was crafted by and given to my bisnonna by her first “suitor” and when she met my bisnonno, both the suitor and the chest were discarded. Eventually the chest (minus the suitor) was resurrected and passed through the family. Its final destination was in our home, and given that it was very low to the ground, it served as a way station for items, that eventually needed to make it upstairs.

“Daniella, please fold the clothes and pile them on top of the chest. Daniella, stand on the chest so I can pin the hem on your uniform. Daniella, place your lunch box and schoolbooks on the chest.”  Its contents never piqued my curiosity. I never even asked. I assumed it was stuffed with homemade Afghans and blankets that appeared and disappeared with the seasons. I don’t know what made me open it while in a hurry to pack.

That is when I saw the box. Not hidden, nothing surreptitious about its existence. The box sat right on top of the suspected blankets. Begging to be discovered. To be opened. To be read. I picked it up, and suspicious of its contents, I slipped it into my carry-on bag. Hours later, high above the Atlantic Ocean I’m still not ready to discover what I might find. Appearances mean nothing. It’s an 11×14 plain, black, cardboard box, heavy in content and wrapped with thick rubber bands. On the surface it appears non-threatening yet the heaviness in my chest suggests otherwise.  

Both the interior and exterior of the plane are dark.  Most travelers take advantage of the red-eye schedule and are sleeping soundly, unmoving. As if in a womb. I’m like a frenetic fetus who is unable to be still, as my thoughts thrash back and forth with memories, both shared with and hidden from me. Perhaps the black box contains answers to my lifetime of questions. Or… perhaps it includes contents that result in more questions? Maybe there are simply old photo albums, memorabilia from bygone days. What will I find? I find myself sweating with possibilities. I recognize the irony, as I could save myself the bloated perseveration by simply opening the damn box. I think I am afraid of both what I might, or might not, find. What do I expect?

Eventually, safe in this cocoon, surrounded by strangers I will open it. Before we land in Brussels.


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: