A woman's hair is blowing in the wind.

GriefSPEAK: Life of Sighs, continued – Mari Nardolillo Dias

by: Mari Nardolillo Dias

(Continued from 11/18/22)

I possess pathetic few memories of my own that prove my childhood existed. It is best described as silent. Mother married Father in 1976 in what might be considered an arranged marriage: Papa was a stone cutter of local renown and carved the majority of gravestones in our town. He interacted with funeral directors on a regular basis, so it was quite common for Papa to bring home potential suitors for his twins.

Zia Frankie was not a likely bride; her reputation as a wild child preceded her. In later years, Mother would suggest that she provided me with a redacted version of Zia’s life. Zia was a great party partner, but not marrying material. Mother (Tomasina/Tommy), on the other hand, was quiet, demure, obsessively organized, and seemed to be a perfect match. Marco Martuccio married my mother, Tomasina Mary Aiello, in an elaborate, ostentatious, Catholic cathedral with only Zia Frankie as the maid of honor, and Father’s brother, Davio, as best man. Zia Frankie inappropriately entertained the small group at the reception with her rendition of Stevie Nick’s “Stop Dragging My Heart Around, performed as her alter ego of Annie Drajonee, her biological drag queen name.   

Father turned out to be a domineering angry man. They lived above Father’s funeral home and house rules were posted on the kitchen wall. Number One was in black marker, bold-faced in a large font:  

“Silence” from 8am-9:30pm. 

This rule was essential to father, given (according to him) “the sensitivity of his work and the timing of families making arrangements for cremations, wakes, funerals, and the prearrangements.”

Mother always followed the rules. 

Rule 2:  No cooking or odor of food (particularly garlic) coming from our apartment 

upstairs within the same time frame. Consequently, Mother cooked after 9:30 pm with the windows open regardless of weather, and refrigerated the food. The rules indicated that she was not allowed to use the microwave to warm up the food she prepared the night before, as the hum and the “beep” were distracting. Mother told me years later that “if she forgot to take the food out early in the morning to warm it at room temperature, we had to eat it anyway. “That was the reason why everything was cold. “

Father also disallowed Mother from using the funeral home car: She was terrified of public transportation and not one for taking a walk; she spent most of her days cleaning, reading and watching television on mute. 

In my adolescence I temporarily suspected that my birth was the result of an immaculate conception as I cannot imagine Mother and Father having sex. Mother shared that Father never saw her naked. She dressed and undressed in the closet and always wore a nightgown for ease of access. Not immaculate, just common, ordinary, missionary sexual position. However, Father routinely and faithfully took a condom out of his night table drawer and donned it. Knowingly. He did not want children. His unknowing and undoing was Mother’s ruse. She had pricked each condom with a pin. That is the only time she won. Shortly thereafter she was pregnant, and father was astounded.

Mother panicked at the thought of maintaining silence with a newborn infant and took it as a challenge. Subsequently I was always in Mother’s arms and/or with a pacifier in my mouth. As a toddler I did not speak. I learned how to understand/read by lip reading the characters on television as well as the closed captioning. [Sighs] Mother excelled at it. As did I.

To be continued next week.

Disclaimer: Any association with individuals, living or dead is pure coincidence. 


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: