GriefSPEAK: Loneliness of the senses – Mari Nardolillo Dias

By: Dr. Mari Nardolillo Dias

Kuchisabishii:  “When you’re not hungry but you eat because your mouth is lonely”

Many of us experience mindless eating. Picking at a dish of potato chips on the coffee table without thought. Sometimes we “feel like something” but are unsure of what that “something” is – so we eat a host of different snacks, waiting for the aha! This is it! Or maybe we never find it.

The Japanese have one word that expresses another view – perhaps our eating is not mindless, but mindful. Our mouths are lonely. Loneliness often results in sadness and longing. This a provocative thought. Can grief create a “loneliness of the senses?” Yes. 

We all have “sensory memory”, where the 5 senses contain both short and long term memory. Our “lonely mouths” are missing the taste of a lingering kiss or the tingle of comfort food from childhood. Other senses may be lonely as well. Our olfactory senses miss the fragrance of perfume or the smell of a cigar.

Recently a client told me that the smell of cinnamon brings her a great sense of calm and peace as it reminds her of grandma’s baking on Christmas Eve. The lack or presence of certain sounds can result in either loneliness or fulfillment. A note from a song, the sound of the car grazing the gravel when their car pulled into the driveway at the end of a busy day. And of course, sight. Our eyes are lonely for the sight of a loved one and we may rely on objects or symbols as a replacement. 

Many of my grievers report overages; overeating, overdrinking, overworking, overthinking. Anything in excess. Our culture avoids loneliness and spins with machinations of avoidance by overdoing. It could be so much simpler. We can sit with the loneliness of the senses.


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: