GriefSPEAK: Retirement. Fear of freedom – Mari Nardolillo Dias

by Dr. Mari Nardolillo Dias, contributing writer

Retirement: “Act of retreating, act of falling back.” act of withdrawing into seclusion” 

Why does everyone congratulate us when we announce our retirement? For many, it is bitter, for some sweet, and for others, bittersweet. I find retirement sad, a sign that I am winding down in life. The tasks required of me today are the same tasks that challenged me, projects that motivated me, many for which I volunteered. Today they overwhelm me. I avoid them. I do not volunteer. Some may refer to this as quietly quitting. Am I retreating? Withdrawing into seclusion?  

I submitted my retirement letter this time last year, only to rescind it a month later. (Before Brady)! I was concerned about the economy and its potential effects on my husband’s /son’s manufacturing firm. I acquiesced to the golden handcuffs and stayed on. Now, this year, I’m tired. Last year I could look in the mirror and still see the young me. Today I struggle to find her.  

I love teaching. I love my students. I don’t love the administrative requirements and commitments. The ones that use to excite me. I have met with varying reactions to this decision. Some think I’m crazy. “People die soon after they retire, Mari! You no longer have a purpose, a passion, an investment in life.” Others proffer: “You are so lucky! Now you have time to do everything you always wanted to do!”   

I have always done what I wanted to do. I always made/make time. Never turned down an opportunity, and I am thankful for that. Traveled around the world. Fulfilled a dream of a Fulbright to South Africa. Danced from sunset to sunrise. Attended every concert. Spent a large portion of summers on the Block. Sailed the Bay, kayaked Wickford Harbor, SCUBA diving in the Caribbean and Madagascar. Visited Robbins Island where Mandela was imprisoned, and met Desmond Tutu. I have not been saving up on time…  

I don’t golf, or play tennis. I’m not a big fan of shopping, or “lunches”. I am a restless learner – always have been, and always will be, and so, I will read. I will teach part time. I will continue my GracePointe Grief practice and speaking engagements on grief. Yet there is a sadness and a bit of fear. Sartre would comment there is a fear when confronted with unbridled freedom. It is not the freedom that is sad, scary. It is the beginning of good-byes in my life.

I procrastinate emptying my office of twenty-plus years. A drawing of a jazz musician playing his trumpet hangs on my wall, carefully crafted by “my guys” in Men’s Maximum, with pencil and coffee grinds. Another charcoal drawing, a collective piece of imagination comes to life by a cadre of many inmates. It features a woman kneeling before a priest at Notre Dame, whose sign translates to “Confessions and Dialogue.”

There are gifts from the thousands of students who have crossed this threshold. An index card, taped to my door boasts the Korean meaning of my name “An imaginative genius.” If I open the drawers in the credenza, old paper copies of midterms, finals, and scantrons spill out. Items of the past. All tests are online now, graded immediately by computer and automatically posted to the grade center. There are at least a half dozen little plaques with motivational sayings, the predecessors of memes. One last copy of each of the documentaries I produced, dusty in their DVD jackets. Scraps of thank you notes from students.

Emails from renowned psychologists, printed out and taped to an already crowded window. Many of these treasures face outward, not facing me as I sit at my desk as my corner office but at the intersection of “Psychology Row”, a waypoint for lost students. So many years looking back. My 40th birthday invitation was entitled “A Retrospective.” Thirty years later crammed with many more unexpected memories to include in that category.  

When re-reading this I’m struck with my tangent that reads like a life review. I am grieving a non-death loss. 

Fortuitously, I just picked up a book that was on my coffee table for over six months. It seemed lost in a pile of a dozen of the same. All just waiting to be read. Waiting for a school break. Or retirement? Given the serendipitous nature of life, I am not surprised that the book I pulled out of the middle of the pile today, title unseen until now – Lifespan: Why We Age– and Why We don’t have to” by David Sinclair. I’ll take it as God wink!” 


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. Robin Wilkinson on February 17, 2023 at 7:00 pm

    Mari this article is fantastic! I had so many thoughts and feelings when I made the decision to retire, and I still do.