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GriefSPEAK: Safe, family time memories of childhood sick days – Mari Nardolillo Dias

by Mari Nardolillo Dias, contributing writer on grief and grieving

I chewed a Bayer aspirin, 81 mg, this morning. I felt a undefinable, uncontrollable pull, like the canister at the bank drive-up window. Woosh. My destination was my childhood. And the soft, warm, safe feeling of being home, sick.

These moments always included: flat ginger ale (Mom would shake it until all the bubbles disappeared). Then came one of my favorite comfort foods, graham crackers in milk (like cereal, only better!). Distractions from both sore throats and boredom were purchased – one of my favorites was Colorforms (add books and paper dolls, as well!). Hot cloths. Cold cloths. A pediatrician who would take off one of our socks and try to throw it in our mouths. (In retrospect, what was he thinking?!) 

I vividly recall a time when we (my 3 brothers and I) had Chicken Pox. Off to the tub with baking soda to stop the itching. That bathtub holds so many other memories. Saturday night bath night. Mom and Dad had company (and they always brought us a pound of chocolate covered cherries!), which Bobby and I would take the entire box into the tub, attempting to outdo each other with the creativity of the variations of the chocolate–cherry game. But, I digress.

It was winter and 4 children stuck in the house, standing at the picture window, only imagining what we were missing. We prayed for the scabs that would make us “uncatchy” to go away, and just when we reached that point, we were all diagnosed with Scarlet Fever. And so, more Colorforms, coloring books, board games were purchased, as we recovered from an extended quarantine. However, during this quarantine my brother, Bobby, bored and tempted, decided to light something, (I can’t remember what it was, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was just the match, but he dropped it and lit himself! We were in our very cute, but highly flammable, 1950’s pajamas, which caused his lap to flame. Add a nasty burn to his Chicken Pox and Scarlet Fever. Bobby was mischievous.

We lived at Lido’s Beach in the summers, and every Sunday morning Nanny gave us each a quarter to buy “something” at “Adam’s” (across from Scarborough – remember?). Oftentimes it was a favorite candy or ice cream sandwich. A “big win” was an Archie comic book. One Sunday we returned to the house and Nanny asked us what we purchased. Out of the nine grandchildren, two saved their quarter, five of us bought candy necklaces, and one purchased a pencil holder. When it came to Bobby, he said: “I couldn’t find anything to buy! Everything I wanted was too much money, and I had to buy something! So, I bought a mouse trap….”

But I digress. Again. Many of you are aware that my brother Bobby died almost two years ago. I sat down today to write about the aspirin, but my stream of consciousness has taken me places I didn’t expect. And yet… I am going to see a medium tonight. Perhaps Bobby is too excited to wait, and he came through early!

Thanks to all for indulging me!


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: