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GriefSPEAK: Surviving Grief – Mari Nardolillo Dias

By: Mari Nardolllo Dias

“Don’t you know I’m still standing better than ever did… looking like a true survivor…” (Elton John)

Deb Manzo McDonald posted the following on social media: “42 days ago, life as I know it once again changed, and left me on a path I was not ready for”. She was referring to the passing of her husband, Joe Mac, following the death of her first born son, JoJo, five years earlier.  Deb knows the depth of her pain and personal loss is renewed, yet she is still standing due to her faith in God.

Initially we grieve our loved one with a “halo effect”, choosing to sift through the memories and hold only the good ones close to our hearts. Deb feels that we cannot pick and choose memories – they come spontaneously both the good and the bad.  She has found solace in posting pictures along with a grief narrative on social media. I often encourage my clients to journal. Deb finds an open journal to all her followers very healing. And so do her followers. Many have suggested that by Deb making her grief public, it has helped them. As the famous poet John Donne said:

“He who has no time to mourn has not time to heal.”

Deborah recognizes how important it is to prioritize her grief over all of life’s responsibilities. We need to not just take the time, but make the time. No matter how long it may take. Deb’s strong faith is what keeps her standing and moving. Surviving. Her faith fuels her hope. Despite all that is occurring around us, we might consider following in Deb’s footsteps. Surviving and eventually thriving through faith and hope for the future.

As many of you know, Deb is the director of Adult Teen Challenge Rhode Island, a long-term inpatient recovery program for women and girls, whose motto is: “Love them (the girls) back to life. “These girls give Deb as much love as she provides them. Adult Teen Challenge is rooted in the belief in and commitment to God. Research also tells us that religion/spirituality is the most powerful, effective way to sobriety. A higher power. Deb tells the girls that.

“I am keeping my eyes on Jesus, and I know that God is still moving”. Does she weep? Of course. Yet her faith-fueled hope overrides the pain of loss. She laments the loss of Joe, as he lifted the girls with his encouragement and antics. She is committed to move on in her efforts to see God work in their lives. How and why? She accomplishes this by her authenticity and sharing her powerful faith. Why? So, they can all share her hope as they fight their addiction.

The women’s home exists for the girls to heal. To change their lives. And their future in and with God.

It is this faith and hope that provides the opportunity to survive and thrive that prompts Deb to once again offer the annual 5K. For the past four years, it has been her privilege to honor the memory and legacy of her son, JoJo. This year, the 5th Annual 5K will honor the legacy of both JoJo, and her husband, Joe Mac, as well as celebrate both the girl’s accomplishments and those who have graduated, victorious in this battle. Carrying the torch.

Deb warmly invites us to join her once again as we run forward with them in memory of our loved ones who have passed. Let’s survive and thrive with the FAITH that grounds us in HOPE in GOD.

“As long as I am alive, my son JoJo, and my husband JoeMac will never be forgotten” (Deborah Manzo McDonald)

May 7, 2022


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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: . She is the author of GriefSpeak, vol. 1, Stories of Loss


  1. Jane Flatley on January 27, 2022 at 3:12 pm

    This is for Mari…
    You do one of the most important, daunting and necessary tasks for those suffering from loss.
    I come from a culture of that Kennedy-esque facade of burying one’s grief under layers of denial, blame and responsibility. By doing so, we parlay the grief into depression that circles the drain of a meaningful life. We say ,” no, I’m fine, I’m doing okay”, and deny ourselves and our friends the gift of healing.
    On behalf of all of those in grief, I thank you for putting your skills out there to help, with the grace of God, heal the wounds of loss.

  2. Patricia Geremia on January 22, 2022 at 4:26 pm

    Having been a close friend of Deborah’s for over 20 yrs, I’ve seen it all.
    Since JoeMac’s passing there’s a titanium strength that’s rose up in Deb. Her mourning turned into power from Holy Spirit spreading a blanket of love out to anyone who takes the time to read her posts. Her love went from spreading it out to the residents at Adult Teen Challenge & her friends/family to that of a global mission.
    Thank you, Mari, for showing your followers just who our amazing friend is. Blessings.

  3. Jennifer Mehlinger on January 22, 2022 at 1:43 am

    You may not remember me and my incessant ramblings when we met a couple of times at Teen Challenge Rhode Island but I definitely remember your wonderful insight and absolute spot on point of view about the challenges of grief, in all its forms. Grief manifests itself in so many different ways and you are brilliant in how you recognize that and hold out your hand to guide others through the tremendously volatile ups and downs of the whole process. You pulled out in ME things I didn’t even know were an issue and it brought me closer to my other sisters in Christ at Teen Challenge. If it weren’t for the LOVE and PATIENCE of Deb McDonald I would never have been able to come to the foot of the cross and I would never have started my relationship with Jesus Christ. Deb is one of the kindest and most generous people I know and my heart is broken knowing the kind of heartache she’s experiencing in this season. Walk with Deb and her army of supporters in memory of the two amazing fellows that she’s lost and to support the rebirth of women who desperately deserve a last chance to come back to life. I would have died if I hadn’t found Teen Challenge Rhode Island and Deb McDonald. God had bigger plans for me.

  4. Paula Ferdinandi on January 21, 2022 at 9:58 am

    Thank you for sharing Deborah’s story!

    • Mari Dias on January 22, 2022 at 1:18 am

      Thank you Paula. It’s an important story that everyone needs to read!