GriefSpeak: The Gift of Goodbye

By: Dr. Mari Dias

“We long for the gift of goodbye…

Where do we go from here?

The sadness won’t just disappear

Watching the clock it never stops

Where do we go from here?” (Lyrics by Joe Matira/Dean Petrella, July 2020)

“Tis the season. Children have crafted their wish lists for Santa, families and friends play “Secret Santa” along with many a Facebook post that encourage us to join a virtual chain letter type gift-giving list to strangers. Perhaps to just make this particular season a bit brighter.

In an effort to maintain a semblance of reality and control, many families have their Christmas trees displayed by Thanksgiving, along with outdoor lights and holiday decorations in their yards. Windows display white candles, and front doors are dressed in extravagant wreaths. We all love this season. We all want this season. We all need this season.

There is a flurry of delivery trucks following black Monday, with many a doorstep crowded with boxes that display the Amazon logo. We love to give. This year we have a bit more time to ponder the perfect gift for our parents, children, brothers and sisters.

What’s on your wish list?

My clients have only one gift request. One that in former years would have been possible. Simple. Not this year. Not 2020.

“All I want for Christmas is the gift of goodbye.”

No amount of money or prayers can fulfill their wishes. Their parents die in nursing homes, hospital beds, hospice, assisted living. These settings are closed to visitors. Due to COVID.

Diane can wave to her grandmother from a window. A woman who raised her and had the greatest impact on who she is today. Paula and Kathy’s mom is in a nursing home with hospice care. Kiel’s daughter was in a horrific car accident, but he cannot sit by her side as she struggles for each breath.

Liam is on life support following an accidental overdose: he is alone when the medical team determines that he is brain dead and sends in the transplant team to harvest his organs. No one knew he had checked off organ donor on his driver’s license.

Oh sure, we have FaceTime. A technological appeasement that cannot replace human presence. Most will die alone. Without the human touch of hand over hand, without the stroking of their hair, without a kiss or a hug. Dying alone is often reported by human beings as their biggest fear.

Following the death, we face more restrictions. Limited visitation at the funeral home. Limited presence at the church/mosque/synagogue.

“Can we just stand outside their gravesite and have a small memorial service?” No.

We grieve for ourselves, for the interrupted life, like immersing ourselves in a sizeable novel only to find the last page had been ripped out.  

Allow me to ask a rhetorical question. Is this fair or unfair? Given the risk of COVID do you respect the edicts to “stay away?” Or… would you rather take a risk for that one and only gift you require?

The gift of goodbye.


Dr. Mari Dias is a nationally board-certified counselor, holds a Fellow in Thanatology and is certified in both grief counseling and complicated grief.

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. Brother Bobby on December 4, 2020 at 1:36 pm

    Great article!

    • Mari Dias on December 4, 2020 at 9:37 pm

      Thanks for the kudos Bob!
      Sister Mari