GriefSpeak: We are all living and dying – Mari Dias

By: Mari Dias, contributing writer

“Shadows are fallin’ and I’m running out of breath

Keep me in your heart for a while

If I leave you it doesn’t mean I love you any less

Keep me in your heart for a while…” (Warren Zevon)

Live and Let Die

We are all living and dying. Simultaneously. Many of us do not know the day or the year in which we will die. We might have many years to live and many years to die. What about those who have been given a diagnosis with a time frame? Are they living for 6 more months or dying in 6 months? You have often heard me speak of “reframing.” In counseling, we try to reframe the client’s story without changing it. Just looking at it differently.

How do those individuals with a limited time frame handle the remaining period of time? Warren Zevon wrote the song “Keep Me in Your Heart” for his family when he knew he was dying. Marilyn Yalom co-authored the book “A Matter of Death and Life” with her husband Irvin when she was faced with a fatal diagnosis of multiple myeloma. Brittany Maynard’s diagnosis of brain cancer led her to opt for death with dignity, as did Marilyn Yalom.

A young woman that I follow on Instagram – the_original_outkastt – provides us with updated pictures and narratives of all she has faced and continues to face with her breast cancer. She has reframed her life and added to her life expectation.

A dear friend, Jack, was diagnosed with prostate cancer that had metastasized to his stomach and pelvic bone. He was given 6 months. At his 6 month appointment he asked the oncologist:

“Wasn’t I suppose to be dead by now?’

That was a year ago, and Jack just returned from a trip to Aruba.

Dee-Dee was diagnosed with stage 3 pancreatic cancer many years ago, and is alive and well to celebrate weddings and the births of her grandchildren.

Are these all the result of fate, or medical misdiagnosis? Or are they “God’s will” or with some, a “miracle”, or a trick by the universe?

We don’t know the answer. What we do know is we have a choice. We can choose HOW we spend the remaining days. No decision is right or wrong, but individualized and the choice of the patient.

There is a values clarification exercise that I use in class when I ask the students,

“You have only 10 minutes left to live. You can choose up to 10 people or less, but you must choose how long you will spend with each person. No amount of time may be the same. This exercise requires you to prioritize the people in your life. You cannot choose 10 people for1 minute each, or 5 people for 2 minutes each. You may choose one person for 1 minute 59 seconds, and another for 2 minutes, but again you may not choose any two people for the same amount of time.”

I invite you all to think of what your response would be to this question. No one wants to die with regrets. And as difficult as it is to watch a loved one know the approximate time left, as opposed to a sudden death, we all have our “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. 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:


Author, GriefSpeak

1 Comment

  1. Jo Parker on July 16, 2021 at 2:59 pm

    Was talking about this with another volunteer just this morning!
    Just started reading “Grief Speak” yesterday, POWERFUL”!!!!