GriefSpeak - Grief with both death and non-death losses

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Loss is Loss

GriefSpeak - Grief with both death and non-death losses

by Dr. Mari Dias

There is grief associated with both death and non-death losses.

They have been sexually abused as children, trafficked as adolescents and adults, jailed, homeless, living on the streets and compromised their self-worth through prostitution, stealing and neglecting their children. Regina was sexually abused by her father at age 11, Donna’s father shot her up at age 10. She lived in a storage unit for 2 years and has 3 children in foster care.  They will all tell you that they thought this was normal living. Addicted, negligent parents, Susan was raped at age 16. The women have lost loved ones, their identities, their virginity, their children and their childhoods to active addiction. All these girls turned to drugs as a coping mechanism for the horrors they endured and the losses they experienced to opioid deaths. Yes, some became addicted to opiates from a surgery or injury, some to peer pressure despite a loving home but- they are all addicts. More importantly they are all addicts in recovery. You can see the before and after pictures on their website and Facebook page. You’ll understand.

I know their stories well.  I am a clinical volunteer at Teen Challenge Rhode Island, and I’ve sat with them once a week for the past two years. This is where these girls live for 15 months, where thousands of broken women have come and successfully graduated for the past 25 years. The  unassuming building on 572  Elmwood Avenue belies the miracles that occur behind these modest doors. Of course, there is pain, hurt, guilt and shame, and a grief that is tangible. It’s not emotional baggage they carry, but rather “griefcases.” Without the drugs, they have no eraser. Every emotion, interaction and behavior are new. They are like newborns in sobriety.  

Deborah Manzo McDonald is the director of TCRI and has been with them in several capacities for the past 25 years. She and her staff “love the residents back to life”; however, the irony is apparent. Deborah lost her son, a prominent Connecticut attorney, to an accidental overdose just three years ago. How does one save all these women yet is unable to save her son? Her grief manifests itself differently than most people. Of course, she has experienced the numbing, surreal, heartbreak of the loss of her first- born son. She has been unable to stop her tears or leave her room. She has sat with photo albums of JoJo for hours on end. It’s been three years and she still has trouble believing he is gone. Yet Deborah has a strong faith and an abiding love for God. She has put her grief in his hands and asked Him to direct her through a life without her son.

I shared a telling story with Deborah, about a man who lost his 18 year- old daughter. At the cemetery the minister asked the man:

“If God said to you at your daughter’s birth, ‘I’m giving you this precious, baby girl, but I will need to take her back in 18 years, would you still want her?” The man sobbed and responded “yes.”

As did Deborah and I expect many of you as well. We grieve for ourselves, for what we have lost: a child, a parent, a childhood, our innocence.

TCRI celebrates its 25 years at their banquet on October 20, 2019 at 4pm at the Venus de Milo. The audience will be filled with both grateful and grieving families, as well as friends, volunteers and donors. All are welcome to purchase a ticket and celebrate the girls and their testimonies. Please join Deborah and the women as they celebrate the unpacking of their griefcases. (401)-467-2970.


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 the director of GracePointe Grief Center, in North Kingstown, RI.  For more information, go to: