GriefSpeak - “This is not the right story”

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Tell people you love them.

GriefSpeak - “This is not the right story”

Mari Dias, EdD, NCC, FT, GC-C, CG-C

(This is a weekly column that focuses on various aspects of grief and bereavement. Please feel free to email with questions. Responses will be included in the following week’s column.)


A client recently began his first session with the statement, “This is the not the right story.” He said this with anger, regret and a sense of incredulity. Upon further query he explained that he and his wife had just retired, looking forward to a cross country trip in their newly purchased camper. They were very excited about the prospect of this long and well - planned journey which included an itinerary that was months in the making. The camper was packed for a six - month trip, fueled up and ready to go. This was the right story. As they packed some snacks for the trip, his wife began to complain of a canker sore in her mouth which was a bit aggravating. They decided to make a quick stop to the dentist for some topical medication before heading out to the highway. This is where the wrong story begins. My client sat in the driver’s seat of the camper as his wife ran in to the dentist’s office.

That one visit changed the trajectory of their trip and their lives. The dentist immediately biopsied the sore and diagnosed her with mouth cancer, later to be determined caused by undiagnosed HPV. Their trip across country was immediately modified to trips to oncology centers around the country - Dana Farber, Mayo Clinic, University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center and Sloan Kettering. Each visit was fraught with second, third, fourth opinions and surgeries, chemotherapy, radiation, reoccurrence, new sores. She died one year later having never taken their dream trip.

It was one month after her death that my client came to me with his statement “This is not the right story.” He was in shock, angry, feeling guilty and blame, trying to make sense of a life that took an unwelcomed, devastating turn.

We all have a story, the right story, that includes plans and dreams- but death requires us to rewrite the chapter and often the entire story. Do not misunderstand me - I do not encourage you to live in anxiety-ridden state waiting for the next shoe to fall with interrupted thoughts of death. I simply encourage you to be aware that your story, my story, our stories are written in pencil. At any time, parts of it can be erased.

I suggest we all live our lives without regrets. Tell people you love them. Don’t take anything or anyone for granted. Celebrate the people and the moment, bask in what you have and be prepared to write a different story.

Be well.


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: