Mary Lou Holland of East Falmouth, a grief therapist who spent many years helping people find hope and even joy after loss and sorrow, died at home on December 24. She was 90.
“When a real crisis happens, you learn that you can be desperate and bitter, or you can grow from it. We only grow through pain, unfortunately, and the hope is that we will grow in compassion and empathy,” Ms. Holland said during an interview with the Enterprise in 1997. “It is essential for survivors to talk about their grief.”
More than 20 years before that conversation, Ms. Holland’s then 16-year-old son, Gerald, was diagnosed with epitelial sarcoma, a form of cancer, and given six months to live. Shortly after their 1976 return from a Rudolf Steiner clinic in Switzerland, where Gerald began to recover, another son, 18-year-old Brendan, was killed in a car accident. Reeling with pain, Ms. Holland went to a lecture by Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, lecturer and author of several books on death and loss, and decided she wanted to work and study with her.
In 1980 she moved to Escondido, California, where Dr. Kübler-Ross was working. At first Ms. Holland, a former music and voice teacher, served as gardener, chauffeur and errand girl, but gradually became part of the doctor’s team. Ms. Holland began to lead Dr. Kübler-Ross’s “Life, Death and Transition” workshops and helped to put together and proofread her mentor’s book “Of Children and Death.”
While working with Dr. Kübler-Ross, Ms. Holland suffered two more blows; the suicide of her son, Daniel Carbone, in 1983, and the death of her husband, Patrick Quirk, in 1985.
“I think we all have our path in life and this, obviously, is mine. It’s not so much what happens to you, it’s how you deal with it. Everyone has tragedies in their lives. Some people get stuck and can’t move on, but the most important lesson you can learn is that time is very precious,” she said.
Originally from Georgetown, she was raised in South Groveland and spent some years of her childhood without running water. She attended St. James High School in Haverhill. After graduation, she considered joining a charitable order of nuns but decided not to. She graduated from Bradford College in her 30s and earned a master’s degree from Lesley College when she was 55. She held degrees in psychology and counseling.
Helping others cope with loss led Ms. Holland all over the country and the world. She directed the hospice in Santa Rosa, California, from 1990 to 1993.
Ms. Holland spent many summers in Vineyard Haven before purchasing her home in East Falmouth in 1980.
In 1986 she facilitated a workshop with Dr. Kübler-Ross at Ben Burb monastery in Armagh, Ireland, and helped develop the Youth Reconciliation Group, a program designed to bring together Protestant and Catholic children in Northern Ireland. She would return each summer to Northern Ireland to work at some of the Ben Burb conference sites. She was of Irish descent and her late husband was from Ireland. She said she felt at home each time she stepped off the plane in Ireland.
Ms. Holland did volunteer training and lecturing with Hospice of Cape Cod; helped to found the Upper Cape chapter of Compassionate Friends, a support group for parents whose children have died; and worked for five years as a social worker with the Falmouth Early Childbearing Program. She also taught piano at Riverview School in Sandwich.
When Falmouth’s newly formed Circle of Life group that grew out of the Together We Can program contacted her in 1997, Ms. Holland planned three workshops on understanding grief and loss to offer support to anyone in the community who was suffering. The first was aimed at the public, the second designed for parents and children, and the final workshop discussed the many losses, both physical and emotional, facing the elderly. She incorporated artistic imagery in the program she designed for children.
During the summer of that same year, Ms. Holland traveled to Johannesburg, South Africa, for a conference on women who had grown up in violent countries. Also that season, she hosted Deirdre Kee of Belfast, Ireland, one of the founders of the Peace People, a group of women who joined to stop the violence in Northern Ireland.
She served as an outreach coordinator for the Mashpee Council on Aging and, for the Bourne Council on Aging, led a “Caring For Elders At Home” workshop that featured emotional and spiritual healing of the caregiver. “Reaching the Age of Wisdom” presented at Falmouth Senior Center discussed losses that people face as they grow older—of friends, of physical abilities, of independence.
She was a part of a 2004-2005 series of 10 seminars on the health, safety, and lifestyle of adults over 55 hosted by the Bourne COA, and taught “Spirituality and Healthy Aging; The Role of Spirituality in Coping with Stress, Depression and Addiction” as her contribution.
She was a participant of Neighborhood Falmouth and a member of the Buddhist community.
Ms. Holland continued to offer grief counseling well into her 80s.
Her advice for people who want to help a grieving friend: “It’s not what you say, it’s how you listen. There are things that are beyond words. Give them a hug. Be there for them.”
She leaves eight children; a sister; many nieces, nephews and grandchildren; and other extended family.
Ms. Holland was preceded in death by three children and her other sister.