grief – StoryCorps

“It Feels Like a Gift”: How Taking a Name Kept One Man’s Legacy Alive

In 1981, the death of 21-year-old Cameroonian man Acha Mbiwan devastated his family. Losing Acha — known for his mischievous sense of humor and prodigious intelligence — sent shockwaves through the family’s tight-knit community.  

For more than 40 years, they found it difficult to even speak about Acha. But little did they know that Acha had befriended an American man in college named Atiba, who was so moved by Acha’s death that he took his friend’s last name, Mbiwan, as a tribute.

In 2012, Acha’s sisters Didi Ndando and Egbe Monjimbo learned of Atiba’s existence after stumbling across him on the internet. All three sat down for StoryCorps to talk about what happened next.

This story was adapted from the StoryCorps Podcast. To hear the full story, listen to the episode: “One Who Is Understanding

Top Photo: Didi Ndando, Atiba Mbiwan, and Egbe Monjimbo at a reunion for Atiba’s family in Atlanta in 2014. Courtesy of Egbe Monjimbo.
Middle Photo: Acha Mbiwan posing in a photo booth in 1980 in Paris, France. Courtesy of Egbe Monjimbo.

This broadcast is supported in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private corporation funded by the American people, and the National Endowment for the Arts. Originally aired December 2, 2022, on NPR’s Morning Edition

Your support makes it possible for StoryCorps, an independently funded nonprofit, to collect, archive, and share the stories of people from all backgrounds because everyone’s stories deserve to be heard.


A Special Project To Keep Dad’s Memory Alive

Since he was in high school, Al Plumley could be found under the hood of a car, fixing it himself.

In high school, Al Plumley treasured his blue Mustang. Courtesy of Ashley Cosme.

When he raised his three daughters in Northern Indiana, he spent a lot of time teaching them about his passion for fixing up old cars.

Al Plumley (center) with his wife and daughters in 2021. Courtesy of Ashley Cosme.

Al died in October of 2021. His middle daughter, Ashley Cosme, came to StoryCorps with her husband, Nicholas, to talk about how they are keeping his memory alive.

Top Photo: Ashley and Nicholas Cosme at their StoryCorps interview in Chicago, Illinois on July 27, 2022. Taken for StoryCorps.

This broadcast is supported in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private corporation funded by the American people, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Originally aired Friday, August 5, on NPR’s Morning Edition.

Ten Years Later: Remembering Aurora Shooting Victim Alex Sullivan

On July 20, 2012, a gunman shot and killed 12 people in a packed movie theater in Aurora, Colorado. One of the victims was Alex Sullivan. He was celebrating his birthday that night — something he had done since he was a small child. Alex and a group of friends planned to see a midnight showing of the latest Batman film, just as he turned 27.

His parents, Tom and Terry Sullivan, came to StoryCorps five years after his murder, and then again near the 10th anniversary of his death, to remember Alex, and share how they honor him and other victims of gun violence in the country.

Terry Sullivan holds a photo of her son, Alex. 
Top Photo: Tom and Terry Sullivan at their StoryCorps interview in Centennial, CO on July 9, 2022. By Annie Russell for StoryCorps. 

This broadcast is supported in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private corporation funded by the American people, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Originally aired July 15, 2022, on NPR’s Morning Edition.

Doctor Remembers The Lasting Impact Of A Small Gesture

Robert Carolla was just 11 years old when his brother, John, died of Leukemia. It was a dark and quiet time for the family as they grieved the loss of their youngest child.

Norma Carolla (left) with her sons, John (center) and Robert (right), taken in the early 1950s.
Courtesy of Robert Carolla.

Robert later went on to become an oncologist, helping many patients and their families through treatment, and sometimes loss.

During his career, Robert often reflected on a small gesture from his brother’s doctor and the impact it had on his family as they grieved.

At StoryCorps, Dr. Carolla sat down with his wife, Margaret, to remember how it shaped his own career.

Top Photo: Dr. Robert Carolla and Margaret Carolla at their StoryCorps interview in Springfield, Missouri. By Sonia Kinkhabwala for StoryCorps.

This broadcast is supported in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private corporation funded by the American people, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Originally aired Friday, July 8, 2022, on NPR’s Morning Edition.

These Memories Shaped His Journey Into Hospice Work

Having built a career in hospice care, Hajime Issan Koyama, known simply as Issan, has many experiences with death, and with bringing comfort to people in their final moments. 

He made his way into a  caregiving role after he found himself at the epicenter of the 1980s AIDS epidemic in New York City, where he witnessed many of his friends and colleagues die. 

But the experiences that laid the foundation for his concept of death and dying go back to his childhood growing up in Japan, and his favorite grandmother.

He came to StoryCorps July of 2015 with his husband, Paul Boos, to share those memories. 

Paul Boos and Hajime Issan Koyama at their StoryCorps interview in New York City on July 17, 2015. By Mitra Bonshahi for StoryCorps.
Top Photo: Hajime Issan Koyama at his StoryCorps interview in New York City on July 17, 2015. By Mitra Bonshahi for StoryCorps.

Originally aired May 13, on NPR’s Morning Edition.

“Our Bodies Are Just A Shell;” A Mother’s Wisdom On Life And Death

One fall day in 1999, Carolyn DeFord’s mother, a Puyallup tribal member, disappeared on her way to a friend’s house in La Grande, Oregon, and was never seen again. It’s just one case in the nationwide crisis of missing or murdered Indigenous women.

Carolyn first came to StoryCorps in 2019 to remember receiving the phone call that her mother, Leona Kinsey, had gone missing.

Leona Kinsey pictured at her home in La Grande, OR. (Courtesy Carolyn DeFord.)

But she still had more she wanted to share, so two years later, she came back to reflect on how she carries her mother’s disappearance and remember the stories that have given her comfort and hope in her healing journey.

Carolyn’s grandson, Caspian Hayes, soon after his birth in October of 2021. (Courtesy Carolyn DeFord.)
Top Photo: Carolyn DeFord at her StoryCorps interview on January 24, 2019 in Renton, WA. Carolyn poses with the Missing poster for her mother, Leona Kinsey, who went missing October 1999,
Dupe Oyebolu for StoryCorps.

Originally aired December 3, 2021 on NPR’s Morning Edition. 

As The Curtain Goes Up —Two Performers Remember “Phantom’s” Beloved Costume Dresser

Phantom of the Opera had its Broadway premiere in 1988, at the Majestic Theatre. Not long after its opening, Jennifer Arnold would become a permanent fixture on the crew, working as a costume dresser for over thirty years. 

Jennifer Arnold, courtesy of Janet Saia.

Jen embodied the spirit of the theater world, with a quirky sense of style and an enigmatic spark. She was also known for creating intricate matchboxes with photos and glitter, giving them as gifts to members of the cast and crew. Each one, intentionally designed for the person.

Janet Saia’s collection of matchboxes gifted to her by Jennifer Arnold. Courtesy of Janet Saia.

When the COVID-19 Pandemic shut down Broadway, the theaters closed their doors. Within a matter of weeks, Jen would pass away. 

Kelly Jeanne Grant and Janet Saia are two performers for the show. They came to StoryCorps as the show reopened in 2021 to remember their friend, and the impact she had on their lives.

Janet Saia and Kelly Grant in costume backstage at the Majestic Theatre in January of 2016. Courtesy of Janet Saia. 
Top Photo: From left to right, Kelly Jeanne Grant, Jennifer Arnold, and Janet Saia in New York in 2016. Courtesy of Janet Saia.

Originally aired October 22nd, 2021 on NPR’s Morning Edition.

Chicago Siblings Remember Brother Lost To COVID and the Love He Left Behind

Growing up in the Little Village neighborhood of Chicago, Jorge and Jessica Valdivia looked up to their older brother, Mauricio. To many, he was a larger-than-life personality known to light up the room with his jokes and pranks. To his siblings, he was the rock of the family who always took the time to let them know they were loved.

Jorge remembers one Christmas when his parents couldn’t afford presents and Mauricio surprised him with his first Transformer, which he still has.

In April 2020, Mauricio, 52, died from COVID-19. He left behind his wife, their two sons, and a huge void in the lives of those who loved him most. Jorge and Jessica came to StoryCorps to share their favorite memories of Mauricio and what he meant to them.

Top Photo: The Valdivia siblings, from left to right: Eliseo Jr., Mauricio, Jessica and Jorge. Courtesy of Jorge Valdivia.

Bottom Photo: Jorge Valdivia holds the Optimus Prime Transformer that his late brother Mauricio got him one Christmas when they were young. Courtesy of Jorge Valdivia.

Originally aired February 5, 2021 on NPR’s Morning Edition.

Touched By Tragedy Twice: Father, Who Later Died from COVID, Remembers Losing Son on 9/11

Albert Petrocelli Sr. survived more than his share of hardships during his 73 years.

As a young man, he fought in Vietnam. Returning to his native New York City, he started a long career fighting fires, eventually rising to the rank of Battalion Chief. Then, a year after retiring, Chief Petrocelli lost his youngest son, Mark, a commodities broker, in the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. 

But what war, fire, and unspeakable grief couldn’t do, a global pandemic did. On April 1, 2020, Chief Petrocelli died from COVID-19.

Before his death, Chief Petrocelli and his wife, Ginger, recorded a remembrance of their son Mark. They remember the last time they saw him, on September 9, 2001, at one of their family’s weekly Sunday meals. 

This recording was made in partnership with the National September 11 Memorial & Museum as part of StoryCorps’ effort to collect one recording for each life lost that day.

Top Photo: Ginger Petrocelli and Retired New York City Fire Chief Albert Petrocelli in 2017, at their 50th wedding anniversary. Courtesy of the Petrocelli family.
Middle Photo: Retired New York City Fire Chief Albert Petrocelli in 2002, with a photo of Mark that he carried inside his hat. Courtesy of the Petrocelli family.
Bottom Photo: Albert Petrocelli Jr., Mark Petrocelli, and Albert Petrocelli Sr. on Father’s Day 1989, at Mark’s home in New York. Courtesy of the Petrocelli family.

Originally aired September 11, 2020, on NPR’s Morning Edition.