Grief & healing: Being sentimental

Grief can make one very sentimental. At least that’s my experience and I’ve noticed that same effect on others.

Sentimentality can hurt, but can also bring comfort.

It helps one conjure up some very nice and reassuring feelings and experiences that were shared with our dear ones. And helps us remember their wonderful qualities and why they made us so happy.

For instance, my husband, Baheej, was very kind. Not only to me and the children and all the family — he was always helping people.

His colleges students loved him. He taught them, but he also inspired them to be creative, and to appreciate other cultures through travel.

He also taught me how to travel and appreciate other cultures.

Every time I see a travel show or documentary on a place where we’ve been together, I get a rush of sentimental feelings. I even made a career of traveling jobs.

Baheej was a great listener. That’s how he absorbed so much knowledge, whether during his studies or just from people he met — by listening.

He learned that way; he didn’t even take notes in university — just listened and remembered. For instance, he learned Spanish by listening, not study.

We went to a Spanish immersion language school for a month, and after a few basics, he learned from living with our Mexican host family and us taking our instructors out into the marketplace and restaurants. We just learned by mixing with the Spanish-speaking community.

One of the triggers for sentimentality is food — especially childhood comfort food. It also leads to nostalgia.

Sentimentality and nostalgia are related but not exactly the same.

Being sentimental is more like having a “soft heart.” Being nostalgic seems more related to happy memories, often from childhood.

Of course since Baheej grew up in Nazareth in the Holy Land, and I grew up in northern Minnesota, our nostalgic food memories were very different.

So I learned how to make his childhood favorites such as grape leaves, malfoof (cabbage rolls), Hashweh (rice with lamb, cinnamon, allspice and nutmeg). Many others. So I cooked all the Nazareth foods he loved.

Recently I’ve been rediscovering my own childhood comfort foods. And I discovered some very good versions of them can be bought frozen, ready made, in the grocery store. And that many favorites, such as pot roast with carrots, onions and potatoes, can be easily made in the electric Instant Pot.

The point is: Sentimentality and nostalgia can be very useful in coping with and managing grief, especially long-term grief. Every once in a while, I make one of Baheej’s favorites dishes, especially at holidays, but sometimes just on a regular day for myself. It helps.

• Susan Anderson-Khleif of Sleepy Hollow has a doctorate in family sociology from Harvard, taught at Wellesley College and is a retired Motorola executive. Contact her at

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