Grief & healing: Sentimentality and nostalgia

Grief brings on a great many sentimental feelings. It comes with nostalgia and the need for comfort.

Sentimentality and nostalgia are not exactly the same, but somehow they seem closely related.

I think grief makes us especially vulnerable to these feelings.

There are lots of triggers for such emotions. They vary by personal history and personality, I suppose.

For me one of my triggers is early May, around my birthday. I was a May Basket. I don’t I understand this, but it happens. So I always need to be on guard this time of year. I need to get up my self-protections. This year I got some worrisome health news, but it can be fixed. It’s just an odd time of year. Something in the stars, I guess. It’s also near the start of my difficult time of year, June 22 through Aug. 18, a time packed with a lot of sad commemoration dates.

Another common trigger is comfort food. Comfort foods are rooted in childhood and, of course, vary according to our ethnic backgrounds and family traditions.

For instance, my husband Baheej’s favorite comfort foods were from Nazareth in the Holy Land, where he was born and grew up. They are quite different from my own from Northern Minnesota.

His were such dishes as grape leaves (stuffed with lamb and rice with cinnamon, allspice and nutmeg), malfoof (stuffed cabbage, stuffed squash, lamb kebab and others. I learned to cook all of them to please him. I still do it from time to time, nostalgia. Cooking is a sort of play, a sort of a game or puzzle to solve.

A lot is written about loneliness these days, about too much isolation in modern high tech society. But I think sentimentality is about longing not loneliness.

So the point is: Longing is one of those emotions we must learn to cope with and manage. It’s part of grief for many, I think. At least for me. Or maybe it’s just that time of year.

• 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

Article Comments
Guidelines: Keep it civil and on topic; no profanity, vulgarity, slurs or personal attacks. People who harass others or joke about tragedies will be blocked. If a comment violates these standards or our terms of service, click the "flag" link in the lower-right corner of the comment box. To find our more, read our FAQ.