Discover tricks, or signs, to manage your grief and related stress

Posted5/22/2021 6:00 AM

I'm always alert for techniques to sooth grief and its related stress, and for combating stress in general, because it is well known stress is bad for our physical and spiritual health.

About midseason this last winter, I tried a trick on myself -- and it worked. Fed up with isolation and the inability to even make a dinner for friends and family, I decided to start fitting up the dining room table with a full setting of one of my favorite chinas -- plates for six, silverware, soup bowls and serving dishes and platters. And at least two places fully set, as if a friend is coming for dinner. It made the house feel less empty, more welcoming. So I have been doing that since. This has had a very cheerful effect on me!


Another nice happening is I've had some recent signs, including one just last month. A "sign" is not a trick, but it is comforting and thus, for me, reduces stress. This one was from my dad who died about 1999. The background is that my father had an up-and-down scar on his upper lip. It wasn't unsightly, but it was there, the result of a boyhood accident.

Well, my recent lip surgery for removal of basal cell skin cancer is leaving a small scar on my upper lip in exactly the same place as dad's childhood scar. It won't be dramatic and will get better over time, but it is the same as dad's. So what would have been very worrisome to me turned out to be a sign that my father was here to comfort me, to tell me it will be OK. He did this for my sister many years ago. She was going through a tough time and dad appeared to her and assured her everything would be OK. And it was. Signs come in many forms.

And more recently another sign: A friend told me she was having a memorial service at church for her husband for their anniversary. So I decided to have a memorial for my beloved Baheej at our own church. When I lined it up for Aug. 8, I told my friend and thanked her for the idea. Her response was a sign: She said, "How nice, that's my husband's birthday!" Signs happen.

Also, last month out of the blue, my old friend Jane sent me a fascinating research review article, "The Biology of Grief," by Ann Finkbeiner. It explored how grief can cause many physical problems -- from stress, to inflammation, to heart and blood pressure problems. And it reinforced my own feelings about the importance of coping techniques and ways of managing our grief to help minimize these natural biological reactions.

So the point is: Tricks on yourself, being aware and open to signs and understanding these biological and physical processes may help us manage grief and find a way to be more cheerful and hopeful for the future. It has for me.

• 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 or see her blog See previous columns at

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