Grief & healing: Personal days of commemoration

The dates of June 22 and Aug. 11, followed by Aug. 13 and 16, are seared in my mind. All are days of commemoration for me.

This list starts with the day my beloved Baheej had his first stroke, then followed by the day he died, his funeral here, and the day he was buried in our Khleif family plot in New Hampshire.

He was 80 and should have lived much longer. It was sudden, very unexpected. We had just gotten home from his annual health checkup with a good bill of health.

Those four days have become important days of in my mind, and in my annual calendar. By commemoration I mean that I stop and think about those fateful days, and sometimes replay them in my mind. But I try to focus on life together and his affection and qualities. I keep a low profile those days and take care.

Baheej, on a trip in Sweden, one of many photos I keep in the house to commemorate different stages of our life together, writes Susan Anderson-Khleif. Courtesy of Susan Anderson-Khleif

Such days of our loved ones become important to a person, but this varies a lot from person to person.

My sister Mary and I were talking about this recently, and I asked if she remembers when our mother died. She knows, but she answered by saying that she really thinks of Mom’s birthday, April 13, not the specific day she died. That’s true for me too. She said she’d rather think of the happy times with Mom.

I think what we remember most easily depends on a lot of variables, including which loved one we have in mind or would rather remember the happy memories of birthdays instead of days loved ones died.

When it comes to me, I do have those four particular days of commemoration for Baheej. They are sad days, but also days for reflection and affirmation. A mix of reliving the sadness and the reality of a wonderful life together.

I always celebrate Baheej’s birthday for him. Our wedding anniversary, Aug. 18, usually brings happy memories although sometimes brings a reminder that it happens two days after Baheej was buried. The memory is a tricky business. It can mix sad and happy.

When I started writing this column in 2018 I was trying to understand what I call long-term grief. It was five years after Baheej’s death and I was still experiencing grief. So I started realizing that although grief seems to change over the years, it’s still there. It probably always will be there.

Actually, “healing” seems to be a process of learning how to cope with and manage one’s grief. Long-term grief doesn’t happen to everyone, but it has to me. I’ve learned a lot but it’s still here. I figure my commemoration days for Baheej are part of coping with long-term grief.

The point is: There is no right or wrong about days of commemoration or about long-term grief. No good or bad. As best as I can tell, both are normal and OK. Grief is a journey. It is very individual and we each must find our own path. And we do.

• 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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