Birthdays are special days to celebrate, even in grief

  • Susan Anderson-Khleif and her husband, Baheej, made her 34th birthday special with a decorated cake and red roses.

    Susan Anderson-Khleif and her husband, Baheej, made her 34th birthday special with a decorated cake and red roses. Courtesy of Susan Anderson-Khleif

Updated 4/30/2022 8:48 PM

Today is my sister Mary's birthday. My birthday was yesterday, so we were almost born on the same day. She's five years younger than I am. So that means when I was a teenager, she was still in grade school. It seemed a big gap in age as we were growing up.

But now we seem very close in age, and we are very close in spirit and friendship. She's the one I call when I need advice.


Mother did a great job in keeping our birthday celebrations separate and special, each with our own separate friends and parties. Mother was good at that, and understood we all need our own special day.

Mom had lots of practice because my father was born on Christmas Eve, so she had to plan and create separate birthday and Christmas celebrations! But she was a great hostess so she did it!

I was talking with my sister as our birthdays were approaching this year, and asked her what she remembers about her birthday parties. She said, "I remember Mom made everything so beautiful and all of my friends were invited. She set up the dining room table with beautiful dishes and silver. I remember feeling like a queen, it was so special! One time she had my party right after school and all my friends walked me home. It felt like a parade just for me!" She said what she remembers most are the feelings.

I get it because Mom made these elegant parties for me too, invited all my friends and served beautiful food; one year I even had a slumber party of 10 and a gorgeous breakfast in the dining room the next morning.

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Well, luckily my dear Baheej also always made my birthday a special day. I have a photo of when I turned 34. It's of the two of us with a special cake and roses from Baheej, when we lived on a lovely lake in central Massachusetts. No cellphone selfies then, but we had a delayed-time camera to take a picture of ourselves! I look at it and remember those happy days.

Baheej grew up in a culture that did not celebrate birthdays. I think they celebrated, of course, lots of holidays -- Easter, Christmas, New Year and all.

But not birthdays. However, they had lots of respect for elders. Later, after he came to the USA to study and became an American citizen, he learned to enjoy celebrating birthdays, especially mine. Always nice. And I still celebrate his birthday, which is coming up in July. Always with a birthday dinner at home, or dinner out. When he was here, lots of gifts and surprises and favorite foods.

So I seem to be full of birthday thoughts today.

The point is: I personally think a birthday is a very nice holiday. It can be low-key but still special. It's important to not miss them, even in grief. I think it's because these annual markers are just a loving way to recognize the special people in our lives. Or even be a little occasion to spoil ourselves. So to all those "May basket birthdays," happy day to you!

• 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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