Grief: Some days just don't seem fair

  • Grilled octopus is a dish Susan Anderson-Khleif discovered on a trip to Greece with her late husband, Baheej.

    Grilled octopus is a dish Susan Anderson-Khleif discovered on a trip to Greece with her late husband, Baheej. Courtesy of Susan Anderson-Khleif

Posted10/13/2019 6:00 AM

Recently I had a very strong sensation that "it just isn't fair."

Not fair to my dear husband, Baheej, that he's gone, or that I am cooking meals he would enjoy, but can't have. That I'm going to favorite restaurants, seeing good friends, enjoying the local festivals, and exercising at our nearby fitness center where we used to go together, and on and on -- but he's not here.


Of course, he was not at our annual early October family and friends reunion. He doesn't get to take part. Just me.

Oddly, this feeling of unfairness just swept over me for no obvious reason while I was peeling some apples and oranges.

It would have made more sense if I'd felt that sadness while I was out in New Hampshire at our recent 20th family and friends gathering. But I didn't. As always, the reunion was a joyful event and great fun having all the Khleifs and close friends together -- our grown children, daughter-in-law, dear brother, sister-in-law, grown grandchildren including a newlywed and her husband, partners, niece and husband, nephews, in-laws, old friends -- even one grandnephew.

Baheej loved those get-togethers. Our family members all live far away across the U.S. and abroad. It was a grand and happy time.

When I think about it, the trigger for this sensation of "not fair" must have been because I was looking forward to grilled octopus for supper at a new restaurant in town. The idea of eating octopus probably reminded me of when Baheej and I first learned to love it on a trip to Greece.

Baheej had spent most of the summer doing research in Greece and I joined him for a long vacation before we returned home. Those were the years when he, as always, was a professor on an academic calendar and I was already on a corporate business schedule. No more long summers "off" for me. (I started my career as an academic but moved to business). However, we figured out how to mesh our different schedules -- for instance by joining him for a vacation wherever he was doing summer research.

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We took a ferry to an island about 30 minutes outside Athens, came to the harbor and docked. On the pier were clotheslines with fresh octopus hanging and drying in the sun. The local folks said it was delicious when grilled, so we went to a nearby cafe and tried it. Yum. It's been a favorite ever sense.

That's how associations work -- the mind just tracks from one memory and one feeling to another. Amazing what is hoarded in our memories.

I have found this process especially active and helpful these last seven years since Baheej died. Usually it is positive but for some reason it brought up sad feelings this time. Strange.

The point is: I've found the workings of the mind and emotions in grief are rather unpredictable, especially in long-term grief. So for me, this presents one more challenge in coping. I think the best we can do is shake ourselves out of it and make an effort to change the mood.

It does take effort and some self-awareness. We must do the best we can. And don't be surprised if something such as this happens to you. It just does.

This time, I kept peeling and then turned those peeled apples into a tasty cinnamon applesauce. Baheej loved fruit.

• 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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