Grief: Gatherings of family, friends enrich the soul

  • Gatherings of family and friends, which often occur over the holidays, are vital in helping us feel connected and loved.

    Gatherings of family and friends, which often occur over the holidays, are vital in helping us feel connected and loved. Courtesy of Susan Anderson-Khleif

Posted11/30/2019 6:00 AM

I had never gone to my school reunions, except for one a few years ago. It had been decades, a long time, since I had seen any of those classmates. It turned out to be a wonderful time in a special way because I reconnected with two old friends -- one from high school and one from childhood, and we've kept in touch ever since. They were important to me growing up and still are.

Now, family reunions are completely different but so important for our emotional and spiritual well-being. And they are critical even if they bring forth sad memories of loved ones no longer with us. In my case, the memory of my dear husband Baheej who died over seven years ago.


For more than 20 years, we have had a big "Khleif Family and Friends" reunion every October, usually over the long Columbus Day weekend. Baheej and I organized it and I still do. We used to hold it at The Publick House, a historic country inn in the Massachusetts countryside west of Boston. Now we hold our reunion in Durham, New Hampshire, at the Three Chimneys Inn -- a very pretty, very New England area.

Durham is a college town, where the University of New Hampshire is located. It's the hometown of my dear sister-in-law, Noelle, and brother-in-law, Bud, Baheej's elder brother who is a sociologist and was a professor there most of his professional life. Lots of sociologists in the family!

We only missed our family reunion one year, which was two months after Baheej died in 2012.

Well, this year was magnificent. Twenty-seven people were there. Four generations came from all over the country and abroad. My sister-in-law cooked a Nazareth feast dinner Friday eve as people were arriving -- kibbee, hashweh (rice with lamb, pine nuts and spices of cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice), roast turkey, okra, roast beef, Nazareth-style stuffed potatoes, baked salmon, spinach pies, scallops, oysters and many other dishes. Amazing.

Then on Saturday night we had a group dinner at the nearby inn and it was also great. We had the main dining room to ourselves arranged in a big rectangle to maximized socializing, and there was extra space for predinner snacks and drinks.

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All the family had explored the countryside of New Hampshire and Maine on Saturday during the day. This year the New England foliage was especially brilliant in red, orange, yellow. Lots of together time.

I realize not everyone has a large family nor a harmonious, happy and supportive family. But if you are among the lucky who do, the family reunion is a wonderful and valuable tradition. In our case we also have close old friends who join as part of the family. The tradition of annual reunions with friends is another avenue for renewing and recharging.

The point is: These family and friends reunions are very enriching events. They help all of us cope with grief and long-term grief. Although we sadly miss our spouse or family members who are gone, perhaps they are there in spirit. I'm sure Baheej was. He loved those gatherings.

Also, it's so important to keep the next couple of generations in touch with each other. Family is the greatest. They will help us in good times and hard times. It's worth the planning and attending.

• Susan Anderson-Khleif of Sleepy Hollow has a Ph.D. 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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