Metro-East Living

How to apologize for missing someone’s birthday

Q. I have a friend who works at a local company. Each year on an employee’s birthday, a birthday card is sent to that person. This year, she received her card 12 days after her birthday and inside was simply written “Enjoy your day.”

Naturally, she was upset and wondered why the company even bothered sending it to her. That got me thinking: How late can one send a birthday card when clearly it is overly late? My friend has just let it pass without comment to anyone at work.

A. I personally feel that no matter how old we are, for most of us, birthdays are a very special day. We enjoy all the “glam” that goes with it; i.e., phone calls, gifts, cards, flowers, visits, lunch or dinner out or both, theater, movies, symphony. Feelings often get hurt when the birthday person feels a family member, friend or close colleague forgets their birthday. And, believe it or not, when next year’s birthday rolls around, we will not have forgotten who forgot our birthday last year; therefore, doing nothing is not an option.

As to the situation you described, someone really “dropped the ball.” What a poor example of the company’s sincerity, caring and competency. Somehow, the word needs to tactfully go up the chain to the individual whose responsibility it was to get this card delivered on time, to prevent this happening again to your friend or someone else in the company.

As to your question of how late can a birthday card be sent: A card arriving a month late is the absolute latest.

Better options are these:

1. If a day or two after the birthday, you realize you have forgotten or missed it: do not send the card you may already have in your drawer. Get a very special “sorry I’m late birthday card” and add a personal note inside.

Call or personally contact the person and apologize for missing the date and do not give a lot of lame excuses.

2. If it’s been a week, call the person and apologize. If it is a grandmother, mother-in-law, sister, godmother, best friend, or someone of equal importance to you, consider sending flowers as well. This will truly “extend” this person’s special day, and hopefully lessen the hurt of being forgotten.

3. If it’s over a week, call the person and apologize. Consider sending flowers and a special card. If the person lives in your area, or a short traveling distance, set up a time to visit, bring flowers, candy, or a gift along with a special card. And/or, invite them to be your guest for lunch or dinner or a special event. Set up the date and the time during your call and “make it happen” and make it “special.”

4. If it’s a month or later, do not send a birthday card or a “late” card. Call the person and apologize. Again, set up a time and date, if possible, to do something special with this person. After all, spending time with family, friends and special co-workers is one of the best gifts of all.

5. Annotate all your calendars and set all your beepers or alarms for next year so as not to miss birthdays and other special days.

Dianne Isbell is a local contributing writer. Send your etiquette questions to Dianne Isbell at Belleville News-Democrat, P.O. Box 427, 120 S. Illinois St., Belleville, IL 62222-0427, or email them to