Sheryl Sandberg on her husband's death and grief

samjamsamjam New YorkPosts: 9,283
So Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, recently lost her husband. She posted some really profound words today, and I felt the need to share because they affected me so greatly. It's long, but it is definitely worth the read. She is handling her difficult situation with such class, grace, and openness--my hat is off to her. There is a character limit on these posts, so I'm going to have to split this up into two posts.

"Today is the end of sheloshim for my beloved husband—the first thirty days. Judaism calls for a period of intense mourning known as shiva that lasts seven days after a loved one is buried. After shiva, most normal activities can be resumed, but it is the end of sheloshim that marks the completion of religious mourning for a spouse.

A childhood friend of mine who is now a rabbi recently told me that the most powerful one-line prayer he has ever read is: “Let me not die while I am still alive.” I would have never understood that prayer before losing Dave. Now I do.

I think when tragedy occurs, it presents a choice. You can give in to the void, the emptiness that fills your heart, your lungs, constricts your ability to think or even breathe. Or you can try to find meaning. These past thirty days, I have spent many of my moments lost in that void. And I know that many future moments will be consumed by the vast emptiness as well.

But when I can, I want to choose life and meaning.

And this is why I am writing: to mark the end of sheloshim and to give back some of what others have given to me. While the experience of grief is profoundly personal, the bravery of those who have shared their own experiences has helped pull me through. Some who opened their hearts were my closest friends. Others were total strangers who have shared wisdom and advice publicly. So I am sharing what I have learned in the hope that it helps someone else. In the hope that there can be some meaning from this tragedy.

I have lived thirty years in these thirty days. I am thirty years sadder. I feel like I am thirty years wiser.

I have gained a more profound understanding of what it is to be a mother, both through the depth of the agony I feel when my children scream and cry and from the connection my mother has to my pain. She has tried to fill the empty space in my bed, holding me each night until I cry myself to sleep. She has fought to hold back her own tears to make room for mine. She has explained to me that the anguish I am feeling is both my own and my children’s, and I understood that she was right as I saw the pain in her own eyes.

I have learned that I never really knew what to say to others in need. I think I got this all wrong before; I tried to assure people that it would be okay, thinking that hope was the most comforting thing I could offer. A friend of mine with late-stage cancer told me that the worst thing people could say to him was “It is going to be okay.” That voice in his head would scream, How do you know it is going to be okay? Do you not understand that I might die? I learned this past month what he was trying to teach me. Real empathy is sometimes not insisting that it will be okay but acknowledging that it is not. When people say to me, “You and your children will find happiness again,” my heart tells me, Yes, I believe that, but I know I will never feel pure joy again. Those who have said, “You will find a new normal, but it will never be as good” comfort me more because they know and speak the truth. Even a simple “How are you?”—almost always asked with the best of intentions—is better replaced with “How are you today?” When I am asked “How are you?” I stop myself from shouting, My husband died a month ago, how do you think I am? When I hear “How are you today?” I realize the person knows that the best I can do right now is to get through each day.

I have learned some practical stuff that matters. Although we now know that Dave died immediately, I didn’t know that in the ambulance. The trip to the hospital was unbearably slow. I still hate every car that did not move to the side, every person who cared more about arriving at their destination a few minutes earlier than making room for us to pass. I have noticed this while driving in many countries and cities. Let’s all move out of the way. Someone’s parent or partner or child might depend on it.

I have learned how ephemeral everything can feel—and maybe everything is. That whatever rug you are standing on can be pulled right out from under you with absolutely no warning. In the last thirty days, I have heard from too many women who lost a spouse and then had multiple rugs pulled out from under them. Some lack support networks and struggle alone as they face emotional distress and financial insecurity. It seems so wrong to me that we abandon these women and their families when they are in greatest need.
"Sometimes you find yourself having to put all your faith in no faith."
~not a dude~
2010: MSGx2
2012: Made In America
2013: Pittsburgh, Brooklynx2, Hartford, Baltimore
2014: Leeds, Milton Keynes, Detroit
2015: Global Citizen Festival
2016: Phillyx2, MSGx2, Fenwayx2
2018: Barcelona, Wrigleyx2

Comments

  • samjamsamjam New YorkPosts: 9,283
    I have learned to ask for help—and I have learned how much help I need. Until now, I have been the older sister, the COO, the doer and the planner. I did not plan this, and when it happened, I was not capable of doing much of anything. Those closest to me took over. They planned. They arranged. They told me where to sit and reminded me to eat. They are still doing so much to support me and my children.

    I have learned that resilience can be learned. Adam M. Grant taught me that three things are critical to resilience and that I can work on all three. Personalization—realizing it is not my fault. He told me to ban the word “sorry.” To tell myself over and over, This is not my fault. Permanence—remembering that I won’t feel like this forever. This will get better. Pervasiveness—this does not have to affect every area of my life; the ability to compartmentalize is healthy.

    For me, starting the transition back to work has been a savior, a chance to feel useful and connected. But I quickly discovered that even those connections had changed. Many of my co-workers had a look of fear in their eyes as I approached. I knew why—they wanted to help but weren’t sure how. Should I mention it? Should I not mention it? If I mention it, what the hell do I say? I realized that to restore that closeness with my colleagues that has always been so important to me, I needed to let them in. And that meant being more open and vulnerable than I ever wanted to be. I told those I work with most closely that they could ask me their honest questions and I would answer. I also said it was okay for them to talk about how they felt. One colleague admitted she’d been driving by my house frequently, not sure if she should come in. Another said he was paralyzed when I was around, worried he might say the wrong thing. Speaking openly replaced the fear of doing and saying the wrong thing. One of my favorite cartoons of all time has an elephant in a room answering the phone, saying, “It’s the elephant.” Once I addressed the elephant, we were able to kick him out of the room.

    At the same time, there are moments when I can’t let people in. I went to Portfolio Night at school where kids show their parents around the classroom to look at their work hung on the walls. So many of the parents—all of whom have been so kind—tried to make eye contact or say something they thought would be comforting. I looked down the entire time so no one could catch my eye for fear of breaking down. I hope they understood.

    I have learned gratitude. Real gratitude for the things I took for granted before—like life. As heartbroken as I am, I look at my children each day and rejoice that they are alive. I appreciate every smile, every hug. I no longer take each day for granted. When a friend told me that he hates birthdays and so he was not celebrating his, I looked at him and said through tears, “Celebrate your birthday, goddammit. You are lucky to have each one.” My next birthday will be depressing as hell, but I am determined to celebrate it in my heart more than I have ever celebrated a birthday before.

    I am truly grateful to the many who have offered their sympathy. A colleague told me that his wife, whom I have never met, decided to show her support by going back to school to get her degree—something she had been putting off for years. Yes! When the circumstances allow, I believe as much as ever in leaning in. And so many men—from those I know well to those I will likely never know—are honoring Dave’s life by spending more time with their families.

    I can’t even express the gratitude I feel to my family and friends who have done so much and reassured me that they will continue to be there. In the brutal moments when I am overtaken by the void, when the months and years stretch out in front of me endless and empty, only their faces pull me out of the isolation and fear. My appreciation for them knows no bounds.

    I was talking to one of these friends about a father-child activity that Dave is not here to do. We came up with a plan to fill in for Dave. I cried to him, “But I want Dave. I want option A.” He put his arm around me and said, “Option A is not available. So let’s just kick the shit out of option B.”

    Dave, to honor your memory and raise your children as they deserve to be raised, I promise to do all I can to kick the shit out of option B. And even though sheloshim has ended, I still mourn for option A. I will always mourn for option A. As Bono sang, “There is no end to grief . . . and there is no end to love.” I love you, Dave."
    "Sometimes you find yourself having to put all your faith in no faith."
    ~not a dude~
    2010: MSGx2
    2012: Made In America
    2013: Pittsburgh, Brooklynx2, Hartford, Baltimore
    2014: Leeds, Milton Keynes, Detroit
    2015: Global Citizen Festival
    2016: Phillyx2, MSGx2, Fenwayx2
    2018: Barcelona, Wrigleyx2
  • BigrfishBigrfish Edmonton, AB CanadaPosts: 194
    Truly...A warrior at heart..it takes strength and time...I know...I have lost recently..it's hard. I found solace in putting things down in words...You have expressed your thoughts eloquently and have made your man proud..Peace be with you friend
  • hedonisthedonist standing on the edge of foreverPosts: 19,964
    Powerful. I was holding it together while reading, but those last two paragraphs really got me.

    Thanks for posting this, samjam.

    And Bigrfish, I'm sorry for your recent loss.
  • samjamsamjam New YorkPosts: 9,283
    Bigrfish said:

    Truly...A warrior at heart..it takes strength and time...I know...I have lost recently..it's hard. I found solace in putting things down in words...You have expressed your thoughts eloquently and have made your man proud..Peace be with you friend

    I'm sorry for your loss, truly. I'm still dealing with the initial grief of losing my father, even though it's been 2 and a half years. Sheryl's words hit home with me too, she just articulated it all so eloquently. That's how I feel when I listen to PJ's songs about loss, too. Just beautiful words that can mirror my emotions and thoughts in ways I could never, personally.
    "Sometimes you find yourself having to put all your faith in no faith."
    ~not a dude~
    2010: MSGx2
    2012: Made In America
    2013: Pittsburgh, Brooklynx2, Hartford, Baltimore
    2014: Leeds, Milton Keynes, Detroit
    2015: Global Citizen Festival
    2016: Phillyx2, MSGx2, Fenwayx2
    2018: Barcelona, Wrigleyx2
  • BigrfishBigrfish Edmonton, AB CanadaPosts: 194
    Well said..samjam...I just lost me mom..we were close...That's what brought me to posting here..It's been very helpful.
    Couldn't agree more...listening to PJ helped me through a difficult time more than once.
  • Cliffy6745Cliffy6745 Posts: 29,215
    I read this in my office today and pretty much lost it. So well written, so spot on.

    Things that always pissed me off after my old
    Mad died.

    "Everything will be okay"

    And good god my personal favorite

    "He is in a better place"
  • ldent42ldent42 NYCPosts: 7,843
    I genuinely think the best/most helpful response I got was "you never really get over it."
    NYC 06/24/08-Auckland 11/27/09-Chch 11/29/09-Newark 05/18/10-Atlanta 09/22/12-Chicago 07/19/13-Brooklyn 10/18/13 & 10/19/13-Hartford 10/25/13-Baltimore 10/27/13-Auckland 1/17/14-GC 1/19/14-Melbourne 1/24/14-Sydney 1/26/14-Amsterdam 6/16/14 & 6/17/14-Milan 6/20/14-Berlin 6/26/14-Leeds 7/8/14-Milton Keynes 7/11/14-St. Louis 10/3/14-NYC 9/26/15
    LIVEFOOTSTEPS.ORG/USER/?USR=435
  • samjamsamjam New YorkPosts: 9,283
    ldent42 said:

    I genuinely think the best/most helpful response I got was "you never really get over it."

    That's a good one, and so very true.

    I forwarded this Sandberg piece to a family member of mine who was the only one to respond, "I'm sorry it sucks" in my time of need. I've always remembered that, and how refreshing it was to read that after hearing "stay strong," and "it'll get easier in time" so much.

    Regarding Cliffy's point, I think those two phrases I mentioned above pissed me off the most. Stay strong? What kind of bs is that to say? If any time to be confused and fragile and weak, it would be, um, NOW! And we associate strong with being emotionally stoic, and not crying, and such--when in reality that is the least healthy thing to do, and is pretty much the opposite of being truly strong.

    "It'll get easier in time"--no, it won't. Maybe we are able to adapt to our situations more, but it doesn't make it any easier. At least, that's how I see it.
    "Sometimes you find yourself having to put all your faith in no faith."
    ~not a dude~
    2010: MSGx2
    2012: Made In America
    2013: Pittsburgh, Brooklynx2, Hartford, Baltimore
    2014: Leeds, Milton Keynes, Detroit
    2015: Global Citizen Festival
    2016: Phillyx2, MSGx2, Fenwayx2
    2018: Barcelona, Wrigleyx2
  • hedonisthedonist standing on the edge of foreverPosts: 19,964
    edited June 2015
    I recently purchased the DVD set of Six Feet Under and in the first or second episode, at Nathaniel's funeral, his son Nate gets pissed off at the the detachment of those around him, and speaks of the wailing and emotion with which some grieve. How raw it is.

    I know we deal with our anguish in our own ways - I still mourn the loss of my father almost seven years after his death - and while it lessens over time, it's still there and always will be.

    The ones who shared with me memories of and experiences with him were invaluable; they opened new windows into my view of him, and brought comfort in knowing others loved him, thought as highly of him, as I did.

    Their words and actions were balms for the pain, never forgotten.

    Those who didn't know what to say, or offered something trite yet with good intentions...it's OK, I've been there too. We learn - it's just part of life, and death.
  • samjamsamjam New YorkPosts: 9,283
    edited June 2015
    hedonist said:

    The ones who shared with me memories of and experiences with him were invaluable; they opened new windows into my view of him, and brought comfort in knowing others loved him, thought as highly of him, as I did.

    Their words and actions were balms for the pain, never forgotten.

    Those who didn't know what to say, or offered something trite yet with good intentions...it's OK, I've been there too. We learn - it's just part of life, and death.
    -----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
    Hmm, that quote is being strange.

    Anyway, this is very true. Any words are better than none, even trite, and of course, those are for the most part with good intentions. Truth is, we rarely talk about death and how to talk about death--and it's not like it's something taught in schools! It's often something you just have to experience for yourself to get a different perspective. More than anything, I think it's a lack of knowing what to say. So it's very easy to say something good intentioned, but not quite what someone on the receiving end would consider comforting.

    But I totally, totally agree with the sharing memories part. Hearing new memories of my father bring me immeasurable joy! I barely have family on his side, and I rarely speak to them. My dad had a bunch of friends through work, but for the most part left it there. So hearing something new can be somewhat few and far between. But he had a certain way about him that made such a positive impression on people, whether they knew him briefly or not. I had an old friend's mom share memories of my Dad, who was able to reconnect her to a mutual friend. A journalist who wrote an article about him 30 years ago had incredibly sweet words to say about him. I took a shot in the dark a little while ago, and contacted a pretty famous old NYC punk band on Facebook of all things (my dad was friends with two of the members), and to my surprise, I ended up with wonderful memories from both band members. Pretty amazing. Those stories and anecdotes totally keep me going. As well as talking about him. I enjoy it so much. It keeps his spirit alive for me.
    Post edited by samjam on
    "Sometimes you find yourself having to put all your faith in no faith."
    ~not a dude~
    2010: MSGx2
    2012: Made In America
    2013: Pittsburgh, Brooklynx2, Hartford, Baltimore
    2014: Leeds, Milton Keynes, Detroit
    2015: Global Citizen Festival
    2016: Phillyx2, MSGx2, Fenwayx2
    2018: Barcelona, Wrigleyx2
Sign In or Register to comment.