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“I know I will never feel pure joy again” Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg Reflects on Grief as She Mourns Her Husband

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Facebook Chief of Operations Sheryl Sandberg lost her husband, Dave Goldberg, CEO of Survey Monkey, in a gym accident on holiday, a month ago. The 47 year old was found on the floor near a treadmill at a resort in Mexico.

The late Dave was the first person to show Sheryl the internet, and together, they built a life with their two children.

In a Facebook note shared yesterday, the tech exec reflected on love and loss with these profound words. The post has resonated with a lot of the website’s users, generating hundreds of thousands of likes and comments of support.

Sheryl Sandberg & Dave Goldberg“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.

Sheryl Sandberg & Dave Goldberg weddingI 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.

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.”

Source: Sheryl Sandberg Facebook

31 Comments

  1. aj

    June 4, 2015 at 7:45 pm

    wow! how sad!!!! God is her strength!

    • Tears

      June 5, 2015 at 6:49 am

      I am in tears. I cannot imagine losing my husband. The pain, my children…it is just to much to bear. I am crying on the train to work and lost for words. A beautiful write up. May he RIP and may this family never lack.

  2. Lunaija

    June 4, 2015 at 7:52 pm

    This is heart renching, to think I and hubby have been cold to each other since Sunday sighs…

    • Warizdiz

      June 5, 2015 at 1:03 pm

      My friend go and hug him by force. Tell him u LV him. You can sort the whahala later. Me, I learnt not to bear grudges life is too short. Even when l am sooooo right l am learning to say sorry. But on a serious note, who camps in d bush in Nigeria? Shebi when you are visiting a new territory you ask questions before hand? You google the practices as in dos and donts. May his soul rest in peace.

    • Warizdiz

      June 5, 2015 at 1:05 pm

      Haaaaa, This wasn’t meant for this write up. Covers face and hide behind my sofa!

  3. Miss Anonymous

    June 4, 2015 at 8:20 pm

    Wow! She’s so eloquent.
    May his soul rest in peace.

  4. onome

    June 4, 2015 at 8:23 pm

    My sister..i feel you.. am guilty too
    so love like this still exists…

  5. Trendysturvs Blog

    June 4, 2015 at 8:27 pm

    Touching. May God comfort her

    trendysturvsblog.com/

  6. Nancy

    June 4, 2015 at 8:36 pm

    I read through every line and realized I had been holding my breath. . . I exhaled. I don’t know how long it’ll take, but I hope she will do same.

  7. ngozi Offor

    June 4, 2015 at 8:39 pm

    It’s only God that can give you real confort in this terrible grief so cling to Him my dear. You will be fine ‘today’

  8. aisha

    June 4, 2015 at 8:46 pm

    There is no end to grief, this reminded me of my late mum, brought tears to my eyes
    I yelled at anyone who asked me ‘aisha how are you? May the souls of of th faithful departed through the mercy of God rest in peace, Amen

  9. adelegirl

    June 4, 2015 at 9:09 pm

    This is so heartfelt and deep! I literally felt her grief and love and longing for her husband through her words and tears welled up in my eyes… Dear God, I can’t even begin to imagine what she is going through and the feeling of loss that will always linger in spite of the passage of time dulling the ache somewhat… Thank you, Sheryl, for being so honest and open about your grief

  10. Manny

    June 4, 2015 at 9:31 pm

    Wow that was heart wrenching to read. My greatest fear is the loss of loved ones and even though I pray I don’t experience what she experienced, I’m holding her tips close to heart.

  11. mrs chidukane

    June 4, 2015 at 10:25 pm

    Losing a loved one is the worst experience in the world. May he Rest in Peace.

  12. TA

    June 4, 2015 at 11:06 pm

    Thank you Sheryl Sandberg for sharing your story. It resonates with me. Deeply. More than you would ever know. For 19 years I have struggled to express myself but outside of close family and friends no one seems to just get me. I know people mean well when they offer platitudes like ‘ you will be fine again, you will get over it.*sigh* I do want to get over it but how do you get over wanting a visit from your father while on campus for nothing special but just to see how his little girl is doing in school? How do you get over the ache that presents itself when mum wept as she became a grandmother but dad wasn’t there to share the moment with her? There is a certain permanence to death that ‘ getting over’ cannot fix. A certain pain that may dull with time but the void remains. As Sheryl puts it, there is no end to grief.

  13. Babe

    June 4, 2015 at 11:26 pm

    Her write up was wow! I learnt a lot especially on it being okay to be vulnerable. I pray God sees her through!

  14. Berry Dakara

    June 4, 2015 at 11:28 pm

    I can’t even bring myself to read the whole thing, as the first few paragraphs have me in tears. May Sheryl and those who loved him be comforted and find peace.

  15. Papacy

    June 5, 2015 at 12:23 am

    Writing down one’s innermost, deepest thoughts, I’ve learned, helps somewhat in terms of healing or finding closure. This is deep and very brave; confronting ur grief and saying it as you feel. My girl lost her dad while we were still friends. We were so close back then, she called me the day it happened, I cried with her, mourned with her. We all helped in our own way to help her heal…. Or so I thought. When we eventually started dating, it seemed like it was just meant to be, but I noticed she had a wall, I couldn’t get through, not as a lover, as a friend? Somewhat. She just wouldn’t let d pain go. I didn’t say “I’ll help u with the pain”, cos I can only do so much. I empathize and I try to be there. But that wall just won’t crack. At some point I had to take a step back. She needed to heal for herself and not for me or for us. It seemed the logical thing to do. We r still friends, and boy! Are we good at it. I just de hover de pray for am. I’m going back in for sure, just bidding my time…I fear maybe someone else will do the trick sometimes but thinking about it now, it will gv me more joy to see her genuinely let someone, anyone love her. She deserves that much! Jesu! Na me type all this? Bye!

  16. D

    June 5, 2015 at 12:28 am

    I read this yesterday on Facebook and yes it resonated. There is something about losing a loved one that only those that have loved and lost can truly understand. I have always struggled with saying the “right” thing when people i know have lost loved ones but it really hit home for me that there are no “right” words until I lost my sister. It is indeed a void and yes your life never remains the same, like my boss told me then you just develop a new reality and just learn to live it but make sure your new reality is not one that is toxic to you or any of your other living loved ones left. Oh Death!!!! I really do hate death.

  17. True talk

    June 5, 2015 at 3:38 am

    I have no words except that, contrary to what she feels now, I pray she experiences true joy again that she gets to that point where she can look back to the memory of her love and smile. He would want that for her and theit kids. May his soul rest in peace.

    • D

      June 5, 2015 at 3:43 pm

      @ True talk, she never said she feels she never feel “true joy” but “pure joy”. These are 2 totally different things. The only way I can explain this concept is that your joy will also be tainted by the fact that there is that 1 person not present to share in it but that does not make your joy less “true” or false. The purity or fullness of it will always be lessened is just what it is.

  18. theurbanegirl

    June 5, 2015 at 9:12 am

    Nothing in this world hurts more than grief. NOTHING.

  19. Nike

    June 5, 2015 at 9:23 am

    I totally understand Sheryl Sandberg.

    Pain is pain is pain. Acknowledge it, deal with it and live with it. It does not leave you. I hate when people tell you, “It will be alright”, “You will be fine”, and all the trash that spews out of those dreadful ‘motivational speakers. Deal with your pain as best as you can and how you know to.

    I pray that everyone who is in pain, be it physical, emotional or psychological has people around who will listen and help and not judge or be weary until the dark cloud passes.

  20. Nedoux

    June 5, 2015 at 9:39 am

    BN Team, thank you for sharing this.

    This post really resonates with me. Grief hurts so badly, perhaps the permanence of death is what makes it sting so badly.

    Someone told me recently- “The ‘sting’ can disappear, meaning that in remembrance, there is no pain”

    From my own experience, I suppose it gets a little easier day by day.

  21. T

    June 5, 2015 at 11:29 am

    This is so sad. It must have taken a lot of courage to share. I sincerely hope you find happiness and peace once more

  22. unending tears

    June 5, 2015 at 1:52 pm

    @Nedoux: yes, it is the permanence of both LOVE and death that causes the hurt to linger. If the void cannot be filled, the grief will persist. After losing both parents 3+ years ago, I was scolded for still crying over their absence (while prepping to walk-down-the-aisle). I shared memories, dreams, a history with my parents (who my husband-to-be never met). Pardon me for hurting when someone wants to dismiss their existence and my family’s relevance in my wedding preparations.

  23. Imissyoueveryday

    June 5, 2015 at 2:13 pm

    I read this holding my breath the whole time. when I exhaled, tears rolled down uncontrollably. There is NO greater pain than losing a loved one. I lost my dad 2 years ago while I was away for NYSC ( I hate NYSC) and this right here is the truth about grief. Especially when you dint see it coming, no goodbyes, no nothing!!! It doesn’t end. It seems he’s been gone for 20 years but the pain is as fresh as yesterday everyday. The pain is so real I can still taste it. I pray everyday to continue to be the daughter he’d be proud of. I pray for my mum especially…..I fear she would never feel pure joy again. They shared a special bond. I look at my friends now and I advice them to cherish every moment they have with their parents, sometimes I ask “when last did you call your dad?” …..tomorrow is never certain. Show appreciation to them, however small. I remember when I collected my first allawe (19,500) from camp I gave my mum 5k and had planned to give my dad 5k too ( A lil appreciation) but then I thought “daddy has money jare! I will buy him a special gift later” so I dint and I would always regret that silly second thought because the next time I saw him was on a sick bed. And then he died. All I have now are memories and pictures too. Life is just a pot of burnt beans.

    For everyone that has never felt the pain of losing a loved one, I pray you never do. And for those that has, I pray God continues to strengthen you as you grief.

    P.S
    When he died, some people through chat and phone calls said “welcome to the fatherless club” …whatever that MEAN statement meant!!! Our people can like to find humor in anything.

    • D

      June 5, 2015 at 3:47 pm

      Wow, you have some mean and highly insensitive group of human beings as acquaintances. Is that the new way, ” people mourn with those who mourn”. I would honestly cut such people lose from my life. That’s some real toxic issh

  24. Imissyoueveryday

    June 5, 2015 at 2:47 pm

    Dear Bella
    I cant help but wonder why you refused to post my comment. It took alot to type that amidst tears. i wrote nothing offensive. It is well sha.

  25. Abigail

    June 5, 2015 at 3:25 pm

    I was at work reading this and had to run to the toilet to cry. What a beautiful tribute to her late husband. The words were so profound and touching. I pray the Lord gives her and her family comfort.

  26. jennietobbie

    June 8, 2015 at 12:25 pm

    It’s ok to be vulnerable and ask for help==> pain will teach you that. Esp if you’re the “fixer, leader, decision maker, I-got-everything-under-control” type. On the other side of that pain is growth; which is a very humbling experience.

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