Choose Life: Sheryl Sandberg's Essay About Losing Her Husband
Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer of Facebook and author of Lean In, tragically lost her husband last month. To mark the end of sheloshim, the 30-day period of religious mourning observed in Judaism after a spouse dies, Sandberg posted a very touching essay, which has nearly 700,000 likes and over 300,000 shares, to her Facebook page. In it, she shares that "I have lived thirty years in these thirty days. I am thirty years sadder. I feel like I am thirty years wiser." Known for her business acumen and for urging women to actively seek out their own professional success, Sandberg infuses her very wise, very gracious perspective into an account of her experience and the hard-learned wisdom she has acquired during this time of tragedy. Read on for some takeaways that we all—whether we are suffering or seeking to comfort someone who is—should read.
Live while you are still alive.
"'Let me not die while I am still alive.' … I think when tragedy occurs, it presents a choice. You can give in to the void … 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."
Acknowledging that everything is not okay is important.
"Real empathy is sometimes not insisting that it will be okay but acknowledging that it is not.
"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."
Allow yourself to ask for help.
"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."
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. Permanence—remembering that I won’t feel like this forever. Pervasiveness—this does not have to affect every area of my life; the ability to compartmentalize is healthy."
Let people in.
"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. … 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."
"As heartbroken as I am, I look at my children each day and rejoice that they are alive. I appreciate every smile, every hug."
The love we feel for our close ones is powerful.
"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."
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