Sheryl Sandberg's message of tragedy and hope hit me personally
Today marks the end of Sheryl Sandberg's sheloshim for her beloved husband Dave, who passed away unexpectedly one month ago. And, in honor of the end of this mourning period, Sandberg opened up about her grief in the hope that she may help others cope, too.
And, well, she has.
You see, Sandberg's words affected me deeply because, almost two weeks ago to the day, I lost my grandmother. While it's true Sandberg's loss and mine exist in different realms — my grandma was 85 and had lived a life longer than many — Sandberg's words are helping me mourn the death of a woman I held so dear in my life.
I think it would bring some modicum of joy into Sandberg's heart knowing her story, her openness and her love is lessening pain for people across so many spectrums. After all, as she says in her truly poignant post, "While the experience of grief is profoundly personal, the bravery of those who have shared their own experiences has helped pull me through."
The truth is, Sandberg's words speak to a universal certainty: Losing someone is never easy. Death is a difficult reality to bear, regardless of when it finds you.
To those closest to my grandmother, her age did not lessen the hurt we felt in losing her. I hear it in my sister's voice every time I speak to her. I know it to be so with every belated "so sorry for your loss" the family receives.
The sadness, at times, has been overwhelming — all-consuming in a way that Sandberg captures so aptly: "I have lived thirty years in these thirty days. I am thirty years sadder. I feel like I am thirty years wiser."
But there, buried in the sadness, lies hope too. Or perhaps courage is a better word for it.
"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," Sandberg says.
And Sandberg does just that. In 1733 words that she surely feels could never do justice to this man she loved so wholly, Sandberg bravely shares some of the meaning she has found in the wake of his passing.
Is the impact of her actions muffled by the ache in her own soul? Does she grasp how profound this gesture is? I don't know if she realizes, in doing so, how many people she may help discover meaning during their darkest hours.
Sandberg's words lift the foggy veil of sorrow to reveal something that is easily lost with pain: perspective.
"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," she writes, and you realize just how true that is.
None of us are guaranteed another day. It's up to us to make the most of every minute we have. To that end, Sandberg is doing her best to turn even this trying time into a teachable moment.
Some of these lessons she has learned ring particularly true to me. "I have learned to ask for help—and I have learned how much I need help," she says. As someone who has always found it difficult to ask for help (and admit I need it), I need to work on this... and that's OK.
"I have learned gratitude. Real gratitude for the things I took for granted before—like life," she says, recounting how she admonished a friend who said he hates birthdays, telling him, "Celebrate your birthday, goddammit. You are lucky to have each one."
I have never felt so grateful to be 32 years old or more grateful for every single one of my grandmother's birthdays that I got to spend celebrating with her. I am oh so grateful that every year, on April 3, we will honor Grandma's life by celebrating another: my sweet niece Jesse, who turns 2 on that very same day next year.
I am grateful for the love of a mother, which has blanketed me and my siblings in comfort while hiding her own hurt.
Says Sandberg of her own mother, "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." How very true, I think. (Thanks, Mom.)
Near the end of Sandberg's post, though, she says something especially moving. Describing a conversation with a friend about coming up with a plan to fill in for Dave, Sandberg lamented, "I cried to him, 'But I want Dave. I want option A.' [My friend] put his arm around me and said, 'Option A is not available. So let's just kick the shit out of option B.'"
And that, my friends, sounds exactly like something my Grandma Cookie would have said.
So thank you, Sheryl Sandberg, for sharing your grief in a way that helps others navigate theirs. And thank you for reminding me that, while she may not be with us anymore, the best way to honor my grandmother's life is to kick the shit out of mine.