Sheryl Sandberg and her late husband, David Goldberg. (Photo: Facebook)
Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg wrote a powerful, heart-wrenching essay marking the first month of grief over the death of her husband David Goldberg on Wednesday. Within an hour of Sandberg posting it to Facebook, it was clear her 1,700-word outpouring of raw emotion had clearly touched a nerve, and was well on its way to going viral.
In the post about Goldberg, who died in a tragic treadmill accident 30 days ago while vacationing in Mexico, the mother of two deftly explored the complexities of mourning a spouse while also being a parent — and a daughter.
“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,” Sandberg writes. “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.”
Sandberg explains she was writing about her loss to mark the end of sheloshim — the close of an intense mourning period for a spouse in Judaism.
“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,” she writes. “I have lived thirty years in these thirty days. I am thirty years sadder. I feel like I am thirty years wiser.”
What she has learned, in addition to her painful insights into motherhood, has also included lessons on empathy, she says.
“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,” she notes. “…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.”
Grief therapist Robert Zucker, author of “The Journey Through Grief and Loss: Helping Yourself and Your Child When Grief Is Shared,” tells Yahoo Parenting that he found Sandberg’s essay “powerful, beautiful, just amazing” in its honesty. He praises her for using her platform to share what she’s learned, and was especially touched by the support — “a wonderful gift” — Sandberg described receiving from her mother.
Sheryl Sandberg and David Goldberg in 2013. (Photo: Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
“Her daughter now has a huge job of taking care of not only herself but her children,” he says. “How do you do both? How do you allow yourself to express your suffering and also understand you have a job to care for your children? It’s an excruciating responsibility. And what her mother is doing is allowing her to be nurtured and strengthened for that. It’s a wonderful model for what we can do in families, and how we — friends, family — need to step up for the children when a bereaved parent can’t.”
For parents in Sandberg’s situation, Zucker advises allowing your children to see you grieve — whether through emoting, talking, exercising, creating, or any other way that comes naturally — because it’s important to model for kids that grieving is healthy. “Sometimes parents wonder, can I show my kids how difficult it is for me? It’s tough to answer,” he admits. “Kids can benefit from seeing what grieving looks like, but it can also potentially be frightening. So hopefully one finds a way to also have private time in which to let it all hang out.”
Most importantly, he notes, is to reassure children that while you might be too sad to do it all for a while, you are making sure they are being taken care of, with help, and that they still have one parent left. “Let them know they didn’t lose both parents,” he advises, “even though it feels like mommy isn’t here anymore.”
Sandberg seems to strike that balance over and over again in her expressive essay, which is perhaps most remarkable for how hopeful she is. “I have learned gratitude. Real gratitude for the things I took for granted before — like life,” she writes. “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.”
That’s the thing about surviving loss when you are a mother or father, Zucker notes. “Kids help us,” he says, “because we know, as parents, that we have to get through it.”