For Sheryl Sandberg
I am not exactly sure how folks will view seeing an Average Jane, like myself, writing my condolences and thoughts to Sheryl Sandberg regarding the loss of her husband, Dave Goldberg. I am not her friend. My life, undoubtedly, very different from hers. There is at least one thing that we share — the tragic, sudden loss of a spouse. Luckily for most, it is the kind of education that is not commonplace. It is for that reason that I write to her today.
Sheryl, you are unquestionably an exceptional woman and human being. Strong. Intelligent. Successful. Altruistic. It is because of that strength, that you might need to dig deeper than you ever have in you life to find patience with yourself. To put it simply, let Atlas shrug. Your body is an amazing piece of equipment. It will do a lot of the work for you. You have to allow yourself to lie back and let your mind makes sense of things the way it needs to, in the time it needs to accomplish filling the hole that Dave occupied. Its job is to fill that hole. You may feel like the outsider looking in as your brain puts this over here and that over there. You will have dreams. You will have nightmares. You will think he is still alive until something proves that line of thought wrong. You will sleep with his shirt, hoping to preserve the memory of his smell. Sounds will escape from your mouth that you never knew could exist. Pain will make its way to the surface. You must allow yourself to heave — to be weak and humble enough to let it out. The mind is running the show.
You have already put out an amazing tribute to Dave. In the frenetic moments to come, you may find the need to continue to memorialize his life. For successful people, like Dave, I imagine there is some reassurance that his life was well documented. Most of the occupants on this planet will live, work and die without leaving a ton behind to tell the world, “we were here.” That aside, it is the inside life — the hearts of the people that love Dave — that needs his spirit felt. You will demand it at every turn. You will listen to all the stories from others about who he was and what he did during his stay on earth. It will be a long time before you tire of amassing the data points of his life. One day, you will be tired. The articles will have been clipped. The tomes filed away neatly on a well crafted altar in his honor.
For some, this is when the silence sets in. The time feared most. The busy work is over. The loved one is put to rest. The estate is settled. The incoming messages expressing condolences lessen. There are no distractions left to mask the pain or help one get to the next day. You may even find yourself missing hearing the phrases you hated most during the months following your loss. Things like, “That which does not kill us makes us stronger.” Or, “Everything happens for a reason.” You may find questions rattling around in your mind — a brain that has been working overtime to grasp the finality of human existence. “What will my life be like when the incoming messages fade? What will be left of me? Of him? Will people expect me to move on before I can manage the thought? Will the nights I am left alone in my bed, arms outstretched in a space I used to share, be bearable?” Those are the normal questions, geared toward anyone suffering a tragic loss. I imagine another layer will be added to your grief, Sheryl, because it is you that is the rock. Dave may have been your rock, but your words and image have been a rock to people you have never met. You are an inspiration. Please do not let our needs for you to be a heroine weigh on you. The greatest gift you could give us now is to allow yourself access to every possible tool available for you to get whole. It will be difficult, I imagine, to let that go even temporarily. You so often speak of the greater good. Just know in your heart that your generosity has been felt. You will feel that returned to you now as the outpouring of affection flows your way in your time of need. Like Gandhi said, “My life is my message.” Take the time now to accept the love and generosity. We gladly give it. If you find yourself sitting alone in a silent room when you need more, ask for what you need. It sounds easy, but for strong characters it is often the case that the word “help” lives far outside the personal lexicon. Embrace the word. Like you, there will be others that are still thinking about Dave a year from now. They might not call often because they do not know how much you want to hear from them, but they will be there waiting for you to reach out for their hands.
Being a mother, you will not have the luxury of having every moment you need to reflect upon, absorb and understand your loss. If you parent in the same fashion in which you lead, you will likely be tempted to focus on the needs of the household over Sheryl’s needs. I hope you can take a deep breath and allow yourself an instance, or ten, in which you fail your children. You will not fail them in the long run because you are a long run kind of person.
Sheryl, I wish you nothing but the love and support you deserve during this time. As a survivor, I know that what you are experiencing and what you will be experiencing five years from now is deeply and inextricably human. Even if we cannot always say a lot for ourselves as a species, one thing I know is true. Humanity is resilient. So are you.