8 Lessons Sheryl Sandberg Taught Us About Grieving For Someone You Truly Love

"Let me not die while I am still alive."

Cover image via

3 June 2015, marked 30 days since the burial of Dave Goldberg, CEO of SurveyMonkey and husband of Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg. Dave passed away on 1 May after suffering severe head trauma during a gym accident while he was on a holiday in Mexico.

Sheryl Sandberg and Dave Goldberg.

Image via Sheryl Sandberg

To mark the end of sheloshim, the 30-day period of mourning in Judaism that follows the death of a loved one, Sheryl shared honest and heartbreaking reflections on her journey through grief so far.

Below, we highlight 8 important lessons from her reflections:

Image via Sheryl Sandberg

1. You always have a choice (yes, even in tragedy)

"I think when tragedy occurs, it presents a choice," Sheryl writes, pointing out how we can either give in to the void, the emptiness that fills our heart, our lungs, constricts our ability to think or even breathe. Or we 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."

2. It's okay to acknowledge that it is not okay

Sheryl admits that she recently learned that she never really knew what to say others in need. It's something that most of us can identify with. "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 writes, while adding that a friend of hers with late-stage cancer told her 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," Sheryl writes.

3. Nothing in this is permanent. Whatever rug you are standing on can be pulled right out from under you with absolutely no warning.

"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."

4. Learn how if you don't know and ask for help

"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."

5. Know that resilience can be learned

"...three things are critical to resilience and that I can work on all three.

Personalisation—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.

6. In the face of a tragedy, to restore the closeness with people in your life, whether friends, family and even co-workers; you need to let them in, even if it means being more open and vulnerable than you ever wanted to be

"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."

7. At the same time, there are moments so overwhelming when you just can't let people in. Admit it and keep fighting.

*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."

8. Learn gratitude and appreciate every smile, every hug you get. (PS: Celebrate your birthday, goddammit).

"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."

Of course, it goes without saying that no one would ever wish to trade family for this type of newfound understanding. It's clear from her writing that there is nothing she wouldn't give for a few more days with her husband, as is evident from this heartbreaking story:

"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."

Image via Sheryl Sandberg

She ended her note with a lyric from U2's "California (There Is No End To Love)," writing, 'As Bono sang, "There is no end to grief . . . and there is no end to love.' I love you, Dave."


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