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Leaning In to Our Grief

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Leaning In to Our Grief

What Sheryl Sandberg teaches us about tragedy.

In 2013, Sheryl Sandberg wrote her first book Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, selling over a million copies and launching a movement for working women. This week she shared on Facebook a public statement of grief following the unexpected death of her husband, Dave Goldberg, one month ago. Both have been remarkable conversation-starters. 

Sandberg’s recent reflection illuminates the way tragedies cause us to stop life as usual to feel deep loss. After her husband died in a gym accident last month, Sandberg entered the 30-day mourning period prescribed by Jewish tradition. The Facebook COO shares heartbreaking details from the first hours, days, and weeks: the anger when motorists didn’t yield for her husband’s ambulance; the way her mother holds her at night while she cries herself to sleep; her child’s school event where she could not manage to make eye contact with anyone.

In these glimpses of her new life as a widow, the pioneering executive doesn’t step away from all-consuming grief and emotion. Instead, she admits it. She acknowledges that things will never be the same:

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.

Sandberg speaks for millions who have lost parents and partners and friends when she says, “I still mourn for option A. I will always mourn for option A.” She adds, “Dave, to honor your memory and raise your children as they deserve to be raised, I will kick the sh-- out of option B.”

Even in a society prone to numb pain and loss with constructed images on social media and incessant likes, Sandberg took to Facebook to proclaim a deeper truth about human vulnerability, pain, and inadequacy. One of the most powerful women in the world can’t plan it all, can’t hold it together, can’t even get through the day when the unexpected happens. None of us can.

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