Sheryl Sandberg has shared publicly what she's learned about getting ahead at work: how to ask for a raise, balance work and family, and navigate the double standards and gender stereotypes women face.
And now, in a heartbreakingly beautiful and incredibly open tribute to her late husband, the Facebook chief operating officer is sharing what she's learned about grief.
"I think when tragedy occurs, it presents a choice," wrote Sandberg, whose husband, the much-loved Silicon Valley executive Dave Goldberg, died May 1 when he slipped in a treadmill accident while on vacation. "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 wrote her Wednesday post on Facebook (where else?) to mark the end of "sheloshim," the 30-day period of mourning in Judaism that follows the death of a loved one. But she also wrote it because she wanted "to give back to what others have given to me." Expressing gratitude to everyone from her close friends to total strangers who were generous with their experiences and wisdom, Sandberg wrote: "I am sharing what I have learned in hope that it helps someone else. In the hope that there can be some meaning from this tragedy."
This is not the first time Sandberg has written about her husband's death. In recent weeks, she posted thank-yous to many people's tributes, shared anecdotes about how other women have helped her and shared memories following his funeral.
But Wednesday's post, which should challenge the tear ducts of even the most stoic readers, is uniquely raw and emotional. "I have lived thirty years in these thirty days. I am thirty years sadder. I feel like I am thirty years wiser," she wrote.
Her words remind us how rarely we see public figures speak so openly about the topic of mourning, and how powerful it can be when they do. The recent outpouring of emotion over the death of Vice President Joe Biden's oldest son was, to be sure, due to the loss itself as well as to the tragedies that have bookended Biden's career. But it was made stronger by the public and beautiful way Biden has spoken over time about his own family's grief.
In Sandberg's intensely intimate post, she talks of the greater understanding she has gained about motherhood in recent weeks, describing "the depth of agony I feel when my children scream and cry" and the role her own mother has played since Goldberg's death, filling "the empty space in my bed, holding me each night until I cry myself to sleep."
Sandberg also writes of the hate she felt toward cars on the road as her husband's ambulance was on the way to the hospital, the discomfort she felt while at a school event with other parents who didn't know what to say, her tearful response to a friend who wasn't going to celebrate his birthday. "Celebrate your birthday, goddammit," she told him. "You are lucky to have one."
While she includes the expected lessons of not taking any day for granted, and appreciating her children even more, she also shares what she has learned from Wharton management school professor Adam Grant— a collaborator as well as a friend — about cultivating resilience. And she specifically comments on what to say and not say to someone grieving. "How are you today?" is much better than the same question without the "today," she said, because it speaks to a grieving person's constant struggle to get through the day.
"You and your children will find happiness again," she writes, brings far less comfort than the more truthful "you will find a new normal, but it will never be as good."
And around the workplace, she realized her professional relationships would suffer unless she was "more open and vulnerable than I ever wanted to be." She told colleagues to ask honest questions and tell her 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."
Sandberg's tribute ends with a rallying cry for anyone experiencing grief. A friend, Sandberg said, was helping her come up with someone who could step in for Goldberg at a kid's activity, and she mourned "but I want Dave. I want option A." He told her: "Option A is not available. So let's just kick the shit out of option B."
Sandberg closed her post by promising her husband she would do just that, even if she'd always feel his loss. "I will always mourn for option A."
You can read her full post here on Facebook.