I Wish I Could Be as Graceful in Tragedy as Sheryl Sandberg

by Emma Waverman
Originally Published: 

Her message that day was: “What would you do if you weren’t afraid?” (I said, “I would give 100 percent.”)

Sandberg’s point that we allow fear to hold us back was, and is, a valid one. I think of her often, whenever I think that fear is stopping me from achieving a goal. I also think about what she said about marriage—that who you marry is one of the most important career decisions that you make. And of all the career decisions that I have made, my choice of life partner was certainly my best.

But now Sandberg has lost her life partner, who from all accounts was as wonderful and supportive as she made him sound in her book. Maybe more so.

Before May 1, she was North America’s premier working mom: a top executive at Facebook, a mother to two young kids, a snazzy dresser, and a partner to an equally successful man. But after David Goldberg’s sudden death from head trauma on their Mexican vacation, she has a new role, and it is one that no one would ever would want. She is now North America’s most visible widow.

The term widow sounds so old-fashioned, summoning up images of black-clad old women who live on memories alone.

Sheryl Sandberg has taken on this new role with profound grace. She wrote a moving Facebook post in which she said she was now a member of a club that no one wants to join. But she added that if she had known that she would only have 11 years with her husband, she would still choose him.

She is reportedly following a psychologist’s advice by returning to routine and a limited work schedule. Recently, she also answered a Quora question about how to best honor her husband’s memory. The posted question echoed what is on many of our minds: “How can we express our sympathy for Sheryl Sandberg after the tragic death of her husband?”

She began her answer by writing, “I am so grateful for all of the people who have expressed sympathy and reached out. This is a generous and kind question and I am touched someone asked it.”

She asked people to keep uploading photos and memories of David to Facebook for her family to read, and ended with a simple request for families to spend time together around the dinner table.

“One friend also told me that he canceled a planned work dinner last night to have dinner with his kids instead,” she wrote. “We always went around the table and each of us said our best and worst of the day. The family rule is that you have to have a best but a worst is optional. I think there is no better way for any man or woman to honor the memory of my beloved husband.”

“What would you do if you weren’t afraid?” was the question that Sheryl Sandberg asked the crowd in New York two years ago. Now she is showing us how to handle yourself when one of the things that you are most afraid of happens.

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