Sunday, June 7, 2015

Choosing Life

Five weeks ago today, Facebook's Sheryl Sandberg’s husband Dave Goldberg died suddenly. She felt compelled to write her honest feelings of what it is like to loose someone you love, whether it is a child, a parent or a spouse. I believe that what she says is “right on” for loss of a child also. I, too, felt all those same emotions when my daughter died suddenly in a car accident 21 years ago. But, I, like Sheryl chose life and meaning, and helping other bereaved parents like myself. In this synopsis Sheryl expresses her gratitude and thanks to others and expresses what she has learned from this tragic event. See if you can personally identify your feelings with the passages below from the NBC Today Show news feed and whether you can apply them to your loss of a child. I have tried to include key passages. To read the entire text, go to NBC's Today Show from this last week.

“A childhood friend of mine who is now a rabbi recently told me that the most powerful one-line prayer he has ever read is: “Let me not die while I am still alive.” I would have never understood that prayer before losing Dave. Now I do." 

“I think when tragedy occurs it presents a choice. 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." She says she chooses life and meaning.

She talks about how both close friends and also strangers pulled her through the difficult moments. She shares what she has learned in the hope that it helps someone else find some meaning from such a tragedy.

Her mother has even tried to fill the empty space in her bed, "holding me each night until I cry myself to sleep. She has fought to hold back her own tears to make room for mine."

We think we know how to react to others when tragedy strikes, but do we really. Sheryl realizes she didn't. "I tried to assure people that it would be okay, thinking that hope was the most comforting thing I could offer. A friend with late-stage cancer told me 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…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. 

I personally remember that when my daughter died and people would ask me how I was doing, I would always say, "I'm okay." One day a friend said, "You're not okay, so don't say you are." I realized she was right, so now I say, "I'm doing the best I can today." 

Sheryl also thinks that even a simple ‘How are you?’ almost always asked with the best of intentions—is better replaced with ‘How are you today?’ When she is asked, ‘How are you?’ she stops herself from shouting, "My husband died a month ago, how do you think I am?" When she hears ‘How are you today?’ she realizes the person knows that the best she can do right now is to get through each day, one day at a time.

About going back to work, she says she thought that work would be a savior, but realized her co-workers wanted to help but weren't sure how. "To restore that closeness with my colleagues I needed to let them in. I told them 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. Many were worried they might say the wrong thing. Speaking openly replaced the fear of doing and saying the wrong thing." 

She believes she took gratitude for granted. She now appreciates every smile, every hug. "I am truly grateful to the many who have offered their sympathy and men who are honoring Dave’s life by spending more time with their families. I can’t even express the gratitude I feel to my family and friends who have done so much and reassured me that they will continue to be there. In the brutal moments when I am overtaken by the void, when the months and years stretch out in front of me endless and empty, only their faces pull me out of the isolation and fear. My appreciation for them knows no bounds."

Sheryl, from my experience, I can tell you that it will be a long road but I believe you have started with the first steps to move forward in your grief journey.

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