That’s What Sheryl Said
Since my dad’s death in September 2013, plenty of tears, questions and confusion has poured out of me. This wasn’t my first big loss in life, but it has absolutely hit the hardest. Yesterday, for example, wasn’t just Father’s Day — it was also my parents’ 35th wedding anniversary — and it was brutal.
I’ve read eons of articles about coping with grief, learning how to get by, and the like. I’ve had nightmares about all the milestones my dad will miss, including career successes, a walk down the aisle, starting a family, my own anniversaries, and so on. I’ve felt a gamut of emotions, ranging from anger to emptiness.
It wasn’t until earlier this month, when I read Sheryl Sandberg’s essay about the loss of her husband, that a new feeling emerged: hope.
In it, Sandberg explains the lessons she’s learned in the 30 days since her husband’s death. The emotions. The questions. The confusion. I read through blurry eyes with tear-stained cheeks and big, ugly sobs. This passage, in particular, spoke to me:
“I tried to assure people that it would be okay, thinking that hope was the most comforting thing I could offer. A friend of mine 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. 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. Even a simple ‘How are you?’—almost always asked with the best of intentions—is better replaced with ‘How are you today?’ When I am asked ‘How are you?’ I stop myself from shouting, My husband died a month ago, how do you think I am? When I hear ‘How are you today?’ I realize the person knows that the best I can do right now is to get through each day.”
I highly recommend you take some time to read the entire essay — even if you haven’t dealt directly with grief, Sandberg provides excellent context for helping others deal with death.
Since September 2013, I’ve actively said that we as humans are not well-equipped to deal with loss. There is no manual, but Sandberg’s words are certainly a start.