Sheryl Sandberg’s Reluctant Identity


As Sheryl Sandberg begins to navigate the world of widowhood, it brings to mind – no doubt for many widows – those first days and weeks, functioning on survival spouse autopilot. In her Facebook note she spoke of her gratefulness, which so many of us acknowledge, the yin yang of heartbreak and gratitude. I too found myself telling mourners at my husband’s wake that I felt ‘lucky’ to have had what we did, though he died suddenly at 50. There is no set number of years that quantifies a lifetime.

Unlike many of us, Sheryl mourns in the public eye. Though she might prefer to crawl under the covers rather than be out in the spotlight, she’s helping others by her strength, resolve and kindness. Akin to the grace with which Jackie Kennedy navigated widowhood, Sheryl’s been a beacon during the dark days that so many in the widowed community have experienced. Thank you, Sheryl, may you continue to find peace and comfort on your journey.

  • As Joyce Carol Oates wrote after losing her husband, “for all who are grieving, there is no way to survive except through others.” Accept help from those trusted and dear to you.
  • Keep a journal.  Writing about the day-to-day events during this traumatic time will be cathartic.  As a writer, you’ll no doubt find the process comforting and alleviating.  Memories endure, details fade. Years later, you’ll be amazed by the specifics in your notes. And in awe of how much you did.
  • Trust your instincts.
  • Whenever that first moment comes when you hear yourself laugh, don’t stop. And don’t feel guilty.
  • Rest. Food. Move. Take care of yourself.  Pardon the truism, but getting enough sleep, eating well and exercising regularly is more important than ever.
  • Be good to yourself. This isn’t quite the same as taking care of yourself, but rather allowing yourself to indulge in creature comforts and guilty pleasures (regardless of how inappropriate that phrase sounds to you right now). Don’t resist what calms and comforts you, whether it’s playing Candy Crush or eating fried Oreos.
  • After the funeral, life settles into the new normal. Silent phones and quiet homes. Half beds. Long nights. Empty seats. Fresh tears erupting with new condolences. Life unraveling like a video rewinding. Try not to withdraw. Reach out. Get out. Stay connected. Please forgive the cliché. Though it might sound outrageously ridiculous directed at the COO of the largest social network in the world, you’d be surprised what widowhood can do.
  • We will all grieve and mourn and move on, at our own pace and in different ways. There are no rules or timelines, even for high-profile individuals.
  • Your celebrity status has brought condolences from around the world and throughout the global village, strangers near and far. Embrace the gargantuan good will.
  • Find joy in something every day.

2 thoughts on “Sheryl Sandberg’s Reluctant Identity

  1. Dear Brave Survivor,

    I write this as I am going through a very similar situation with my live-in boyfriend, partner verbal abuser and now dry drunk exists in the bed next to me. Though we don’t touch and rarely kiss anymore.

    John – I will call him – close enough – was diagnosed with Liver failure and cirrhosis just two weeks ago. I should have known the day I met him in a card store before Christmas and he was drunk. I should have ran the other way. After he lost his sister to cirrhosis at 34, over fifteen years ago, he just continued to drink bottles of liquor everyday.

    I believe we all meet people for certain reasons. I believe the reason I met John was to overcome my low self esteem and love myself more. I read lots of self help books, go to therapy and Al-Anon. But here I am almost 18 years later watching him slowly die. I thought I would have left this insanity years ago. I did several times but kept coming back for more. He called and cried and promised things would get better and I believed it in my co-dependent mind.

    He spent our whole relationship committing a slow suicide. Cleaned out his whole retirement fund and cashed out every bit of his credit cards – $600.00 a month on Alcohol and cigarettes and hasn’t worked for 6 years. I have to admit I wish he wasn’t around anymore or I had the courage to leave a sick man that is still controlling, verbally abusive and very childlike. But I keep saying I will go and maybe one day I will be the widow too…I am embarrassed to say this…but it’s the truth and it sets you free…..

  2. I am on a parallel timeline with Sheryl Sandberg…I lost my partner of 9 years 6 weeks ago……although to suicide and alcohol……I was stronger 4 weeks ago. Now I am struggling with despair ……and guilt….I don’t want to work or eat or exercise and I know this is what I should do….trying to find joy every day is difficult. There is such a mess left behind. I have many supportive friends but feel so alone. Each part of each day is different …i long for one full “good” day…..hopefully soon….anne

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