One of the world’s most prominent women, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, suffered an unimaginable loss this week when her husband died in a freak accident while holidaying in Mexico with his family.
Lots of words are being written about Sheryl Sandberg today.
Words describing her relationship with her husband, words detailing her husband’s sudden death, words speculating on how it might feel to be her, words describing what she had and what she has lost.
Some of them are even her words, republished and polished so that we, her audience, might understand what she has lost in the midst of all that she had. After all, one of the reasons we know about Sandberg is her blockbuster book Lean In, which at its most basic is an upwardly mobile narrative of success, a recipe for her audience to apply to their lives.
But now Sandberg is in the news not because of her success but because of loss. Two days ago her husband, Dave Goldberg, died unexpectedly, and in that instant nothing, not money, not positive thinking nor fame could protect her from this.
You see, at the end of things we are all the same.
I’m thinking about Sandberg tonight because nearly 13 years ago my husband died young and suddenly. At the time he was being treated for severe depression and I had secretly feared his death but when the news of it came it was still a violent assault. Two years later my mother too died quickly. In 10 weeks she went from being a healthy, active grandmother to a skeletal shadow of herself. Cancer claimed her effortlessly.
In contrast to these sudden deaths I write this piece at the airport on the way to visit my father who is dying. He’s been dying for months now. Each time I travel to see him he is further into the business of it, it’s a sinking in, a shutting down and of course in the face of it I am absolutely powerless. Death does this to us. Forces us to face our own mortality. This is the third time I’ve walked to the edge of the world with someone I love and perhaps in contrast to my husband and mother, it is a little easier because he is older and his life has been full and his last years have been eaten away with pain. Death looks a little different for him. But I know on the other side, when he is gone I will be once again a foreign land and I will once again lose my way.
It still shocks me that I’ve become schooled in death.
From one of our writers: “I am slowly experiencing grief for the first time.”
When my husband died I was pregnant with our second child and our daughter was five years old. I read of Dave Goldberg’s death and think of his wife trying to explain to her children and instantly I’m sucked back into this time. Public deaths do this to us. We relate from our own experience, place our own griefs quietly beside someone like Sandberg and think, I know this and it is hard. When I think of the time after my husband died all I can remember is the silence. People said things to me. I said things to them. I responded to other people’s sadness, I made appropriate noises and almost without realising it I stepped into a performance of a grief. But the performance came at a cost. The world became muffled. The only things that were bright and crisp were my children; the kick of my baby’s foot under my ribs, a squeeze of pain echoing down my leg as he rolled deep within my body; the small hand reaching out for me when I tucked my daughter into bed, the fierce strength of her five-year old fingers needing to hold me, the vast depth of her china blue eyes. These things I could see.