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Sheryl Sandberg and Shloshim

Sheryl Sandberg and Shloshim

Bringing the ideas of Jewish mourning into the national spotlight.

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The unexpected death of tech leader Dave Goldberg – husband of Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg – has brought the ideas of Jewish mourning into the national spotlight.

As the 30-day mourning period ("Shloshim") concluded, Sandberg shared her thoughts with millions of people. Publicizing Judaism's sensitive and wise mourning practices constitutes a "Kiddush Hashem" – sanctification of God's Name – that serves as a merit for the dearly departed.

Excerpts from Sandberg's post:

Today is the end of sheloshim for my beloved husband – the first thirty days. Judaism calls for a period of intense mourning known as shiva that lasts seven days after a loved one is buried. After shiva, most normal activities can be resumed, but it is the end of sheloshim that marks the completion of religious mourning for a spouse.

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. These past thirty days, I have spent many of my moments lost in that void. And I know that many future moments will be consumed by the vast emptiness as well.

But when I can, I want to choose life and meaning.

And this is why I am writing: to mark the end of sheloshim and to give back some of what others have given to me...

I have learned that I never really knew what to say to others in need. I think I got this all wrong before; 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 have learned some practical stuff that matters. Although we now know that Dave died immediately, I didn’t know that in the ambulance. The trip to the hospital was unbearably slow. I still hate every car that did not move to the side, every person who cared more about arriving at their destination a few minutes earlier than making room for us to pass. I have noticed this while driving in many countries and cities. Let’s all move out of the way. Someone’s parent or partner or child might depend on it.

I have learned how ephemeral everything can feel – and maybe everything is. That whatever rug you are standing on can be pulled right out from under you with absolutely no warning. In the last thirty days, I have heard from too many women who lost a spouse and then had multiple rugs pulled out from under them. Some lack support networks and struggle alone as they face emotional distress and financial insecurity. It seems so wrong to me that we abandon these women and their families when they are in greatest need.

I have learned to ask for help – and I have learned how much help I need. Until now, I have been the older sister, the COO, the doer and the planner. I did not plan this, and when it happened, I was not capable of doing much of anything. Those closest to me took over. They planned. They arranged. They told me where to sit and reminded me to eat. They are still doing so much to support me and my children...

For me, starting the transition back to work has been a savior, a chance to feel useful and connected. But I quickly discovered that even those connections had changed. Many of my co-workers had a look of fear in their eyes as I approached. I knew why – they wanted to help but weren’t sure how. Should I mention it? Should I not mention it? If I mention it, what the hell do I say? I realized that to restore that closeness with my colleagues that has always been so important to me, I needed to let them in. And that meant being more open and vulnerable than I ever wanted to be. I told those I work with most closely 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. One colleague admitted she’d been driving by my house frequently, not sure if she should come in. Another said he was paralyzed when I was around, worried he might say the wrong thing. Speaking openly replaced the fear of doing and saying the wrong thing. One of my favorite cartoons of all time has an elephant in a room answering the phone, saying, “It’s the elephant.” Once I addressed the elephant, we were able to kick him out of the room.

At the same time, there are moments when I can’t let people in. I went to Portfolio Night at school where kids show their parents around the classroom to look at their work hung on the walls. So many of the parents – all of whom have been so kind – tried to make eye contact or say something they thought would be comforting. I looked down the entire time so no one could catch my eye for fear of breaking down. I hope they understood.

Further reading: ABCs of Death & Mourning

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Visitor Comments: 17

(15) Anonymous, June 15, 2015 12:54 AM

tears for the truth

These words brought tears to my eyes, even 23 years later, because they are truthful and reminded me of my loss and pain. Another thing NOT to say to a widow is, "G-d took him so young because he was a tzaddik." (This was actually said to me by a rabbi.) My husband was 47. Since I had eight kids, the youngest three years old, this was not too helpful-- in fact, it was hurtful! Bad enough to lose a beloved husband, and be left many kids and very little income, but to be told that he was was taken because he was a tzaddik! No thanks! Twenty three years later, it's still hard for me to forgive that person!
Yes, “How are you today?” is far better than "How are you?" And please don't ask at all, if you are not ready to hear the truth, but only want to hear that everything is just peachy.

I dont get it, June 17, 2015 11:26 PM

tzaddik

Forgive my ignorance... but what was wrong with saying he is a tzaddik?

(14) Susie Davidson, June 9, 2015 3:46 AM

Very touching

Ms. Sandberg's remarks are heartfelt and eloquent.

(13) Jewish Sister, June 8, 2015 6:52 PM

I'm with you in your sorrow

Sheryl, I lost my father when I was 22 years old and even though you can't compare a father to a husband, and each loss it totally individual, I feel your pain. I still haven't forgotten how devastating it was. It's an amputation - a piece of us that's gone. And, when trying to get back to 'regular' life. I remember so clearly the feeling of being out of sync with the rest of the world of people whose lives are 'regular routine' while my world turned upside down. You're right, though. We do adjust to a new normal, just as am amputee can adjust. But what's missing remains missing. One of the things that helped/helps me connect with my father - which I'm sure you're probably doing - is doing things in his memory, whether it's charity, being extra kind to people who need an encouraging word, pushing ourselves not to lose our temper especially with our kids, and so on. It's the best gift we can give to those whom we loved and lost. Your writing this post is a great kindness to so many, helping people learn to open up and share by addressing the elephant. Such courage! So many of us don't and close ourselves off in their sorrow. And now Aish is spreading your message further. I hope you find a degree of comfort in the strength you're giving others. And I hope you continue to adjust to the new normal and find great joy in your life, despite the ever-present void.
Love,
Your Jewish Sister

(12) ruth berkovits, June 8, 2015 2:17 PM

Thank you for this heartfelt article

Hashem should give you koach and nechama to continue on.

Hamakom yenachem eschem bsoch shaar avelei Tzion BYerushalayim

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