What happens when the bottom of the world falls out? After the shock of losing a loved one, each person must decide what he or she will carry away from the catastrophe. Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg’s grief has not emptied her hands. In a Facebook post today, she brings us wisdom from her suffering the sudden death of her husband Dave Goldberg last month. Her heart-wringing post recounts lessons of loss that I have learned as a rabbi but rarely have seen stated with such eloquent compassion.
1. It’s important to know how to help bear someone else’s anguish. It is not OK to say, “It will be OK.” When your beloved husband, who is only 47 years old dies, things will never be OK the same way. Each great loss dents the universe. There will be a new way to live, but there will also be a scar. When the scar forms, it doesn’t mean there is not still a wound. We are all human. We will all suffer loss. It leaves none of us the same. Do not placate another with lies or evasions because the truth is harder to take. Truth alone endures.
2. Have the courage of the comforter. Sandberg writes about a friend who circled her house, unsure whether to enter. We instinctively understand the hesitation. It is easier to avoid, or write a note—anything that saves us from looking in the face of the sufferer. Still, we must risk the pain of others. No one is eager to enter a hospital room or a house of mourning. I do it all the time—it is part of my role as a rabbi—and yet so many times I have stood right outside the room, gathering up my strength for what I knew I would face. The very difficulty makes the comfort that much more precious. Reach out, let people know that you are here and that you care. Show them that their suffering moves you but does not scare you. Why else, in the end, are we put on this earth?
3. It’s not only what Sandberg wrote but also the fact that she did write. Several years ago I published a book called Making Loss Matter. It was about the different kinds of losses we endure in life and the single lesson that emerges from them. No one can sidestep loss; it is the iron law of life. We lose so many things in life—dreams, home, health, love, faith, and of course, life itself. What do we do with the shattering of our once-whole world?
The book’s message is that all we can do is to give our loss meaning. It would be obscene and absurd to say that the death of Goldberg was itself meaningful. It was random and painful and terrible for those who knew and loved him. But Sandberg helps make the loss matter, helps make it meaningful, by bringing us lessons from the depth of her own pain. She ensures that her husband’s death is not in vain by teaching us how it touched one sensitive heart, what she learned, and how she was forced to grow.
One thousand years ago the mystic Yehuda HaChasid wrote, “I will build an altar from the broken fragments of my heart.” Sandberg offers a prayer from the fragments of her shattered heart. Each person she touches with her words does her honor, and is a tribute to the sweet soul she, her children, and her community lost.