Why is everyone so impatient with Sheryl Sandberg’s grief?

Sheryl Sandberg’s birthday tribute to her late husband has met with comments like “move on.” Does she really need to “get over it”?

Sheryl Sandberg and her husband David Goldberg attend the Allen & Company Sun Valley Conference on July 9, 2014 in Sun Valley, Idaho. Scott Olson | Getty Images

Sheryl Sandberg took to Facebook over the weekend to celebrate the birthday of her late husband, Dave Goldberg, who died unexpectedly a year and a half ago. Sandberg’s post was a loving tribute to him, honoring his life and the man he was. She shared that his birthday occurs on Erev Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, and how fitting this is because her husband lived life so fully.

Initially Sandberg was showered with kind words and a strong show of public support. As her post attracted more attention, though, some commenters chimed in with advice like “move on” or offered thoughts such as “she needs a hug and some therapy to deal. These tributes are getting excessive.”

 

Why is everyone so impatient with Sheryl Sandberg’s grief?

A ‘timeline’ for grief

The idea that grief is a finite process, and that Ms. Sandberg should somehow be “over” the loss of her husband, is both unkind and unsympathetic. In our society, loss is one more thing for which people have grown impatient. Telling a widow, or any grieving person, how they should be feeling is incredibly insensitive and only serves to further isolate that person in their grief.

When we lost our daughter nearly nine years ago, I felt the impatience of others. I had other living children, life was as hectic as ever—and once the ink dried on the condolence cards they sent, well-wishers assumed I would resume life as usual.

I remember many an awkward conversation with people who felt the need to minimize my loss, perhaps in the hopes that I had moved on, and that we could not talk about the fact that my child had died. Some didn’t even say my daughter’s name or include her in the count of how many children I had given birth to. It was as if erasing her life somehow made communicating with me easier for them.

I understand that well-meaning people hope that we have “moved on,” that we aren’t suffering (at least acutely) after a loss. But acknowledging grief, even when it’s lengthy, is a necessary part of supporting someone you love.

The grief-stricken may not outwardly cry on a regular basis, but they are functioning on a different level than they used to.

People who have faced the loss of a close loved one will always grieve. They may not lie in bed covered in tear-soaked tissues for the rest of their lives, but losing someone changes who you are, forever.

The life you lived is no longer what it was, and formulating a new future while remembering what “should have been” is an exhausting emotional process. There are easier days and there are harder days: birthdays, anniversaries, special occasions are often just as difficult as those early days after a death. The grief-stricken may not outwardly cry on a regular basis, but they are functioning on a different level than they used to, and they need all the support they can get.

To tell Sandberg, or any grieving person, they should be “over it” by now is deeply inconsiderate. Courtney, the writer behind Our Small Moments, lost her husband to cancer three years ago, and said, “As long as he is not here, I will always miss him. Even as time goes by, even after remarriage, never a day goes by that I don’t think of him.”

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Sandberg’s life is forever changed, and to expect her to live in the public eye—yet not share the feelings—is completely unrealistic. And her words may be striking a chord for someone grieving in silence: her Facebook statuses and Instagram posts may be shared by people who need support but don’t have the words to say it. Publicly sharing her journey through grief is a brave contribution to the grieving of the world from Sandberg. By acknowledging her pain and openly sharing her feelings, she is reminding everyone that those grieving in their lives still need support.

Next week it will be nine years since my daughter passed. I will write about her and share her photos as I have done every year since her death. Do I think there are some people out there rolling their eyes and wondering if I have a therapist? I do. But those people aren’t the ones I’m worried about. Remembering my daughter, sharing her memory with friends and family, and reminding people that she was here are important pieces of my grieving process. During this emotional time of year, that’s all I can worry about. As Courtney eloquently says, “Grief is forever, choosing to live is a choice I make each day despite his absence.” I have a feeling Sandberg would agree.

 

Jessica Watson
Jessica Watson
Jessica Watson is the mom to five, four in her arms and one in her heart. She lives in a noisy house in Michigan where she finds the occasional quiet moment to write. Jessica is the author of the children's book "Soon" and the blog FourPlusanAngel.com.

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