7 Lessons Sheryl Sandberg Can Teach Us About Resiliency in the Face of Loss

Sheryl Sandberg

“I have learned that resilience can be learned.” Sheryl Sandberg

Sheryl Sandberg is teaching us about resilience every single day.

The Facebook CEO recently experienced the unexpected passing of her husband, Dave Goldberg. As Laura Wellington pointed out, Sandberg joined 29,000 women under the age of 49 who lose their husbands every year in the United States.

Prior to this tragedy, we knew Sandberg as a talented CEO who managed her demanding career along with her family life. She also authored the book Lean In, encouraging professional women to lean into their careers and pursue their ambitions.

In the past month, we’ve learned about a different side of Sandberg. How she’s holding up under the most difficult and painful of situations – losing a spouse she loved and cherished.

One cannot imagine the pain, loss and sadness she and other widows experience upon the loss of a life partner.

How do you get up each day?

How do you show up for your children?

How do you continue with the normalcy of life when the person you’ve spent the past 10 years with is suddenly gone?

As hard as it’s been for Sandberg, she is sharing her grief and resilience with all of us. Through her own personal Facebook postings, she is openly revealing how she’s getting through the difficulty of losing a loved one.

Here are 7 lessons she’s teaching us about surviving the loss of your partner. 

1)    Make the most of Option B

When someone you love passes, you might die a little yourself internally, but Sandberg reminds you that you can choose to live and find meaning in the circumstance.

You can fill the time after your spouse passes with emptiness, pain and loss. Or you can fill the void with what this loss means to you – what matters most now and what you can take with you from this tragedy.

You have your entire life ahead of you, and you can choose to live it with meaning.

You can choose to make the most out of every day and live the life you have to the fullest.  If you can’t have option A, Sandberg reminds us, to make the most of Option B.

“Dave, to honor your memory and raise your children as they deserve to be raised, I promise to do all I can to kick the s*** of Option B.”

2)    Rely on your support network

You can’t get through this alone, no matter how independent or strong you are.

While you may have never asked for help or felt so helpless before, be willing to let others in.

The gravity of loss can be so overwhelming and painful that you may not be able to bear it alone.

Allow others to step in and be rocks for you in what will be the most trying time of your life. Be willing to ask for help even if this is something you’ve never done. Ask for emotional support. Ask for help with the kids or with errands you’re not up to doing.

3)    Find a new “normal.”

Sandberg tells us that she used to reassure people in times of hardship that things would get better, that things would be “okay.”

She realizes now that may not be the best advice or even the most helpful.

Instead, what she finds comfort in knowing is that life will get back to normalcy – but a new kind of “normal.”

Nothing will ever be the same, but it’s not the end.

Life will go on and you’ll adjust to the new life that develops.

4)    Realize it’s not your fault

Repeatedly remind yourself that what happened was not your fault.

Even if you had nothing remotely to do with your spouse’s death, there’s a tendency to want to blame yourself and to feel guilty for his or her passing.

The job your spouse took, the trip he or she went on, the terminal illness that developed has nothing to do with you.

Remind yourself that you’re not to blame and that you only increase the pain you’re suffering by absorbing that blame.

5)    Know that it’s not permanent

You will not always feel like your world has ended.

Once you get through each day of grief, you’ll come to a better place than where you are today.

Where you are today is not a permanent place. Your heart will beat again. You will find happiness again. You will find love again.

Everything may seem dark and bleak at the moment, but there is hope for a brighter day.

6)    The pain doesn’t have to consume all parts of your life

You don’t have to carry the pain into all areas of your life.

There are benefits, Sandberg suggests, to compartmentalizing your feelings and your grief.

Change your focus to other areas of your life so that the tragedy of your partner’s death doesn’t consume you.

Show up for work, be involved in your kids’ lives and do as much as you can of what you were able to do before.  

7)    Find gratefulness for what you have in life

You may think life is playing a cruel and harsh trick on you.

What can you possibly be thankful for now that your best friend and partner is gone?

Look for gratitude in all the small things you do have in your life.

Show gratitude for your support system, your friends and your memories. Be appreciative of everyone who’s standing with you to weather this storm.

Be grateful that you still have the ability to choose how you’ll deal with the circumstances you find yourself in.

You can choose to find meaning in this tragedy. You can choose to compartmentalize and stay strong under the circumstances. You can choose to create a new “normal” for yourself.

There is nothing anyone can really say to help ease the pain of the loss of a loved one.

Reading these tips based on Sandberg’s insights might show you what you need to do, but applying them to your own life can be difficult when the pain of loss is so overwhelming.

If nothing else works, do what you can to cope and take it one day at a time.

Know that your life’s not over and that better days are ahead.

With peace, blessings and love for all those who have lost loved ones in their lives.