Sheryl Sandberg, author of Leaning In and COO of Facebook, unexpectedly lost her husband Dave Goldberg this May in an accident while they were on a vacation together in Mexico. The couple were very close and shared roles as breadwinners and parents. She has just become a single parent with the task of finishing raising their son and daughter by herself.
In June, she finished sheloshim, the first thirty days of mourning for a spouse called for by their Jewish faith, and she is reentering many of her normal activities. Sandberg released an essay she posted on Facebook about her experience losing Dave, what motherhood means to her now, and what she has learned about how to respond with sensitivity when others experience loss. It's well worth reading.
I was particularly struck by a brave comment Sandberg makes about making plans for one of their children to go to a father/child event with a family friend who offered to step in for Dave. She wanted Dave, but their friend pointed out that Dave was not an option, so they needed to go to plan B. Sandberg discloses feeling so much loss at Plan A for her life not working out and grieving it deeply, but now committing herself fiercely to Plan B. I honor her resiliency.
The ability to come back from loss, disappointment, rejection and failure is one of the most essential character traits we need to develop and we need to help our children develop. I've been counseling individuals and families long enough to know that there is a random distribution of bad things that happen in life, even if you're making your best effort. Your partner can die prematurely. You can work hard in your marriage to be a faithful and loving partner and still see it end in divorce. You can have an infant or a child not survive. You can lose your home or your business. You or a family member can become disabled which can dramatically alter what you had planned. What are we to do?
Being resilient and going on after loss and disappointment takes courage, bravery and spirit. You have to make the decision to go on, rebuild and go for the joy again, despite what has happened. Life is full of unexpected things, and sometimes the best we can do is to experience and process the feelings of loss, work towards acceptance and throw ourselves hard into Plan B. Sandberg's essay includes thoughtful insights on what has just happened to her family, and also the tenacity that she expresses to go forward for herself and her children.
There are lessons here, too, to be shared with our children about not just striving to achieve and accomplish great things, but also the spirit to come back from difficult things. Perhaps we should celebrate most of all when they try again following challenges, failure, loss and disappointment. Encouraging our children to be real and also be strong and resilient are some of the best values we can role model or instill. We can't bubble wrap our children to protect them, but we can encourage and honor their lessons in bouncing back from adversity and not giving up.
Raising strong, kind and resilient children is a wonderful legacy to leave behind. Being a person and a parent who lives in this resilient way isn't easy at all.
Loss and disappointment can open us up in the most amazing ways to the importance of living life well and cultivating close relationships. Loss makes us realize how fragile we are all, what's really essential and how precious life is. Significant losses can tenderize us and open our hearts even more than before. Being resilient, and going forward despite how we are changed, is what takes real courage.