It was a "horrible thing to live through," Sheryl Sandberg said of her husband's sudden death in May

By Tierney McAfee
December 09, 2015 12:10 PM
Courtesy Facebook

When Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg‘s husband of 11 years died suddenly in May, no one seemed to know what to say – until she poured out her grief into a Facebook post on the 30-day anniversary of his passing.

“I wasn’t sure if I was going to post it, but I did,” Sandberg told Savannah Guthrie on the Today show Wednesday. “I hit send on the 30-day anniversary of his death, which has meaning in the Jewish religion. I shared how to talk to me and how I was feeling. And it changed a lot. People knew what to say. People started talking to me more openly. And even strangers, because I’m not the only person who experienced loss this year or in previous years.”

Sandberg’s husband, Dave Goldberg, died from heart-related causes after falling off a treadmill while exercising during a family vacation. He was 47. The sudden loss was a “horrible thing to live through,” Sandberg says. She returned to work just 10 days later, only to face colleagues who were unsure of how to approach her.

It was “pretty isolating,” she explains. “Everyone kind of looks at you like a deer in the headlights.”

That’s why Sandberg decided to share her grief and sorrow with the world in an emotional post on her Facebook page in June.

“I have lived thirty years in these thirty days. I am thirty years sadder. I feel like I am thirty years wiser,” she wrote in the heart-wrenching message.

“I have learned that I never really knew what to say to others in need,” she went on to confess. “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 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.”

Sandberg says her deeply personal post also served a different purpose – it helped her appreciate Facebook’s impact on users all the more.

“As I look to the new year, and my children and I have worked so hard to rebuild our lives and find happiness and joy and gratitude again, I think the support of strangers and our friends made a huge difference,” Sandberg says. “I always loved Facebook’s mission, but now I feel even closer to it in, I think, a much deeper and more profound way.”