Sheryl Sandberg writes of grief and returning to work

04/06/2015

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg wrote openly in a Facebook post yesterday about her grief inSheryl Sandberg the loss of her husband, Dave Goldberg, CEO of SurveyMonkey. It’s been 30 days since his passing. Today marks the six-year anniversary of my own husband’s death. I remember vividly the feelings she expressed so eloquently. She writes of her deep sorrow, of spending time in the void, “the emptiness that fills your heart, your lungs, constricts your ability to think or even breathe.” She talks of her desire to choose “life and meaning” and of how returning to work has helped her to feel useful and connected. Then she talks briefly about the ‘elephant in the room’ as she faced co-workers. Grief in the workplace is becoming more and more commonplace with so many Baby Boomers still working. It’s been reported that the average age a women loses her husband is 55. Well before retirement. The website workplacegrief.org, Dr. Kirsti A. Dyer discusses the issues facing employees who are dealing with loss and how employers and coworkers can help. She recommends acknowledging the death immediately with flowers or a note and having a representative of the company attend funeral services. When the employee returns to work she endorses flexibility in work hours, patience, understanding and allowing the person to grieve in their own way without judging. This sounds like common sense but you’d be surprised how many widows and widowers have had coworkers say, “I thought you’d be over that by now,” only months after the funeral of their spouse. It’s quite common for coworkers who are uncomfortable knowing what to say simply saying nothing appearing to ignore that you’ve just had a major life trauma.

Ms. Sandberg addresses this in her essay. “Many of my co-workers had a look of fear in their eyes as I approached. I knew why—they wanted to help but weren’t sure how,” she wrote. Restoring the closeness she valued with her employees took being open and vulnerable she stated. She told them they could ask any questions and she’d answer. Ms. Sandberg went on to describe the subtle difference between asking, “How are you?” and “How are you doing today?” I had to laugh as she described refraining from saying, “My husband died a month ago, how do you think I am?” I’m pretty sure there were a few times that I didn’t rein in my emotions right after my own husband passed. “How are you doing today,” implies that they understand it’s a day-by-day process. I wish Sheryl Sandberg the very best as she continues on this long journey back to “life and meaning” as she says. It appears that she’s surrounded with love and support from family and friends and that’s exactly what you need to figure out a new normal and find happiness again.

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