Sheryl Sandberg Redefines Empathy in Eloquent Reflection on Grief

Sheryl Sandberg and Dave Goldberg

Sheryl Sandberg and Dave Goldberg

Sheryl Sandberg’s recent Facebook post (bit.ly/sandbergempathy), written a month after her husband died, is a wise reflection on the rawness of grief — and a testament to the resiliency of those who grieve. Her heart-rending story gives us a hundred gifts, perhaps the greatest of which has not as much to do with the extraordinary things she says as it has to do simply with the fact that she is able to stand before us, plain and real, and share: This is how it is for me. Where she takes her stand, she makes room both for the painful void, “the emptiness that fills your heart, your lungs, constricts your ability to think or even breathe,” and for whatever might exist on the other side of that void, a place where, she declares, “I want to choose life and meaning.” She continues, deconstructing one moment of grief after another, always from a perspective that juxtaposes sheer darkness against gratitude that “knows no bounds.”

I hope my allusions to her eloquent post entice you to read it, for it is not my purpose here (nor would it be possible) to summarize all that she gives us. My purpose, rather, is to thank Sandberg for clarifying for me — in a way that I will never forget nor let go of — the meaning of a word I hold dear but which I did not understand as completely I now do: “Real empathy,” she says, “is sometimes not insisting that it will be okay but acknowledging that it is not.” An edifice of compassionate helpfulness to the bereaved could be built upon that foundation.

Franklin Cook

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Franklin Cook is the creator of a peer grief support telephone service called Personal Grief Coaching (http://bit.ly/copewithgrief). He blogs at Grief after Suicide (http://www.personalgriefcoach.info), and his complete, up-to-date bio is available at http://bit.ly/biofjcook. Franklin is a survivor of his father's suicide in 1978.

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