Thank you Sheryl Sandberg for destroying the myths of widowhood and erasing the rules of “recovery and re-entry.” Most importantly, thank you for dealing with the judgment piece head on about when it’s ok to find another companion/partner…about when it’s ok to date again.
For those of us who have dealt with the loss of a spouse, this book is something I plan to buy for any friend who should ever have to deal with this kind of loss. I wish I’d had this book when I went through the loss of my husband.
After I lost my husband and felt dreadfully alone I had a wonderful conversation with my friend who happens to be my Rabbi as well. He told me, after a month, the bible states a woman can begin dating. Apparently, a month in the old days – like 1,000 years ago, made sense, as women needed someone to help them run their day-to-day lives. But today, somehow, the timeline of when it is acceptable to begin dating again is something that others who are not in our shoes tend to have very clear opinions on.
With Sheryl’s new book and outspoken interviews, I believe the myth of when one can publicly begin to date again has officially been dispelled. Hallelujah! My story parallels Sheryl’s, although my boys were teenagers – but her loss and her next chapter is totally relatable.
I met an amazing man 6 months after my husband Alan died, and started dating him shortly thereafter…let’s just say less than a year. I kept this all very quiet and didn’t feel comfortable sharing with my nearest and dearest for quite awhile. I was worried about being judged. I felt that I would be perceived as betraying my husband. The secrecy created distance with my closest friends, I felt hesitant to be open about dating. This secret made me feel more isolated and alone.
I had no role models. It was four years after 911. I knew women in our community who had lost spouses and their losses seemed inconceivable. None were close friends but I remember hearing of one woman who had begun dating and there was a great deal of whispering about it in the community. I remember feeling sorry for her having to be such a public topic after such a devastating loss. It seemed unfair that she was under the microscope of our community.
What surprised me about my feelings after losing Alan was painful loneliness. The huge void his loss created seemed impossible to fill. These feelings were worse than anything I could have imagined. It surprised me. I knew I couldn’t have Alan back and couldn’t imagine how I would ever feel whole again. My sadness was overwhelming.
From the moment I received the news of his sudden death, that he had been hit by a truck while jogging, that he was dead and I would never see him again…I became frozen and a stranger to myself.
The news of his death was delivered in person by our best friends who had received the call from Las Vegas. Twelve years later, the memory is still crystal clear. My brain went very quiet – suddenly I couldn’t hear anything — I saw their mouths’ moving. I looked into their eyes and saw their pain and shock but I could not really hear them. I tried to listen but then I ran in the opposite direction, down the hallway, away from them, and suddenly my knees buckled.
That was my first experience of shock invading my body, which didn’t lift for years. At first it manifested itself in my heart. It felt broken, literally. My heart felt like it was cracked and it hurt – it was sore for months. I know now I wasn’t only experiencing a broken heart, I had PTSD. Unfortunately, I had no idea what PTSD was back then.
The shock manifested itself in all of my processing. People’s voices were muffled and I couldn’t take in what they were saying. A wall had instantly gone up inside me, like armor, and I was trapped inside and those on the outside, everyone I loved were physically present but I couldn’t feel them – I couldn’t feel anything. And I desperately wanted to feel. I felt trapped. I knew friends and family were ever-present for me and I was grateful – intellectually I told them and hopefully myself as much as I could that I was grateful but inside I was numb and could not feel.
My inability to feel emotion and connection felt incredibly lonely. I had never experienced such aloneness in my life.
And then on a family weekend celebration of my stepfather’s 85th birthday in October, five months after Alan had died, I met the man who would become my husband….Bill. He was the only non-family member invited to this celebration, the best friend of my stepbrother. I had never met him before. When I met Bill, I could breath again. But this is another story.
The next month, just 6 months later, the dating began, slowly….very slowly.
Sheryl Sandberg speaks of finding joy again in her interviews about her new book Option B, Facing Adversity, Building Resilience And Finding Joy. Her words are true and comforting and guideposts for those of us who have experienced loss.
“I think when tragedy occurs, it presents a choice. You can give in to the void, the emptiness that fills your heart, your lungs, constricts your ability to think or even breathe. Or you can try to find meaning. These past 30 days, I have spent many of my moments lost in that void. And I know that many future moments will be consumed by the vast emptiness as well. But when I can, I want to choose life and meaning.”
I knew that I needed an intimate connection. I chose life.
Sheryl Sandberg is living Option B and her exploration of finding her way back to a full life after losing her husband is a refreshing new model for dealing with loss and grief. Sandberg wants to help others learn what she has learned from her own devastating loss of her husband. I am beyond touched by how vulnerable, honest and open she is about her experience.
Listen to Sheryl to learn more about her book and listen to her interview on CBS Good Morning on Building Resilience