5 Jun 2015

Sheryl Sandberg’s Facebook tribute to husband

Following the sudden death of her husband Dave Goldberg, the Facebook COO published a heartfelt tribute to him online – which was shared more than 330,000 times within two days of its appearance.

After coming out of 30 days of religious mourning, Sheryl Sandberg posted a photo to Facebook of her with Goldberg in happy times, writes Channel 4 News producer Toby Bakare. It was accompanied by a heartfelt and emotional description of her feelings at the loss her husband, and its candid nature explains why the post has gone viral. It’s been shared over 330,000 times on Facebook in two days.

‘Thirty years sadder’

In her post Ms Sandberg talks of sharing her motivation: “I am sharing what I have learned in the hope that it helps someone else. In the hope that there can be some meaning from this tragedy.”

She goes on to detail the emotional toll of her loss: “I have lived thirty years in these thirty days. I am thirty years sadder. I feel like I am thirty years wiser.

“I have gained a more profound understanding of what it is to be a mother, both through the depth of the agony I feel when my children scream and cry and from the connection my mother has to my pain.

“She has tried to fill the empty space in my bed, holding me each night until I cry myself to sleep.”

Shared experience

Ms Sandberg’s post has resonated, and is another of example of how social media has changed things; what would have been a private experience is now shared around the world and commented on thousands of times.

Max Mackay-James is a GP who himself suffered personal tragedy when his brother committed suicide 40 years ago. Mr Mackay-James has written about the impact of bereavement and runs Die-a-log a charity project which aims to “begin conversations, reduce fear, and challenge the stigma associated with ageing, death and dying.”

Mr Mackay-James hosts regular workshops and ‘death cafes’ aimed at getting people talking about bereavement.

Despite this, he does strike a note of caution about Ms Sandberg’s post: “I am full of admiration for her open and honest talk about dying, grief and loss.

“It’s interesting she has written so soon after the event. My first reaction is good on her for talking but. The ‘but’ is because it’s not just her who is affected. Does everyone involved want such a wide audience?

“I know when I blogged about this I spoke to my sons about this and to my sisters who said ‘fine, it’s not what I would choose to do, but go ahead.'”

He mentions that with something this sensitive you can never be certain of the response from people. Ms Sandberg’s emotional posting is like any selfie or tweet in that once it is out there – it’s permanent, and likely to resurface at anytime.

Discussing dying

A 2014 ComRes poll commissioned by Dying Matters found 82 per cent of men and 83 per cent of women think people in Britain are uncomfortable discussing dying. But Ms Sandberg’s posting and its wide dissemination suggest that there may be a more open attitude to talking about death.

Ms Sandberg has continued the conversation, responding to commentators on her post by the hour with either thanks or own condolences where appropriate.

Her penultimate paragraph is defiant: “I was talking to one of these friends about a father-child activity that Dave is not here to do. We came up with a plan to fill in for Dave. I cried to him, ‘But I want Dave. I want option A.’

“He put his arm around me and said, ‘Option A is not available. So let’s just kick the shit out of option B.'”