When my closest friend got married a few years ago, I asked her if anything felt different after the ceremony. "Yes," she said. "Realizing that my best-case scenario is now that I die first." Her tone was flip, and we both laughed. But there was truth to what she said.
I love my husband so much that I hesitate to write about him — it feels unseemly, like bragging. It is impossibly painful to even imagine life without him: his presence is the source of my greatest joy in life, just as the idea of losing him is one of my worst fears. The best-case scenario is that I die first.
Sheryl Sandberg lost her beloved husband, Dave Goldberg, 30 days ago. To mark that occasion, she has written one of the best essays I have ever read about what it feels like to confront that terrible fear, and to deal with the profound grief that comes from losing someone you love. Her description of her grief since Goldberg's death feels true not just as a statement of what it is like to lose someone you love, but also what it means to deeply love someone, and the value that our loved ones hold in our lives.
A childhood friend of mine who is now a rabbi recently told me that the most powerful one-line prayer he has ever read is: "Let me not die while I am still alive." I would have never understood that prayer before losing Dave. Now I do.
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 thirty 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.
Strangely enough, the perfect companion piece to Sandberg's essay is not about loss, but about the joy of having children. Michelle Goldberg (no relation to Dave Goldberg) wrote in New York Magazine last week about what inspired her and her husband to grow their family.
"Not long ago," she writes, "I learned the Arabic word Ya'aburnee. Literally, 'you bury me,' it means wanting to die before a loved one so as not to have to face the world without him or her in it."
Goldberg realized that those words captured her feelings for her husband, and that having a child would be a way to bring more of him into the world — and a way to hold on to part of him if someday she lost him.
Goldberg and her husband now have two children, and they have enriched her life, she writes, in ways she would never have believed possible. "Before there was one person in the world for whom I would use the word Ya'aburnee, and now there are three."
Reading Sandberg's essay with Goldberg's is a reminder that the pain of loss is a worthwhile price to pay for the joy of love and marriage. Although Sandberg's husband has died, the life they built together still remains. Her essay closes with a moving promise to support what they built, and the children they had together, even as she mourns him:
I can’t even express the gratitude I feel to my family and friends who have done so much and reassured me that they will continue to be there. In the brutal moments when I am overtaken by the void, when the months and years stretch out in front of me endless and empty, only their faces pull me out of the isolation and fear. My appreciation for them knows no bounds.
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."
Dave, to honor your memory and raise your children as they deserve to be raised, I promise to do all I can to kick the shit out of option B. And even though sheloshim has ended, I still mourn for option A. I will always mourn for option A. As Bono sang, "There is no end to grief . . . and there is no end to love." I love you, Dave.