As I finally sat down to read Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy by Sheryl Sandberg, the book handed to me many times throughout the year, and let the words sink into me during the pockets of quiet time during Shabbos day, I realized how similar our stories were.
True, I’m not a higher-up at Facebook and, thankfully, I wasn’t the one who found my husband in the state she found hers, but the other details of our husbands’ sudden passing and our gradually picking up the pieces of our lives definitely didn’t go unnoticed by me.
As she described having to tell her kids about their father’s passing, I was placed back into my oldest son’s room on that day last year, an uneventful Wednesday morning, a bright and beautiful day like so many others that had passed.
But that day would forever be marred with the news that my kids and I would likely never get over.
As she tells everyone how the words came out of her mouth while her hands were being held by her parents and siblings, I, too, remember looking to Zahava for guidance, knowing that I had to tell them what happened (even if I didn’t understand it myself) and be clear about it, making sure they understood that he wasn’t coming home.
I hope you never have to see the expression on a child’s face when you relay that to them. The confusion and fear. The heartbreak and knowledge that everything in their young lives is about to change.
I relate to the feelings she had, going through the motions of life for her children’s sake, pretty soon after this life-altering change, partly because she so desperately wanted things to be the same as before and partly because it takes time for the shock to wear off.
She’d attend sports events for her son and PTA for her daughter. She’d carry on conversations at work but her mind would be wondering what she was doing there, because everything in life was trivial compared to losing the life of the man she shared her days with and loved.
I, too, sit with friends and drop kids off at playdates and make small talk with parents. But the voice in my head reminds me how different I am from them. The thoughts that run through my mind on the daily are so different from that of other women my age.
I long to be like them.
The paragraph she writes about when she called her friend from a hospital in Mexico following her husband’s death left me breathless.
On the night of her husband’s passing, while still in the hospital, she pleaded over the phone to a childhood friend who had lost her mom as a child for reassurance that her kids would be OK.
This scene brought me back to last week, when I received a call from a woman who had lost her husband on Pesach to anaphylactic shock.
Usually, when I hear of someone who suffered a loss, I’ll reach out soon after to let them know that I’m here and that when they’d like to talk, I’ll be happy to.
This was completely different, as she got in touch with me through mutual friends; as we spoke, I could hear the strength and assertive nature she was used to holding onto somewhat start to crumble as she told me her story. Because she knew she could let her defenses down. She knew that I knew exactly how she felt. So when she let out a strangled whisper, I could hear the pain in her voice.
“I just need my kids to be OK. Are they going to be OK?” she implored.
I responded, “Yes. Your kids are going to be amazing humans because they’re going to see what their mother went through and how she persevered and continued to be an amazing mother, despite the challenges thrown her way. They’re going to mirror your moods and your behavior. They’re going to look to you to make sure it’s going to be OK. And the fact that you sought me out for reassurance because of how much you love them tells me that you’re all going to get through this and come out stronger than you’d ever realize you could be.”
In the book, there are certain parts that I might’ve shouted “amen” to as I sat reading it.
The parts where she describes the things that put her on somewhat of a fast track of healing — the nightly journaling, the only way she could see how she felt once it was down on paper.
The nightly gratitude affirmations she would practice with herself and the kids, even when she wasn’t feeling particularly grateful. Choosing small things within her day to recognize that even in the darkest times of her life, there was still reason to be thankful for blessings that remained.
The part of the book that resonated with me most was the concept of post-traumatic growth. I never knew there was actually a study done by scientists Richard Tedeschi and Lawrence Calhoun in the 1990s. It’s a phenomenon that describes five stages that happen over time to a person who has experienced a trauma:
- Embracing new opportunities
- Strengthening new and old relationships, at times with victims who have suffered similar losses.
- Cultivating inner strength, realizing they were way stronger than ever imaginable.
- A newfound appreciation for life
- A spiritual reawakening
As I read through these and had an inner look at my life, I realized that this is something I’ve experienced in the last year. Sometimes, I feel intense guilt (survivor’s guilt) at the things we’ve accomplished as a family, regaining our rhythm without Moshe here.
Being truly happy at times and observing my kids having moments of pure joy and happiness. I know how proud he’d be.
Post-traumatic growth doesn’t mean there aren’t intensely bad days, or times you don’t second-guess yourself and your abilities to move forward — but it’s a practice you can implement like a religion.
As Viktor Frankl so wisely states, “When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.”
Malkie’s husband, Moshe, a’h, passed away at the age of 40. She has been sharing her thoughts and emotions with readers on her Instagram page @Kissthekoshercook. May Moshe’s memory be a blessing for Malkie and her beautiful family.