I recently listened to the commencement address given by Sheryl Sandberg to the 2016 graduates of UC Berkeley. It was posted on FB by friends Gretchen and Tom Wirth. If you have the time please give it a listen (to the best of my ability the speech is linked below). My oldest daughter graduated from UC Berkeley many years ago. She was the first of my brood to graduate from college and I remember the day well. I tried to cement the memory in my mind by being present to the moment, acknowledging the intense emotions rippling through my body, and attempting to memorize the images passing before me. The announcing of her name, the walk to the podium, the handshake, the cheering, the hats flying into the air, the smiles on the faces of both graduates, and family. I have no memory of the speaker so listening to Sheryl Sandberg was a gift.
In this inspiring speech, Sheryl Sandberg shares the story of the unexpected death of her husband, just one year ago. She talks about her intense grief and the resilience of the human spirit. Losing a loved one is painful, the grief tangible, and all pervasive. This pain permanently moves into the heart and in the beginning it feels like the only emotion you will ever feel. She said it was difficult not to project her grief into the future, believing it might never end, and the despair immutable. In a discussion with a friend about covering for a father son activity after the passing of her husband Sheryl said, “I want Dave to be here.” Her friend put his arm around Sheryl and said, “Option A is not available.” She recalls the first time she was distracted enough to forget about his death for a brief moment and she held onto the possibility that one day she would be able to live beyond her present state of despair.
Then she said something that stopped me in my tracks, she said, “A year ago we did not know we only had eleven days left.” She poses the question, “If you had eleven days left to live how would you live them?” This made me want to engage Larry in one of those long lingering kisses, tell him how much I treasure his love, and how grateful I am to find his warm body laying next to mine each morning. I want to gather my children and loved ones (I hope you know who you are), remind them of my love, and never let them go. Life is change, we might learn this the hard way, but the fact stubbornly remains. I realize I can not live in a total state of panic, but I can consider on a regular basis, how to live my best life.
When life pushes me into a corner, when my plans don’t work out, and everything seems unstable, I can still choose wisely. I tend to focus and write about the more positive aspects of life but that does not mean the angel of darkness has passed over me. I wrestle with anger, disappointment, confusion, and fear on a daily basis. Sheryl (and I love her name) helped me to scan for the positive instead of the negative. It’s not my strong suit but I can try. I heard my husband saying on the phone to a friend, “I’ve always taught my kids not to complain, if you’re not happy, make a change.” All things come to an end, loved ones die, marriages fail, friendships end, jobs are not permanent, opportunities disappear, homesteads get sold, traditions evolve, and we all know how fast a vacation goes. This is when resiliency matters most, the harder the adjustment, the more resiliency required. In the scriptures it says three things will last forever – faith, hope, and love – and the greatest of these is love (Corinthians 13:13). Sheryl ends her speech with, “Let’s kick the shit out of option B.”
What can we possibly do with eleven days? Oh do tell…