“It is the greatest irony of my life that losing my husband helped me find deeper gratitude—gratitude for the kindness of my friends, the love of my family, the laughter of my children,” Sandberg said. “My hope for you is that you can find that gratitude—not just on the good days, like today, but on the hard ones, when you will really need it.”

I am deeply touched by what Facebook Executive Sheryl Sandberg had to say to Berkeley graduates about the profound ways she has changed since her husband’s sudden death a year ago.

Like Sheryl Sandberg, I too had a deep change of attitude after my husband suddenly died next to me in a tragic car accident. Mine sprang from three completely unexpected messages I received before, during and just after the accident that led me to a profound spiritual awakening.

The third message was conveyed by an unemotional male voice that told me to “be loving and kind to everyone” as I was being pulled through the window of my car, which was a total wreck. That message immediately transformed my normally self-centered attitude to a more positive, embracing one – towards the helicopter crew that flew me to the emergency trauma center, to the emergency caregivers who tended to me at the hospital, and even towards once estranged family members who came to visit me in the hospital.  After the accident, I found myself reacting in a whole new way. Even though my husband had died next to me, I was strangely at peace because of the three messages I had received.  

This is not to say that I did not grieve very deeply as Sheryl does now. I most certainly did deeply grieve, but that third message made me conscious of everyone in my life in a whole new way. I became more receptive to the loving kindness of others and I was much more conscious about how I spoke to and treated others, and I also became more aware of the love and kindness I was extending to myself.

Sheryl Sandberg’s loss has led her to sharing profound lessons about gratitude and not taking love and kindness for granted. This has given joy and new meaning to her life. Likewise, losing my husband led me to sharing the lessons I learned from my spiritual awakening, which includes treating ourselves and others with love and kindness, and in my case, also sharing my newfound knowing that we do go on after our physical deaths and that there is a cosmic importance to the actions we take and the words we speak in our everyday lives.

Devastating loss most definitely leads to tears of deep grief but, with positive attitude changes, it can also lead to tears of joy and gratitude. Like Sheryl, I will always miss my husband, but I am now also grateful for the ways his sudden death became a catalyst for greater meaning and passion for life.

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