The Art of Providing Comfort

The week after I finished Sheryl Sandberg’s book, Lean In, her husband died. This book held personal details of her loving marriage to her husband, Dave Goldberg and I was devastated for her.

Recently, I received my TIME magazine with Sheryl on the cover. She is promoting her new book on grief and how to behave when someone you know is grieving. I almost put handle instead of behave, but we do not need to be handled. I have been in a state of grieving for about three years. I grieve about my husband’s illness. I grieve about the inability to have children naturally, or if I’ll ever have children. Talking to a friend about the loss of her sister to suicide, she said it hurt that people avoided the topic and her. Our response to grief and other’s pain seems universal. We avoid it and them. We don’t know what to say so we say nothing. Or if we say anything, it is a quick line we have heard from movie and TV, “I’m sorry for you loss”, “It is going to be okay.” etc.

When you are grieving, you see it so clearly how humans simply do not know what to do with someone that is grieving. Those that have been through it seem to handle it the best. They know what comforted them and what deepened their sadness. They know that a question inquiring at their well-being with the honest intent to listen to the response no matter how uncomfortable it makes them is the best medicine. Then after listening to not give uneducated advice or more of those cliché sayings “Time heals all wounds.” One of the worst thing someone has ever said to a friend, “It was just a dog.” Do not put a value or judge someone’s pain. Do not put a time limit on someone’s grief. Sometimes stupid stuff comes out of our mouths, it happens, apologize instead of thinking it didn’t bother them or hear it.

I will not proclaim myself an expert, and I know I’ve said some stuff that I later regretted. It is something I’m working on, and I’m striving to do it better because I hate seeing those I love in pain. I know nothing I can say will make that pain go away, but I hope my presence will lessen the emotional burden and suffering.

I will read Sheryl Sandberg’s book, Option B.

I recommend reading her interview in TIME. Sheryl Sandberg’s interview:

I read this post at the start of April. It sums up why we need to stop saying “I’m sorry for your loss” and alternatives.

Here is probably the best action list I have ever read on being a good friend to someone that is grieving.

Becoming better support for those in a state of grief is something we could all use a bit of practice on. As we get older and wiser, we will inevitability be on both sides of it.


2 thoughts on “The Art of Providing Comfort

  1. I always thought it was interesting how her perspective on working women changed after losing her husband. I absolutely hated her Lean In philosophy and how she showed so much ignorance towards single mothers and telling women there is basically only one way to get ahead in their careers, with zero regard for a work-life balance. As a business owner I took a personal affront to her attitude, particularly as a recruiter who has seen the diversity that her industry in particular, tech, is so severely lacking because of oversimplified attitudes like hers. Then her husband dies and suddenly she has to deal with the fact that not everyone can or wants to follow her philosophy. I actually did I talk to women in technology a few years ago called ” lean whatever way you want” to tell women that there are many ways to get where you want and it doesn’t mean you have to act like the guys in the boardroom to get there.

    Anyhow, long story short, the metaphor for infertility is a good one and along with the one you mentioned, it makes me think about people who have spouted off ignorant comments about infertility treatment and “just adopt”, then are suddenly faced with infertility themselves, and basically have to eat their words.


    1. Life has a way of making your current beliefs invalid. You think the world works one way, and life sends you a wake-up call. As a scientist, mistakes and learning are what is all about. We build on our basis of knowledge. What we once thought was true based on the current information can be changed and updated by new information. That is why I love science. The constant learning and building new knowledge. I wish more people in life were like that. Take in new information and reevaluate your current stance on a topic. It is okay to change.

      Sheryl’s Lean In book was what I needed and when I needed it. It may not have worked for lots, but for this middle-class white gal, it was the wake-up call I needed. I was working on becoming pregnant (we know how that went) and was planning on not working as much/leaving my job post baby. I wasn’t pursuing more out of my job or taking on challenges, counting myself out, and simply waiting for I could make an exit. I needed someone to tell me, do not count yourself out until you are out. I needed someone to tell that I belong at the table – I often sat in the chairs in the back of the conference room instead of at the conference table at staff meetings. To tell me it is okay if I want to completely switch careers and where a tiara when and if I wanted to (why I started to pursue an education degree). To speak up and be assertive, ask for a goddamn raise. For me, it was the advice I needed at the right time – to take more control of my career and that I belonged. My job is now a career I love, and I’m respected in. I took what I could use and applied it. At that point in my life, I really needed that advice or this infertility journey could have gone a hell of a lot worse.

      Like all advice though, it doesn’t work for everyone. Her ignorance towards single mothers comes from not being a single mother (at the time). Also, having money. She acknowledged that but hard to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes. Hence all the horrible bad advice we get from those that have not personally dealt with infertility. People should speak of experience (and factual information) and give advice that worked for them (when solicited!). I whole heartily agree that if you never had the experience, not sure if your perspective is that valid. Yet I don’t think she would have sold as many books if she was aiming just for upper-class career white women hence why she or her publishers opted to expand past their area of expertise.


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