Last week, Sheryl Sandberg experienced an unbearable loss. And then she went back to work after ten days.
A lot of outside people questioned or applauded this decision, and Ms. Sandberg herself released a statement, explaining that her early return to work was in consultation with child psychologists and was in the best interest of her young children.
In between the unexpected death of her husband and this early return to work, she did what scores of Jewish women do each year. She sat shiva.
In October, my brother fell while running backwards and incurred a traumatic brain injury. After an unbearable weekend in the hospital, surrounded by family and friends, my brother was declared dead on a Tuesday. I was back at work two weeks later.
In between, my family drove home, and the reality of shiva began to wash over us. I wonder is Ms. Sandberg experienced the same feelings of shock. The unbelieving feeling of sitting on low chairs of the floor, covered mirrors, and ripped clothing. Traumatic loss lends itself quite well to traumatic shiva.
Unlike other shiva houses, where the family members may have been preparing for this week for weeks, months, or even years, my family barely had a day to accept this reality. Sheryl Sandberg didn’t have much time either.
And yet, as Jewish cycle rituals kicked in, I felt myself become a part of a machine of grief, mourning, and loss that was dictated by laws and traditions that were foreign but at the same time familiar. How many times had I been on the other end of a shiva call?
Faces streamed in, from all my past walks of life. Friends and family from every city, school, and experience came by or called. The bizarreness of Jewish death is that it mirrors Jewish life in a lot of ways. When else are you re-connecting with all of these people? When else are you in touch with vendors, who put together different aspects of the funeral and burial? When else do you have other people in your home, putting together meals for you?
In many ways, the funeral, burial, and shiva are still blurs in my life. In much sharper contrast, I remember silently crying as I prepared to go to work, feeling the pain of loss, of both my brother and who I was before he died. I was not the same person when I returned to my desk that Tuesday. I doubt Sheryl Sandberg was either.