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How Sheryl Sandberg United Us All

Photograph by Facebook

In August 2013, I sat at a table at BlogHer in Chicago with 12 other women while Sheryl Sandberg talked about her career and how women might better succeed professionally by "leaning in." To say that Sandberg's message was polarizing is a gigantic understatement. Half the table left the talk early to stand in line and buy her book. The other half lingered at the table debating the efficacy of Sandberg's philosophy and whether her wealth, privilege, pedigree and caffeine addiction rendered her out of touch or elitist.

However, since her husband's unexpected death last month, no one, and I mean, no one is trash-talking her now. I haven't seen or heard a single disparaging remark about her since her husband, Dave Goldberg, died unexpectedly last month. Co-workers who stood by the water cooler making bad puns about leaning in now speak with sincere compassion about the road Sandberg is unexpectedly walking as a widow with two young children.

I've never been so proud to be a mother.

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Sandberg was generous enough to share her process with all of us yesterday at the close of her first 30 days of mourning or sheloshim, as the period is known in Judaism. In one of the most gut-wrenching, articulate and tender pieces I've ever read on Facebook—or anywhere else—Sandberg told the world what Dave meant to her and what it means to grieve him, while also trying to mother her grieving children.

Women who do not agree on a single thing agree on this: Sandberg's struggle deserves our respect, compassion and empathy.

No less than 50 women in my Facebook feed have forwarded Sandberg's post. Women who do not agree on a single thing agree on this: Sandberg's struggle deserves our respect, compassion and empathy.

The media can trump up fictitious "Mommy Wars" all day long, but the example of Sheryl Sandberg makes clear one thing: Mothers know when to step down from the debate and embrace empathy for one among us who is suffering. Sure, she's number 8 on Forbes' 100 Most Powerful Women List, but we all know that power, money and prestige don't matter when you're in the throes of grief.

I tried to find an example of one of the most powerful men in the world sharing his thoughts and feelings in the wake of a personal tragedy as Sandberg did. I couldn't find a single one.

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In grief, as in business, Sandberg is ahead of her time, offering something more than stoic requests for privacy during a difficult time. She's offered us an example of how to grieve and how we might eventually return to work after an unthinkable personal sorrow. We have her words for comfort and inspiration.

We are lucky to have her. And judging by my Facebook feed, we all know it.

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