What Not To Say When Someone Passes Away (Or Why Penelope Trunk Is A Terrible Person)
“Do we still have to lean in if Dave Goldberg is dead?”
No, this is not the title of a satirical article from some irreverent, fake blog. This was a real piece, really published, by a real writer, about a real person sent to my (and probably thousands of others) real inboxes.
And it’s outrageous.
Career blogger Penelope Trunk has inserted herself into the worst time of Sheryl Sandberg’s life by publishing not one but two blogs inexplicably excoriating Sheryl after the sudden death of the Facebook COO’s husband with paragraphs like this:
“So can she lean in now? Can you lean in if you don’t have the perfect husband? What if it’s too late to get the perfect husband? She doesn’t address that, but maybe she will now. I have a feeling that the spokesperson for high-flying careers is going to get a lot more informative and helpful now that she’s a single mom.”
Some might say she “kicked Sheryl while she is down” but that would be an understatement. No, imagine instead that Penelope Trunk pushed Sheryl onto subway tracks, laughed as she was smashed by the oncoming train, all while broadcasting it live on Periscope.
Penelope writes, “If this sounds spiteful and ugly it is. But I think it is also appropriate”. If she truly thinks it’s “appropriate” to write these pieces mere hours after the death of someone’s spouse then I don’t even want to know what she deems inappropriate. Worse still, she wrote these blogs knowing that, hoping that Sheryl would read them. She published them knowing full well Dave’s daughters would read them, his brother, his mother. (Because when you’re an experienced, popular writer like Penelope Trunk, you know that your blogs have legs – especially when you write about a topic that is already making headlines.)
What would possess a person to write this after the death of someone’s spouse, someone’s son, someone’s brother, someone’s father?:
“Sheryl tells me she can lean in because she has a husband who is perfect, but it’s hard to believe because in the time she’s been married to him, he’s gained a lot of weight. And we all know that gaining that much weight is a sign of serious problems.”
“That said I’m not sure it matters anymore how Dave died. Maybe he did die of a heart attack. It’s a fine line between a heart attack and a suicide. Heart attack is purely a disease of lifestyle. It is preventable. So Dave Goldberg died from a being totally out of control in his life from stress, or he died from depression that got out of control.”
“But really, I just want to know how Dave died. Because I think he killed himself. And if he did, this might tells us a lot about what happens when both people in marriage Lean In.”
Did I mention that she wrote these blogs just days – hours really – after his death was made public? That is an unfathomable type of heartless. The kind of cruel, callous, keyboard courage normally relegated to comment sections where decency goes to die and people spew hate under cloaks of anonymity and pen names like “yeah_right_2015”.
If Dave did commit suicide – as Penelope wildly speculates – it still doesn’t mean that Sheryl’s life, marriage, mission, nor idea that women benefit from “Leaning In” is a lie.
Besides, this isn’t about how Dave passed away. This is about the fact that, after his death, someone has the audacity to publicly, shamelessly gloat over his grieving widow and family.
Prefacing this nonsense with the disclaimer that “I have not had a spouse die or a parent die and I’m sure the experience is more awful than I could even imagine” doesn’t excuse her cruelty either. The lack of a tragedy in your life is no excuse for lack of sympathy when you learn about someone else’s tragedy.
We live in a society that allows us to say whatever we want to say, whenever we want to say it, but just because you can say it doesn’t mean you should say it.
How does the saying go? “The words of the tongue should have three gatekeepers: Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary?”
Better still: send your condolences or shut up.