Sheryl Sandberg Thanks Her Fiancé Tom Bernthal for Helping Her Find Love After Loss

·5 min read
Photo credit: Amy & Stuart Photography
Photo credit: Amy & Stuart Photography

From Good Housekeeping

Photo credit: Hearst Owned
Photo credit: Hearst Owned

When Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg lost her husband, Dave Goldberg, in 2015, her world fell apart. Her friends and family tried to reassure her that she’d one day find love again — but all she felt was grief and guilt. And when she did put herself out there, she was often publicly judged for it.“Dave’s mother said to me really early on, ‘You’re going to get married again, and I’m going to dance at your wedding,’ ” Sheryl recalls. “This was such a gift ... because I think you need permission. Someone needs to say, ‘It is OK; it is not your fault.’

It took Sheryl a long time to actually believe love was possible again, a journey she detailed in her best-selling 2017 book, Option B. But everything changed when Dave’s brother, Rob Goldberg, introduced her to a close friend of his, marketing CEO Tom Bernthal. Tom had been through a divorce, which Sheryl came to learn hurt him deeply. But day by day, the two found strength and solace in each other and fell in love.

Now, just over a year after Sheryl and Tom got engaged, the first female Facebook board member pens an open love letter to her fiancé to thank him for giving her the one thing she needed most after enduring such a traumatic loss: hope.

Photo credit: Hearst Owned
Photo credit: Hearst Owned

Dear Tom,

A year has passed since we got engaged — one of the most transformative and fastest-flying years of my life. I look at where we are today and how the seven of us have come together as a family during an incredibly difficult time for our country and world, and I can’t quite believe we did it.

Not too long ago, you and I were pushed to our breaking points. We were both dealing with life events that turned our worlds upside down — you were getting divorced, and I was grieving the loss of Dave. I really wasn’t sure I could ever devote my heart to another person like that.

When Dave died, I could barely imagine dating again, much less getting married. I distinctly remember tucking the kids into bed and sitting by myself at the kitchen table where Dave and I once played countless games of Scrabble together. I’d picture myself at that table, alone, for the rest of my life. It was a sad and frankly scary thought, but I knew it could end up being my fate. And if it were, I’d count my many blessings and savor all the joy life sent my way — but I’d always be at least a little bit brokenhearted about continuing this journey alone.

Dave’s brother, Rob, had a different idea for me. He just knew I had to meet you, his “good friend Tom.” When I shook your hand for the first time, I had no clue that you would be the one to change my life.

Photo credit: Courtesy of Sheryl Sandberg
Photo credit: Courtesy of Sheryl Sandberg

On our first real date, we took a hike. You insisted on holding my water bottle the entire time. It was a small thing, but it really struck me. Whenever I retell this part of the story, you laugh and say, “What a low bar. I’m so gladI jumped over.” But the truth is, I don’t think anyone had ever held my water bottle before for an entire hike. It felt like a metaphor: I didn’t need someone to pull me up the mountain, just someone to make the uphill trek a bit easier.

I’d soon come to discover in much bigger ways your remarkable generosity and warmth as a partner and parent.Apart from how funny, calming and insightful you are,
I love how involved you are in our kids’ lives. You’re excited to pick your son and daughters up from school. You’re great at making parenting compromises (my son and daughter have you to thank for the less-strict bedtimes!). You’re ready to play Settlers of Catan for hours with the kids because, to you, it’s all about bringing everybody closer together.

The truth is, I was just so tired before you, Tom. Tired of my chest pulling every time my little girl or boy would say “Dad and me.” Tired of making big parenting decisions alone. Tired of wondering if I’d ever find lifelong love again.

But together, we have found a new path forward, one filled with so much gratitude and optimism. In that spirit, thank you for helping me refocus my energy on what’s important and more fully appreciate all of life’ sgifts — every sweet text, every birthday party celebration and, yep, all 8,000 of those Settlers of Catan games.

Our story will never be Option A. When you got divorced and I lost Dave, Option A was taken off the table. Every Father’s Day will be a little bittersweet in our house — but now, also filled with the happiness you’ve brought to my kids’ lives.And there will likely always be grief in my heart for Dave. But you know that, and you understand and respect it, which makes me love you even more. Thanks to you, I have come to discover that Option B can also be filled with profound happiness. There is so much joy to squeeze out of this new game plan. Thank you for helping me choose to see it.

All my love,

Photo credit: Hearst Owned
Photo credit: Hearst Owned

This story originally appeared in the March 2021 issue of Good Housekeeping. Subscribe to Good Housekeeping here.

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