Steve Annis, banking executive from California, was surprised and profoundly touched by the interview with Sheryl Sandberg during The Global Leadership Summit in 2017. Her journey of intense grief after the loss of her husband resonated with his own intense grief after the loss of his daughter. He found insight and hope in Sheryl’s story as he reflected on his own “Option B” and how it has impacted his leadership in the 17 years since his daughter’s passing.
“My wife and I very unexpectedly lost our oldest daughter as the result of a ‘simple’ medical procedure gone wrong,” says Steve. “I have been living my own ‘Option B’ for all these years, trying to cope, as best I could, with this new version of life – a life without our daughter.
“During Sheryl’s presentation, it was obvious that much of the experiences my wife and I have endured are not unique to us. To say I empathized with Sheryl would be an understatement. She provided me with a renewed sense of understanding and hope, even in the face of terrible tragedy.”
The loss of Steve’s daughter also impacted his leadership in how he relates with others experiencing grief, and how his trust in God’s faithfulness through tragedy has deepened. Here are six things he’s experienced and learned in the process that were affirmed as he listened to Sheryl’s talk:
1. You don’t know what another is experiencing, so don’t put yourself in their shoes.
“I have learned people generally do not know how to treat someone who has just experienced a crushing loss,” says Steve. “They don’t know what to say, but feel compelled to say something and end up saying things that are either inappropriate, hurtful or ignorant.
As a result of my experiences, I explain to pastors, co-workers and friends the simple concept: we don’t know what another is experiencing, so don’t try to put yourself in their shoes.”
2. Don’t be intimidated. Be caring and understanding.
“I am no longer intimidated or uneasy when I approach someone who has experienced a severe loss,” says Steve. “Nothing you say will bring relief to someone suffering from intense grief. I attempt to be caring, understanding and simply say the words that mean more than anything else in those moments: ‘I am so sorry for your loss. My wife and I are praying for you.’ You don’t need to say anything else. Knowing someone actually cares about you, does bring comfort and a sense of hope.”
3. The WHO of God is more important than the WHY.
“When a terrible tragedy strikes, we are likely to ask, ‘Why did God allow this to happen,’ or ‘Why did God cause this tragedy to hit my family?’ I have learned the ‘Why’ of God is not important. The important thing to understand is the ‘Who’ of God. He is sovereign and just, and He loves us.
“God’s view of our circumstances has an eternal perspective, a perspective that we cannot possibly comprehend. This is where walking by faith comes into real focus in our lives—we must have faith to believe that no matter how bitter the tragedy may be, God can and will use that tragedy for good in the long run if we will allow Him to do so.”
4. Ask God to use what happened to you to help others and bring glory to Him.
“During this tragedy, we have consistently asked God to use us and use what has happened in a way that would bring help to others and bring glory to Him,” says Steve. “Our prayer has always been, ‘Father, please don’t let our tears be wasted.’
“It is amazing how many couples who have lost children have been brought into our lives so we might be a comfort and support for them. Having lost a child, God put us in a unique place to help other parents who are struggling with the same loss, and we have seen a number of people come to accept Jesus into their lives because of what happened to our daughter.
5. Draw close to God’s love as you remember His own grief (John 3:16).
“As a human being, Jesus experienced the same thoughts, emotions, hurts, pain and suffering we do,” says Steve. “When we go to Him with our hurts and concerns, he is in a unique position to understand exactly what we are going through.
“During the horrible days following our daughter’s death, God clearly impressed upon me the importance of John 3:16. I used to look at it from the standpoint of the enormous sacrifice that Jesus made in order to become a man and to suffer the cross on our behalf. But God revealed the enormous sacrifice He made when He sent His Son to this earth to die for us. For me, that verse became one grieving Father relating another grieving father.
“For the first time in my life, I personally understood what it would mean for a father to willingly send his son to a certain death, so the world could be saved. Now knowing the personal horror of losing a child, I cannot comprehend the love that would be required to willingly send your own child to his death in order to save someone else—but that is exactly what God did for us!
“Understanding the enormity of God’s own grief and suffering caused by the sacrifice of His Son is overwhelming to me, even now. For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son…”
6. Do not go through grief alone.
“I encourage people experiencing their own grief to recognize they are not alone (although that is probably one of the most intense emotions they will experience following a severe loss),” says Steve. “I would also encourage them to seek help through an experienced grief counselor, or through a grief support group, such as Grief Share.”
Let the Summit surprise you the way it surprised Steve Annis.
“Nowhere else will you receive the instruction and insights from such a diverse group of world-class speakers, in such a condensed period of time, as you will at The Global Leadership Summit,” says Steve. “It is truly time well spent. Let it surprise you the way it surprised me.”