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Sheryl Sandberg opens up on "the fog" after husband's death

In an emotional commencement speech at the University of California, Berkeley, Sheryl Sandberg opened up about "the deep fog of grief" following the death of her husband, Dave Goldberg. Goldberg was 47 when he died suddenly of cardiac arrhythmia last year.

"For many months afterward, and at many times since, I was swallowed up in the deep fog of grief -- what I think of as the void -- an emptiness that fills your heart, your lungs, constricts your ability to think or even to breathe," the bestselling author of the book "Lean In" and chief operating officer of Facebook, told Berkeley's class of 2016 graduates.

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Sheryl Sandberg addresses graduates at UC Berkeley's commencement ceremony, May 14, 2016.

UC Berkeley photo by Brittany Murphy

"Today I will try to tell you what I learned in death. I have never spoken publicly about this before. It's hard. But I will do my very best not to blow my nose on this beautiful Berkeley robe."

Goldberg, chief executive officer of the online survey company Survey Monkey, died while vacationing in Mexico with his wife to celebrate a friend's 50th birthday.

"I took a nap. Dave went to work out. What followed was the unthinkable -- walking in a gym to find him lying on the floor. Flying home to tell my children that their father was gone. Watching his casket being lowered into the ground," she said.

"Dave's death changed me in very profound ways. I learned about the depths of sadness and the brutality of loss. But I also learned that when life sucks you under, you can kick against the bottom, break the surface, and breathe again. I learned that in the face of the void -- or in the face of any challenge -- you can choose joy and meaning."

A "true partner," as Sandberg described him, Goldberg was a central figure in "Lean In," which sold more than 2 million copies worldwide and gave new fuel to the national conversation about women in the workplace. In the book, Sandberg wrote openly about the ways in which she and Goldberg attempted to build a "50-50" marriage -- and how that foundation of support enabled her to reach the highest levels of influence in Silicon Valley.

"We are never at 50-50 at any given moment -- perfect equality is hard to define or sustain -- but we allow the pendulum to swing back and forth between us," Sandberg wrote while Goldberg was still alive in 2013.

Her husband, she said, pushed her to negotiate with Mark Zuckerberg for higher pay; took on the lion's share of childcare responsibilities when their first child was born; changed jobs in order to better meet the family's needs; constantly helped Sandberg with her "guilt management" for missing time with her children for work; and, in general, was deeply comfortable with the fact that his wife had a higher profile than he did. ("People frequently pull me aside to ask sympathetically, 'How is Dave? Is he okay with, you know, all your [whispering] success?'" she wrote in "Lean In." "Dave is far more self-confident than I am, and given his own professional success, these comments are easy for him to brush off.")

Together, she and Goldberg were perhaps Silicon Valley's most visible power couple.

"Everyone knows marriage is the biggest personal decision you make. But it's the biggest career decision you make: if you're going to have a life partner, who that partner's going to be," she said, sitting next to her husband in a 60 Minutes interview with Norah O'Donnell.

Now, one year after Goldberg's death, Sandberg seems to be amending the narrative of "Lean In" in light of what she's learned as a widow. Earlier this month, in a Mother's Day Facebook post, Sandberg acknowledged a common line of criticism toward her book: that "Lean In" does not adequately address the unique and enormous challenges facing America's single parents. In the U.S., 30 percent of families with children are headed by a single parent. The vast majority of those families, 84 percent, are led by single moms.

"In 'Lean In,' I emphasized how critical a loving and supportive partner can be for women both professionally and personally -- and how important Dave was to my career and to our children's development. I still believe this. Some people felt that I did not spend enough time writing about the difficulties women face when they have an unsupportive partner or no partner at all. They were right," she wrote.

In the same post, Sandberg called for stronger policies to uplift single mothers, like paid maternity leave, and argued the country needs "to rethink our public and corporate workforce policies and broaden our understanding of what a family is and looks like."

On Saturday, Sandberg ended her commencement address with a message of survival, telling graduates it will be the hard days -- not the easy ones -- that determine who they really are.

"You are not born with a fixed amount of resilience," she said. "Like your muscle, you can build it up, draw on it when you need it. In that process you will figure out who you really are -- and you just might become the best version of yourself."

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    Shanika Gunaratna covers science and technology for CBSNews.com