Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook and the best-selling author of Lean In, candidly describes her grief at her husband’s death and offers guidance for others coping with the loss of a loved one.
Sheryl Sandberg is the chief operating officer at Facebook and the author of the women’s career bestseller Lean In. Adam Grant is a psychologist, Wharton professor and the author of Originals and Give and Take. Sandberg lived every wife’s worst nightmare when her beloved husband Dave Goldberg, 47, died unexpectedly while the couple was vacationing in Mexico in 2015. Surviving the loss and helping her children process their grief proved to be the greatest challenge of Sandberg’s life.
In an act of courage and selflessness – with co-author, psychologist Adam Grant – Sandberg documents the most intimate moments of her journey through pain and sorrow and shares what heartbreak taught her about the human spirit. Sandberg and Grant examine how other people have withstood trauma and, in some cases, found renewed purpose through post-traumatic growth. They explore the qualities of resilience and recovery as they offer suggestions about how to ask for support, console others and ultimately find your way back to joy. This heartfelt account is a valuable resource for anyone suffering a loss or supporting others through a crisis.
Sandberg’s courage and sensitivity inspired near-unanimous support. Katie Couric, who was also widowed, said, “The overwhelming message of this book is: We’re a lot more resilient than we think we are. But there are things we can do for ourselves, and for other people who are hurting, that will really allow that resilience to bloom.” And Rebecca Mead wrote in The New Yorker, “Like her debut volume, Sandberg’s Option B is an optimistic book, even if one riven with sorrow. She argues that after adversity and loss, there is an opportunity for post-traumatic growth.”
When Sandberg became a “member of a club that no one wants to belong to,” she knew she had to cope with unbearable sorrow so that she could care for her children. This compelled her to seek strategies for weathering the tragedy.
Eleven years into their marriage, Sheryl Sandberg and Dave Goldberg left their two children with Sheryl’s parents and went to Mexico on vacation. Sandberg reports that she and Goldberg’s brother Rob found Goldberg lying on the floor of the gym, blood pooling under his head. They started CPR and called an ambulance, but it was too late. Sandberg tells how grief washed over her in waves.
[Grief was] as if it were going to tear my heart right out of my body.Sheryl Sandberg
After Goldberg’s death, Sandberg remembers seeing a father-child activity coming up on the family calendar. She created an “Option B”: having someone stand in for her late husband. When Option A is not available, Sandberg makes clear, Option B is your only choice.
Just Do It
Psychologist Martin Seligman, author of Learned Optimism, reports that three tendencies impede people’s recovery from hardship: personalization – the belief that it’s all your fault; pervasiveness – the belief that the occurrence will negatively affect everything in your life; and permanence – the belief that things will never improve. Sandberg urges readers not to succumb to the three Ps. She acknowledges that although most grieving people want to voice their feelings, people tend to avoid the subject of death, and that isolates the sufferer. She recognizes that people who wanted to express sympathy to her often didn’t know how.
When people are suffering, Sandberg teaches, giving them access to help is comforting. Some people respond to a crisis with empathy, others with avoidance. Simply showing up, she believes, has value. Sandberg reminds readers that asking, “Is there anything I can do?” puts the burden on the grieving person. Just pick some useful task, she insists, and do it.
Take Things Back
To rediscover fun, Sandberg and her kids played the board game “Settlers of Catan,” which they’d played with Goldberg. When Sandberg’s daughter selected the gray marker, her son protested, “That was Daddy’s color.” Sandberg reassuringly replied, “We take things back.” This became the family’s motto. She counsels that allowing yourself fun and happiness takes self-compassion.
Sandberg feared that losing their father would affect her children in harmful ways. She advises supplementing children’s innate resilience by giving them the power to shape their lives. Show children that they matter, she recommends, by listening, caring about them and valuing their ideas. Sandberg’s family joined a grief support group, and the children attended Experience Camp, a program for kids who’ve lost someone in their immediate family.
Sandberg explains that finding love and joy again doesn’t mean you stop grieving for or loving your late partner.
Death ends a life, but it does not end a relationship. playwright Robert Woodruff Anderson
Sandberg notes that she still experiences moments of profound sadness. Now, however, she is confident that she will once again find the capacity to love and find joy.
Strength and Candor
As readers of Sandberg’s best-selling Lean In already know, she writes with easy candor and doesn’t try to her hide her flaws. Her years in leadership led her to a strong voice and on-page persona, which here contrasts movingly with her profound mourning. Sandberg proves more effective in describing her tactics for dealing with grief than she does when describing grief itself, but that isn’t necessarily a failing. She tries to let readers into her emotions, as she tells you how those emotions affected her, but she’s perhaps too strong and self-contained to evoke the bare enormity of her feelings. This has the surprising effect of showing readers how paralyzing and fundamentally indescribable grief can be.
Sandberg’s sensitivity and perseverance make this an inspirational manual for anyone suffering grief or loss.
Readers moved by Sandberg’s account and those seeking to cope with tragedies of their own will find solace and worthwhile advice in Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking, Martha Whitmore Hickman’s Healing After Loss or David Kessler’s Finding Meaning.