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When Sheryl Sandberg’s husband died suddenly two years ago, the Facebook executive and author of “Lean In” turned to her friend, Wharton School psychologist Adam Grant, for help in dealing with her grief. The result is their new book, “Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience and Finding Joy.”
- Sheryl Sandberg Chief operating officer of Facebook; author of "Lean In"
- Adam Grant Psychologist and professor at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School; author of "Originals" and "Give and Take"
On her late husband David Goldberg
Sandberg: Dave was brilliant. Dave was funny. Dave loved April Fools Day jokes. Literally, he played the funniest April Fools Day jokes — many of them on me, several of them on people he worked with. He loved our children, he was a great father. He took poker very seriously, he loved it. He played with his friends, he taught my kids to play. I remember one day he came home from work and our kids were five and seven at the time, and he started the conversation with ‘You won’t believe what they did today!’ I’m thinking they did something nice, they did something generous, they did something smart and he came out with, ‘I came home from work and they were playing poker, just the two of them … with the chips!’ Proud papa. He was a big sports fan, but he was also my rock. I go up and down more. I get more nervous, or more upset, or more excited. Dave was solid and steady always. Whenever I felt like things weren’t going to okay, he told me they were. So, when he was gone, he was the person who for over a decade had been always telling me it was going to be okay. I had to try to make it okay without him.”
On the title “Option B”
Sandberg: A few weeks after Dave passed away, I was trying to figure out what to do with this father-son activity my son had signed up for with his dad. My dear friend Phil Deutch, who’s birthday party we were at when Dave died, he and I were figuring it out, we came up with some options, we gave my son the choice—he picked his uncle. We were all set, but then I said to Phil, ‘It’s so great that his uncle will go with him, but I want Dave. I want Dave to go with our son.’ And Phil put his arm around me and he said, ‘Option A is not available, so let’s just kick the __ out of Option B.’ It was a powerful thing to say.
On helping kids cope with difficult events
Grant: “The single most important thing that parents can do to help their kids deal with difficult events, but also just prepare for the everyday challenges in life that kids face, is they have to show their kids that they matter. Mattering is basically the answer to the question, ‘Do I have significance to other people?’ When kids feel they matter—they know people notice them, care about them, and rely on them. I think that so often as parents we mean well, we want to do it, but we end up falling short. We are distracted by iPhones or by work, and we don’t end up quite giving the attention the kids need. I think also, consulting kids—letting them give input on decisions. That’s something Sheryl did a lot of with her children so they felt like they were really owning part of the process of rebuilding their family unit, and I think that’s something every parent could learn from.
On tragedies in life and navigating work
Grant: “It is really unfair and unacceptable that tragedy is not evenly distributed. People who are members of marginalized or disadvantaged groups have more to battle, and more to grieve over. We have a real responsibility as a society, to do a better job providing support and safety nets. Individually, I think that we can recognize that very often the people who are going to suffer the most and struggle the most are the people who are probably going to be the least comfortable asking for help—who feel like, ‘I need to demonstrate my independence and my strength.’ I think one of the things that Sheryl did that was so powerful was to help people understand, look, asking for help is not a sign of weakness. It’s actually a sign of strength to be able to go to other people and say, ‘I could really use some support in this situation.’ The more we can build cultures where it’s safe to do that, the easier it is than for people to get the help that they need.”
On using technology to manage grief
Sandberg: In that first month it wasn’t just the grief, it was the isolation. People didn’t know what to say to me, so they often said nothing. Before that, when I dropped my kids off at school, I’d wave and chat with everyone, and chat with everyone in the halls at work. But really a lot of people were looking at me like a deer in headlights, so there’s just this silence. The thirty-day period has meaning in the Jewish religion, it’s shloshim. It’s the period of mourning for a spouse. As that period was coming to an end, I had been journaling. I wrote a post, which would be what I would say if I would say something to everyone. I went to bed that night thinking there’s zero chance I’m posting this. It is too personal and crazy. But then the next morning I woke up and I hit post because it felt so bad, I thought it couldn’t feel worse. It really helped. It didn’t take away the grief, but it took away the isolation. A friend of mine said she had been driving by my house regularly but had never come in. All of these strangers got on and shared. Two women, who were strangers to me but knew each other, both realized they lost husbands and never discussed it. It’s part of why along with the book, we formed through a nonprofit initiative, that I founded, OptionB. If people want to check it out, what’s up there are educational materials, helplines, resources—people getting together in groups around these common forms of adversity so that they feel less alone.”