Sheryl Sandberg’s Most Powerful Work to Date
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ESME’s Bereavement Resource Guide reviews Sandberg’s book Option B
I’m a member of two clubs, neither by choice. The entrance to the first happened two weeks shy of my fifth birthday when my father died from cancer, thus thrusting me into the “Childhood Grief Club.” And passage into the second, called the “Widow Club,” occurred nearly 10 years ago when I was 33 and my late husband died about eight weeks after being diagnosed with advanced adrenal cancer.
C.S. Lewis writes, “We read to know we are not alone.” I wholeheartedly know and claim this statement to be true because I am one of those people. After my husband died, I read everything I could get my hands on pertaining to grief. It didn’t necessarily have to be loss related to the death of a spouse. I was curious about how people coped on a physical, emotional, and spiritual level. This led me to reading medical journals about broken-heart syndrome, memoirs, self-help books, and even People magazine’s pieces.
What I’ve discovered is that reading smart and thoughtfully written narratives can change your own perspective. They offer valuable insight and shape your own journey. And Option B, written by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant (Knopf, 2017), is one of those tenderhearted and powerful books offering both narrative and practical advice.
What I find most touching is Sandberg’s raw honesty. Gone is the stoicism you might associate with public figures dealing with private tragedy. It would have been easy for Sandberg to give readers a few sentences describing how she and her children struggle; instead, she not only invites us to stand alongside her as she narrates her journey but also brings the reader inside her mind. Soon, you know her fears about solo parenting, parent-teacher conferences, dating, and opinions of her friends, family, and colleagues. You read how she second-guesses both personal and professional decisions and how others compassionately remind her that her beloved Dave would want her to be gentle with herself. And bearing witness to this sorrow and intense pain will give you pause and, if you’re sensitive like myself, bring you at times to tears.
This book isn’t a straight autobiography. It provides a necessary and critical framework for grief and healing. Although the road of grief is frightening and dark, what can be in a child’s favor is a parent or caregiver who teaches a child about resilience and then offers to put that concept into play. The authors write, “Building resilience depends on the opportunities children have and the relationships they form with parents, caregivers, teachers, and friends.”
The authors also offer both practical and important suggestions supported by research to invite and integrate resilience into a child’s life. Talking to a child about his or her now-deceased parent isn’t for the faint of heart. At times these moments are fraught with angst and sorrow. Sandberg shares, “When Dave died, my biggest concern was that my children’s happiness would be destroyed.”
Sandberg also has incredible insight into how early on there was a delicate dance between bringing her children into her grief and creating distance. She remembers, “One day my son told me it made him sad when I cried, so I began holding back my tears, running up to my bedroom and closing the door when I felt them well up.”
Days later, her son asks her, “Why don’t you miss Daddy anymore?”
Sandberg writes, “By protecting him from my tears, I had stopped modeling the behavior I wanted from him. I apologized for hiding my emotions and started letting him see them again.”
And though her children’s healing remains her main focus, Sandberg shares how friendships can provide much-needed emotional support. She says for those who are tongue-tied and unsure what of what to do for those in grief, use the Platinum Rule, not the Golden Rule. Sandberg reflects, “Growing up, I was taught to follow the Golden Rule: treat others as you want to be treated. But when someone is suffering, instead of following the Golden Rule, we need to follow the Platinum Rule: treat others as they want to be treated. Take a cue from the person in distress and respond with understanding—or better yet, action.”
Chances are you know someone who is living out his sorrow right next to you, whether it be in the office or at home. Being a part of this is something you’d rather dodge, but spending time with this person, bringing her tea, writing out cards on his behalf, playing a board game with her children, or even holding the bereaved one’s hand is not only brave, it matters.
If you are grieving and would welcome some extra support and connection, check out our closed Facebook group ESME Bereavement.
Kristin Meekhof, ESME’s Bereavement Resource Guide, is the coauthor of A Widow’s Guide to Healing: Gentle Support and Advice for the First 5 Years. A licensed social worker and daughter of a Solo Mom, Meekhof became a widow in 2007 when her husband died from cancer.
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