Like many people, Sheryl Sandberg likes being in control.
But after her world suddenly flipped upside-down two years ago when she lost her husband, Dave Goldberg, to cardiac arrhythmia, Sandberg struggled to find resilience.
“One of the core things is this unbelievable feeling of loss of control. You just don’t have any control,” Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer, told Yahoo News Global Anchor Katie Couric on Sunday, April 23, during a conversation in front of a live audience at New York’s 92nd Street Y. “You can’t fix it, it can’t go away, and knowing there was something you could do, even if it wouldn’t fix it entirely but even take one step to make it a little better, was something I desperately needed.”
Her new book, “Option B,” written with psychologist Adam Grant, helped her take that one step she needed to gain some sense of control.
Shortly after Goldberg’s death, a father-son activity came up, which Sandberg attended, now as a single parent. At the event, Sandberg said she confided in her friend Phil Deutch about how she desperately wished her husband were there to go with their son. It was Deutch’s response that inspired the title of the book: “Option A is not available, so let’s just kick the s*** out of Option B.”
When grieving, it’s important to know you have people going through it with you. Sandberg notes how powerful it can be to have someone tell you “we” are going to get through it together.
Couric can relate, having lost her first husband, Jay Monahan, in January 1998 to colon cancer. The two women compared the experience of losing someone suddenly to anticipating their death.
“My husband was diagnosed with cancer and died nine months later, and you can imagine how excruciating that was, but not shocking,” Couric said. “Yours was shocking and excruciating.”
Sandberg says her shock turned into anger, and the control freak inside of her didn’t know how to deal with being so angry.
“No matter how upset you are, one of the ways we have posttraumatic growth is that we find meaning,” Sandberg said.
“Option B” has helped her find meaning.
“If ‘Option B’ can help anyone face adversity and find resilience, it extends Dave Goldberg’s life, because nothing could honor his legacy more,” Sandberg said.
Couric also experienced posttraumatic growth two years after the death of her husband when she began a mission to raise awareness for colon cancer prevention and research. Following her nationally televised colonoscopy on NBC’s “Today” in March 2000, colonoscopy rates increased by more than 20 percent nationwide, a success story that would become known as the “Katie Couric Effect.”
Sandberg was in awe of how well her mother-in-law, Paula Goldberg, handled the dreaded task of cleaning out the closet, especially given that she’d already been through it before, when her husband died.
“She said to me that she did not die. Mel did and Dave did, but she is alive, and she will live — and she lives a very full life,” Sandberg said.
It was during that conversation that she gave Sandberg permission to date. She said, “You will remarry, and I will be there.”
“As we think about supporting people, we dry their tears, we help them get through the hard stuff but give them permission and support to date,” Sandberg said. “Particularly if they’re a woman and they want to.”
At the end of their moving and poignant conversation, Sandberg read aloud a portion of her eulogy:
Courtesy: Penguin Random House LLC
Dave, I promise to raise your children so that they know who you were — and everyone here can help me do that by sharing your stories with us. And Dave, I will raise your children so that they know what you wanted for them and that you loved them more than anything in the world.
Dave, I promise to try to live a life that would make you proud. A life of doing my best, being the friend you were to all of our friends, following your example in trying to make the world a better place, and always — but always — cherishing your memory and loving our family.
Today we will put the love of my life to rest, but we will bury only his body. His spirit, his soul, his amazing ability to give, is still with all of us. I feel it in the stories people are sharing of how he touched their lives, I see it in the eyes of our family and friends, and above all, it is in the spirit and resilience of our children. Things will never be the same — but the world is better for the years Dave Goldberg lived.