Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook, lived through a terrible loss. While on vacation with her husband Dave Goldberg in a resort in Mexico in 2015, he died suddenly of a heart attack while exercising at the gym. Her world was shattered after losing the love of her life. In her book Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy, Sandberg and psychologist Adam Grant give precious advice to others facing a crisis and looking for that silver lining.
What advice would you give someone who is now in the dark and looking for that light at the end of the tunnel?
“In the early days it wasn’t just that the grief was crushing, it’s that I thought it would never get better. I still feel a lot of sadness, but I know now two years later that I have moments of pure joy. When my daughter gives me a hug, when my son laughs, it doesn’t take away the pain of missing Dave but those moments are joy. Just knowing when it’s so terrible that you will feel pure joy again, it’s the most important reason I wrote this book, and what I would tell anyone. You have to believe that”.
What helped you heal and find joy again?
“The survivor’s guilt is so real. You feel guilty being alive, you feel guilty living when the other person didn’t. What Adam convinced me of, is that if I didn’t find joy, my kids weren’t going to either. My brother in law said: ‘All that Dave ever wanted was for you and your children to be happy. Don’t take that away from him in his death’. I thought about that. Giving yourself permission to feel joy is so important. You have to take deliberate steps to do it. One of the best advice anyone has ever given me was to write down moments of joy, it makes you notice those moments during the day”.
How have your kids helped you get over the pain and what has this experience taught you?
“I’m so proud of them. They have perspective and empathy and they have sadness but they get through it. They get through it not just with kindness for themselves, but with kindness for others. I’ll just look at my friends and tell them: ‘I just want you to know I love you’. I have this feeling of: ‘What if I don’t say it? What if the person is gone?’ The last thing I said to Dave was ‘I’m falling asleep’, I would live to review that, but I can’t. Finding ways to express gratitude is so important”.
You mentioned the day of this interview would have been your wedding anniversary with Dave. How do you commemorate this day?
“The day I have chosen to celebrate is the day of his birth, so every October 2 my kids and I throw a poker tournament where all the kids play poker in his honor. I can’t celebrate the day of his death or the day that would have been our anniversary, but I try to be grateful for the years we had rather than mourn. I can try to be happy for the 11 years we did have. I celebrate the day that amazing man was born”.
In the book you gather stories of other people who have shown resilience. What is the common thread among them?
“Part of the book are the stories of this unbelievable people who have faced adversity of all kinds. We have stories in the book of people who were abandoned by their parents at a very young age, people who have faced violence, terrorism and war, who have lost jobs, lost a kid. There is so much adversity out there and not every story has a happy ending, but there is this incredible part of us. Never underestimate the capacity of humans to persevere. There is a light within people that will not be extinguished, and they come out of the crisis with meaning, joy and resilience. Those stories give me strength”.