Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg joined author Cheryl Strayed at The Moore Theatre Tuesday to discuss her book, "Option B," about grief and loss.
There’s a scene in Sheryl Sandberg’s book, “Option B,” in which she describes her young children watching as their father is buried.
“The kids fell to the ground,” Sandberg recalled Tuesday night during an on-stage interview with “Wild” author Cheryl Strayed at The Moore Theater.
“So I started singing,” Sandberg remembered. “I was doing anything I could to comfort them. I just had to be in it with them.”
Sandberg’s husband, Dave Goldberg, died in May 2015 after suffering a cardiac arrhythmia and collapsing on a treadmill while on vacation with her in Mexico. At the time, their two children were 7 and 11.
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“I had children,” she said. “I had no choice. I was so worried that my childrens’ lives would be changed.”
She sought Grant’s counsel “knowing there was something I might be able to do to get through.”
That something would eventually lead her to write “Option B,” Sandberg’s second best-selling book behind her 2013 hit, “Lean In.”
Where “Lean In” covered women and workplace issues, “Option B” is seemingly heart- and homebound, focused on learning how to care, carry on, heal and rebuild after a loss.
Sandberg and Grant are traveling together to talk about the book with audiences, and in Seattle, they visited woman-run workspace, The Riveter, as well as the Amazon campus. The Moore event was sold-out, 95 percent women of all ages.
Sandberg asked the audience if anyone had experienced post-traumatic stress. Most hands went up. Then she asked if anyone had experienced “post-traumatic growth.”
Very few raised their hands. So Sandberg explained: “You will not thrive despite losses, but because of them.”
So what helped her heal? For starters, she journaled.
“Writing was healing,” she said. At one point, she didn’t journal for a couple of days, “And I thought I was going to burst.”
Strayed nodded knowingly, for she understands acutely the role of writing through grief. Her 2012 bestseller “Wild” was centered on her hike of the Pacific Crest Trail, but at the heart of the journey was the loss of her mother.
“What does it mean to be human?” Strayed said, asking the question that writing helps us answer.
When Sandberg was at lowest, Grant taught her to ask herself: What could be worse than losing her husband?
She had many answers, but this one stood out: If Goldberg’s heart event happened while he was driving their children somewhere.
Sandberg told of how a fellow soccer mom she had never met became the only person she wanted to talk to. Like Sandberg’s children, the woman had lost a parent at the age of seven. She helped Sandberg figure out what to do.
When Sandberg returned to work, roomsful of colleagues fell quiet. People didn’t know what to say, so they didn’t say anything.
“Our silence doesn’t take the pain away,” Sandberg said. “It just leaves people feeling alone.”
Bookstores should have not only “self-help” sections, but “help others” sections, as well, she said.
It’s nice to ask someone in grief “What can I do?” but that just puts the burden on the one in pain.
“People asked me, ‘What can I do?’ and I thought, ‘Make Father’s Day go away.’”
Instead, people should just do things without asking. Show up. Make a meal. Call anyway.
“You don’t have to be someone’s best friend from high school to show up,” she said. “And don’t ask me how I am. Ask me how I am today.”
It also helped Sandberg to write three “moments of joy” every day. One favorite: “My son hugged me without being asked.”
We are “illiterate” when it comes to grieving, Sandberg said, because people don’t want to talk about their own mortality.
But there’s nothing she loves hearing more than the sound of her late husband’s name. Strayed said that was the impetus for naming her daughter, Bobbi, after her mother.
“I wanted that word back in my life,” Strayed said.
Sandberg has embraced the idea that we are only here for a certain amount of time.
“In recognizing my own mortality,” she said, “I have found gratitude for life.”