When Sheryl Sandberg lost her husband, Dave, to a heart attack two years ago, the story attracted broad interest because of her position as a top executive at Facebook.
In this new book, Sandberg describes in poignant detail her consuming sadness. “The fear of forever without Dave was paralyzing,” she writes.
When she told their children, ages 7 and 10, that their father had died, “The screaming and crying that followed haunt me to this day – primal screams and cries that echoed the ones in my heart.”
Sandberg consulted a psychologist friend, Adam Grant, who provided helpful tips on dealing with grief. Awkwardly, Grant is listed on the cover as the book’s co-author, although he is referred to only in the third person in the text.
The book’s title refers to Dave’s continuing presence as Option A, which was no longer an option, so it is time to move on to life without Dave, Option B.
Sandberg cringes at the insensitivity of those who avoided her, ignoring the “elephant in the room.” Some talked about trivia such as the weather. A year after Dave died, one friend said Sandberg “should be done with that grief thing.”
Another said it was nice to know that she was “over Dave’s death.” Her response: “I know they meant well and wanted me to be happy, but no, I am not ‘over’ Dave’s death. I never will be.”
Sandberg relates numerous stories of friends and strangers who have suffered loss, yet carried on. Most of these brief anecdotes are not memorable, but getting to know others who had suffered the loss of a spouse or parent provided real comfort to Sandberg and her children.
Much of the book is repetitious, citing numerous studies about coping strategies after loss. It is almost as if Sandberg and Grant did a Google search on “loss” and summarized their findings in this book. Sandberg encourages companies, including Facebook, to give employees more time off when they suffer loss. After Dave died, Sandberg says she connected with the Facebook mission of “helping people share” in a way she had never done before.
Sandberg’s devotion to helping the less fortunate at home and abroad is noteworthy. Years ago, she started volunteering at a local food bank in San Francisco. She also helped launch “Stand Up For Kids” to provide meals for hungry children.
Sandberg learned to foster happiness and joy for herself, yet feeling guilty about having positive feelings without Dave. With encouragement from friends and family, she started dating again.
Some readers criticized Sandberg’s previous best seller, Lean In, saying it failed to address the difficulties women face when they don’t have a partner. The critics were right, she concedes in Option B. “I didn’t get it. I didn’t get how hard it is to succeed at work when you are overwhelmed at home.”
On Facebook, she launched an “Option B” group for people dealing with loss. She portrays Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg as a caring chief executive who encouraged her to take as much time off work as she needed.
When she returned to the office, she initially felt “cold, distant, stilted. Walking around the Facebook campus, I started to feel like a ghost, somehow frightening and invisible at the same time.” She thought about carrying a stuffed elephant, but did not know if anyone would get the hint.
Sandberg drew strength by keeping a journal, a practice she recommends to anyone coping with loss. At Adam’s suggestion, she started making a list of three things she did well each day.
Option B undoubtedly will benefit grieving readers touched by the honesty and vulnerability of an influential corporate executive.
Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy, by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant; Knopf, 226 pp.; $25.95
Bill Williams is a freelance writer in West Hartford, Conn., and a former editorial writer for The Hartford Courant. He is a member of the National Book Critics Circle and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.