I recently read that Sheryl Sandberg had lost her husband (two years back). I think that I heard it as a comment that Sheryl had reflected that when she wrote ‘Lean In’, she received criticism from many women that they did not enjoy the privilege she enjoyed of having a partner or financial stability. She agreed they were right. After loosing Dave, she was able to understand them. I felt sad for her and her family and thought how tough it must have been for them. I lost my sister last year and have felt the loss of a loved one deeply.
Then I heard about a book that she had written about his passing away. My first reaction was “Really, do you want so much publicity that you can write a book on such a sad issue?” How wrong I was ! My sister, Radhika, bought this book and she gave it to me after finishing it nearly one-go. She told me that it was a great book and you cannot stop crying. I also read an online comment that how she spoke about the best encouragement she received in the initial days when she got back to work was from Mark Zuckerburg, her good friend and the CEO of facebook. He told her that she was needed rather than telling her to stay at home. It helped her get away from home and restart her life back. I felt truth in that statement. All of these encouraged me to read this book.
And what a read it has been. I think I finished the book in 3-4 sittings. First, “I am Sorry Sheryl” for thinking the way I did. I am still working on thinking positively the very first time I hear something. This is a realization and I will figure out how to fix it. Writing a book is a big task. You need to believe in it and know your reasons for writing it. It needs dedication. Also, books, blogs, vlogs, movies can be hugely influential. This book will touch a lot of hearts – as everyone has lost someone. The book is so honest. It provides a good understanding of so many emotions and situation someone can go through. She shares the various stages she went through from being at a complete loss to finding love and joy again. It offers so many insights, helpful suggestions and guidance on how to deal with it yourself and also for your children. I have to admit I am in awe of how she dealt with everything (and continues to do so).
Now here are some of the things that really touched me:-
- Address the elephant in the room :-
- When someone goes through such a tragic circumstance (including news of terminal illness), people are hesitant to bring up the topic. They do not want to remind you (as if you need help with reminding – as Sheryl says), and not sure what to say. Sheryl (and Adam Grant) say that it helps to share. It tells people that you care.
- Also, talking (and recording) about Dave helped keep his memories together. I lost my mother about 10 years ago, she was such a loving mother, but we never took time to talk about her after she passed away. We thought it will hurt us and now I don’t even remember her clearly. So I made sure that I pen down my memories of my sister (in-law) so that I can give it to her daughter when she is ready for it.
- She shares the story of Carol Marooney who was offered to run the Global Communication team. Carol found that she might have cancer and hesitated to take up the role. Sheryl encouraged Carol and Carol heard Sheryl open up about her struggles in front of thousands of coworkers and saw a glimmer of possibility. She found she had cancer and she decided to take up the opportunity. She also started sharing her personal and professional challenges. She believes that her openness made their work more effective. Carol says – You thought you will slow down but it takes time and energy to hide things.
- Having a network to help :-
- When Sheryl was en-route to go home and break the news to her children, she called up their close friend Carol Geithner, who was a social worker who counseled grieving children. Carol guided her to break the news directly, to reassure that their lives will be just like before, not to make false promise that she would live forever and mostly to tell them she loved them and they would go through this together. This helped her immensely.
- She also got help from family, close friends and people who had studied about this or gone through this
- She and her children joined communities (which you would not have wanted to be part of). Having someone who has gone through similar issues helps to connect and see that you are not alone and get help on solving your issue.
- Creating rules for the family :- This is one thing I really loved. If we can make these simple rules, it so much easier to know what to do in day to day situations. She and her two children wrote these rules:
- It’ ok to be sad, angry, jealous, happy, laugh,…
- When you are upset, you can tend to make mistakes, get angry and show your frustration. They formed a rule to forgive yourself and forgive others (do double sorry).
- Get enough sleep
- Teamwork – Help each other, We are stronger together.
- Building resilience at home (self, children) and work:- I think this is one of the most important things in life (I am still learning about it now).
- Seeing the positive side :-
- Even after this tragic event, Sheryl with the help of others and herself was able to see positive side in it. She learned she could make decisions, which she had earlier left for Dave to make.
- Finding Humor :- Laughing about with her sister (in-law) that they don’t have to watch the bad taste movies Dave used to like. Laughter lightens up the atmosphere, lets you look forward to life.
- She writes about what Allen Rucker said about his paralysis “There are things to be gained and things to be lost, and on certain days, I am not even sure that the gains are not as great as, or even greater than, the inevitable looses”.
Thank you Sheryl (and Adam) for finding the time and energy to writing this book and starting the website (optionb.org). It will help a lot of people, enable people to talk more openly.
A note on Adam Grant – He is a psychologist and Wharton’s top-rated professor. He is a leading expert on how we can find motivation and meaning, and live more generous and creative lives. They decided to write this book as Sheryl’s narrative and refer to him as a third person. You can see how he enriches this book (and Sheryl’s journey) with his research and guidance.