Option B and Resilience

Sheryl Sandberg lost her husband, Dave, two years ago. Thirty days after his death Sheryl (who’s also Facebook’s COO) posted to Facebook with her raw thoughts in the immediate aftermath. This week Sheryl and Adam Grant published “Option B”. The book’s name comes from a story in that post from two years ago, where a friend of hers – referring to Dave’s absence – says “Option A is not available. So let’s just kick the shit out of Option B.” I linked to that post at the time. Then as now – and this should be no where near as surprising as it feels – a lot of her thoughts and feelings are similar to mine.

Both the authors were interviewed by Krista Tippet in the On Being podcast released this last week. It’s well worth listening to. Here’s a few things from the podcast plucked at random:

  • “For, me the research is incredibly comforting”. I’ve read a lot about happiness and living a good life. Most of it grounded in research and data suggesting that if you do X then the odds are in your favour of moving forward. This is a source of hope.
  • “I was just desperate for anything I could do, which I think did give me some sense of hope and some sense of control”. I won’t bang on about hope again here. At least it’s not just me!
  • “Our child dies a second time when no one speaks their name”. I wrote a while ago about an experience (one of many) when Mary was the unmentioned elephant in the room. Sheryl talks in the podcast about the same situation and feeling. As I’ve said before there is little that you can do to somehow remind me of Mary.
  • Based on what Sheryl now knows, when she encounters people suffering she would now rather “…say to them, ‘I know you don’t know if you’re going to get through this, and I don’t know either. But you’re not going to go through it alone. I’m here to help you. I’m here to do it with you.’” 
  • “Do something specific”. I too have been frustrated by the generic “How are you?”, “Is there anything I can do?” I laughed out load to hear her unfiltered response to this question. It sounded similar to the internal monologue I described in this post. I’ve come around a little. Perhaps the “How are you?” question is ok when you really don’t know the person, but are vaguely aware they’re going through a tough time. Otherwise, Sheryl’s suggestion to do something specific resonates. I worry that mental health programs such as RUOK don’t clearly understand the internal response to the “How are you / Are you OK” questions. They’re great for raising awareness, but lets not kid ourselves that a simple “Are you OK” question is going to make a difference. To make a difference requires a little bit more and being specific is a good start.
  • “Forgiving yourself is a really hard thing but if you tell me if I don’t forgive myself my kids will never recover I’m willing to do anything”. I don’t know when it was, but there was a point somewhere along the line where you realise clearly this isn’t all about me. Which leads to…
  • “You should think about how things could be worse”. Perspective helps. There are people walking all around us doing their best to implement Option G, H, I, J and K. I’m just on option B, I’ve got my health and my kids, my family and friends. That’s comforting. Being grateful helps.

Given my last post touching on religion, it was interesting that, unlike me, she found that the thought of Dave in heaven helpful and particularly helpful for the kids. Just as helpful for her was the ritual of religion. I wonder if Judaism lends itself more to this than Christianity?

The thing I really liked about what they’ve done with their book (disclaimer: I’m yet to read it) is that the story goes beyond grief associated with death. It also looks at the common experience of overcoming adversity whether that’s through death, loss of a job, sexual assault, or natural disasters. There’s something to learn from all these human experiences, which, when it comes down to it, is all just about stepping up to the plate and dealing with the next pitch that life throws us. All too often they’re curveballs. The resilient people still seem to somehow hit those out of the park.

(Listen to the On Being podcast here: Resilience After Unimaginable Loss)


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