Responding to Another’s Grief
A few days ago, I was walking to work when I saw one of my colleagues. I knew that she had returned to work unexpectedly from her maternity leave because her newborn died from complications at 17 days old. She and I were not close colleagues before she left, but we worked in the same unit. I knew enough of her back story to understand that she must be in a difficult emotional position. As we walked, I mentioned that while we were happy to have her back, this must be tough for her. She shared how difficult it has been for her to find support because many groups are designed to support parents after a stillbirth. Her baby had lived for a few days, so it was different…
I learned a lot about her grief and her struggles and her ups and downs. I was able to listen and support her, acknowledging that her baby would always be in her heart and she would never forget him, that there would be good days and bad days. She admitted that she was finding it hard sometimes. We covered a lot of ground in that short walk and she thanked me for listening as we went to our separate offices. I was able to interact with her in that way not because I’ve been there (I haven’t) and not because I’m a trained coach, but because I had read Option B by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant.When Option A Disappears
Sheryl Sandberg may be best known as a Silicon Valley powerhouse who has worked at Google and is the COO of Facebook. She wrote her previous book, Lean In, as a way of encouraging women to shatter glass ceilings everywhere. However, when her beloved husband Dave died suddenly while they were on vacation, her world shattered in ways she had never imagined possible. She reached out to a friend, Adam Grant, psychologist, Wharton professor, prolific author and great guy extraordinaire. Together they wrote Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy.
This book is mostly Sheryl’s. It is her story to tell, her insights to share, and her emotions to bare. The book is written from her perspective.Adam is referenced in the third person in discussions of what she learned and what the psychological research says. Followers of positive psychology will recognize some of the academic findings that are shared, such as counting blessings, optimistic explanatory style, gratitude, self-compassion, and resilience. Yet this is not likely the way we would have thought to apply positive psychology.
How She Survived: Book Contents
Sheryl and Dave have two children, and Sheryl describes the flight home, alone, having to face the unimaginable task of telling her children that they would never see their father again. To Sheryl’s great credit, she reached out to her social support network and got solid advice on how to do that: directly, simply and be prepared to answer questions about death. She continued to reach out to get further advice which she shares with us, her readers.
As a mother myself, I can’t imagine her journey of grief, having to be strong for her children, yet suffering so enormously herself. I’ve heard Sheryl interviewed a couple of times on the radio. She is a compelling speaker, even as she relates her story over and over and over again for the benefit of us all. I hope it contributes to her own healing journey. This was a compelling and amazing book to read. Sheryl is very human and shares her story with no holds barred.She talks about how she felt when others offered her platitudes and what she wishes they had done instead.
She talks about how shocked and horrible she felt when she finally experienced a moment of joy after Dave’s death and he wasn’t there to share it.
She talks about the resilience of her children and how they continue to work together as a family to be there for each other through emotional ups and downs.
She talks about the importance of resilient communities and how much more organizations can do, and should do, to allow people time to grieve and to provide important support when their worlds become broken. She also talks about the policies she is influencing at Facebook to move in this direction.
I wasn’t sure about reading this book, but I’m ever so glad that I did. I want to read it again with my highlighter firmly in hand and note all the wisdom again. I hope never to find myself in a situation even close to Sheryl’s tragedy, although I know that many people have experienced the death of beloved spouses, dear sweet children and others who are so heart-achingly close to them. I recognize I’m in a very fortunate position that way.
However, this book has definitely equipped me to be more compassionate when someone close to me is suffering from a tragic loss. I feel that I know better what to say, what to do, and how to be a meaningful support with less fear and trepidation, and more confidence. Sheryl’s courage is contagious. May we all be inspired to build community resilience and reach out. None of us should ever feel lonely in our times of difficulty.
Sandberg, S. & Grant, A. (2017). Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy. New York: Alfred Knopf.
Grant, Adam. (2013). Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success. Viking Press.
Sandberg, S. (2013). Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead. New York: Alfred Knopf.
Sheryl Sandberg from Wikimedia
Adam Grant courtesy of Wikimedia: July 31, 2012, Wharton School of Business, U. Penn, Philadelphia, Pa, Adam M. Grant, PhD, an associate professor of management, seen at Wharton this morning. Photo by Michael Kamber/Bloomberg
Poignant, compassionate, and educationally artfully written, dear Lisa. Thank you for shedding light on a very serious topic. I, too, gained more awareness how to talk with those who have suffered great loss, after reading this book. As Appreciative Inquiry teaches as well as Acceptance and Commitment Therapy/Techniques, “Words create worlds.” None of us wants to trip over our own feet when conversing with someone who has suffered great tragedy. Our language is so important. This book is powerful, vulnerable, and gifts us with wisdom. Great positive psychology in action for the times when life tries to nail us to the ground and step on our spirits. Well done, Lisa, and thanks again.
Thanks for sharing your personal story modelling how we can with compassion and grace help comfort someone in times of such intense grief.