The sudden death of a loved one can be devastating for anyone. But in 2015, when Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg lost her husband — entrepreneur and the widely loved “soul” of Silicon Valley, Dave Goldberg — she also had to grapple with the public nature of her grief.
Two years later, Sandberg has co-written a book about that process, “Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy,” with her friend, psychologist Adam Grant. On the latest episode of Recode Decode, hosted by Kara Swisher, she talked about the mistakes we often make when people we know are in mourning — mistakes that Sandberg herself was guilty of in the past.
“Before I lost Dave, if someone was going through something hard, I would say, ‘How much time off do you want? Do you want those projects taken off you?’” Sandberg recalled. “But that's it. I wouldn't say anything else because I thought I was putting pressure on them.”
When co-workers said things like that to Sandberg, she said it “trashed my self-confidence” because it reinforced a feeling of impotence. She credited CEO Mark Zuckerberg with finding the right things to say instead.
“What Mark did was, he said, ‘Do you want time off?’” Sandberg said. “But then he said, ‘I thought you made a good point in that meeting,’ or when I fell asleep in a meeting, ‘Oh, everyone does that.’ Everyone doesn't do that. I made a mistake, he’s like, ‘Oh, you would have made that mistake before.’ That was really reassuring. He kept telling me I was adding value.”
In the immediate aftermath of Goldberg’s death, Sandberg said she also got help from Facebook users, whom she didn’t know. As an act of therapeutic writing, she typed up a journal entry as a “Fakebook” post, which she never intended to share.
“I woke up the next morning,” she said. “There are so many bad moments in this. That was one of the bad ones, really terrible. I felt so awful. I thought, ‘You know what? I’m going to post this because things aren’t going to get worse. They might get better.’”
“It actually helped so much,” she added. “It did not take away the grief, but it took away a bunch of the isolation. A friend from work said she had been driving by my house almost every day and had never come in. She was scared to. She started coming in, and I needed her. Strangers posted, ‘I’ve lost this person. I’ve lost a twin. I lost a baby. I lost a husband.’ Rather than feel so isolated, I felt connected to all of these people who were experiencing loss, and breaking the isolation really helped.”
The journal entries that poured out of Sandberg as she continued to grieve formed the foundation of her half of “Option B.” She acknowledged that, even though social media is not perfect, it has created a forum for emotional honesty around a large number of topics, which may feel taboo in face-to-face relationships.
“We share in some ways, but we don’t share in others,” Sandberg said. “It's not just death that ushers in this huge elephant that’s following behind us, trampling over our relationships. You want to silence a room? Tell someone you have cancer. Your father just went to prison. Your mother just lost her job. You just lost your job. You were raped.”
“These things happen to people every day,” she added. “It's not that everyone wants to share everything at all times, but we really leave people alone when we need them the most.”
If you like this show, you should also sample our other podcasts:
- Recode Media with Peter Kafka features no-nonsense conversations with the smartest and most interesting people in the media world, with new episodes every Thursday. Use these links to subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Google Play Music, Spotify (mobile only), TuneIn, Stitcher and SoundCloud.
- Too Embarrassed to Ask, hosted by Kara Swisher and The Verge's Lauren Goode, answers the tech questions sent in by our readers and listeners. You can hear new episodes every Friday on Apple Podcasts, Google Play Music, Spotify (mobile only), TuneIn, Stitcher and SoundCloud.
- And Recode Replay has all the audio from our live events, including the Code Conference, Code Media and the Code Commerce Series. Subscribe today on Apple Podcasts, Google Play Music, Spotify (mobile only), TuneIn and Stitcher.
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.