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Facebook executive shares hard won lessons learned from loss

Sheryl Sandberg on how to help others

Sheryl Sandberg chats after her recent talk at Hillview Middle School with a student volunteer who helped to run the School's auditorium sound system. In the background are Oak Knoll principal Kristin Gracia, Hillview parent and program co-organizer Singari Seshadri and Rebecca Chalif from LeanIn.org. (Photo by Michelle Le/The Almanac)

When Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook's chief operating officer, recently spoke in Menlo Park, she said she wants her book, "Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience and Finding Joy," to be in a category not currently found in bookstores.

"We want our book to be in the 'Help Others' section," she said, not on the "Self-Help" shelf.

She shared some of what she's learned about the best ways to help those dealing with a trauma:

Talk about it. Don't avoid mentioning what has happened for fear of bringing up the trauma, Ms. Sandberg said. "I know Dave died, you can't remind me," she said. "You can't remind the woman who you're sitting next to at work that she has cancer," she said. "She knows."

Just let a friend or co-worker know, "You may or may not want to talk, but I'm here" if you do, she said.

Acknowledge that pain lasts. "Holidays are hard," Ms. Sandberg said. "It never occurred to me before Dave died, Fathers Day is for me, to this day, the worst day of year."

"My kids wake up knowing it's their dad's birthday," she said, and appreciate their friends who let them know they must be thinking about him.

"The power of acknowledging is so powerful," she said.

Don't say "everything will be fine." Ms. Sandberg says she used to say this to try to comfort others. But now she knows it's better to say: "I know you don't know if you're going to be OK, and I don't either, but I know you won't be alone."

"It's so much better," she said, "because you're acknowledging the pain."

Say, "this must be so hard. Just being honest, not sugar-coating" is best, she said.

Do something. "Rather than offering: 'Is there anything I can do,' " Ms. Sandberg said, "just do something."

And know, she said, that it's not necessary to have a close personal relationship to offer support. "People don't have enough people from first grade to take care of them," she said.

"Show up, show up with food, show up with flowers, show up with a hug, but don't say 'Can I do anything?' " Ms. Sandberg said.

Give permission to be happy. After losing her husband, Ms. Sandberg said, she found herself feeling bad about being happy, until Mr. Goldberg's brother told her that Dave would have wanted her to be happy.

People need "permission both to cry and to grieve, but also to find joy," she said.

Our society tends to especially judge someone who has lost a spouse who begins dating, but they need that permission, Ms. Sandberg said. "Helping people to find joy" after a loss is important, she said.

See related stories:

Sheryl Sandberg shares: Facebook executive speaks from her heart to her hometown community

Sheryl Sandberg on girls, parenting and 'me too'

Ways to get involved: OptionB.org and LeanIn.org

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