How Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg Found Life After Her Husband’s Death

The author and social media executive spoke at Seattle's Moore Theatre this week.

By Linda Morgan

Sandberg-old

May 18, 2017

The day Sheryl Sandberg’s husband, Dave Goldberg died, Sandberg feared she’d never again find joy. She worried that her children’s lives would be ruined. And she believed that without Dave, the love of her life who had been her rock and her anchor, she could not possibly move forward.

Sandberg, COO of Facebook and author of Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joyand Lean In, spoke at the Moore Theatre on Tuesday, along with Option B co-author and psychologist Adam Grant. Cheryl Strayed, author of the memoir, Wild, interviewed the two. They discussed loss, suffering, and what it’s like when your world turns upside down—and how to reclaim that world and build resilience.

Sandberg had been living what seemed to be a charmed life. As a Harvard graduate with an MBA, she’d found spectacular success as a businesswomen, author and speaker. A leader in her field and a highly regarded role model, she was also the happily married mother of two. But in May 2015, her husband, CEO of SurveyMonkey, died of a cardiac arrhythmia while on vacation in Mexico.

Option B is a recounting of the grief, isolation and devastation that Sandberg experienced after her husband’s death—and the steps she took to reclaim her life. One of her first moves was to call Grant, her longtime friend. “What do I do?” she asked him. “Resilience is a muscle,” he told her. “We build it.”

The book’s title came from a conversation Sandberg had with another friend, who, shortly after Goldberg’s death, came up with a plan for an upcoming father-child activity: Someone, he suggested, would fill in for Dave. “But I want Dave. I want option A,” she cried. “Option A is not available,” said her friend. “So let’s just kick the shit out of option B.”

At the Moore Theatre, the speakers traded tales of adversity—Strayed had lost her mother while she was in college—and spoke of the personal transformations that often evolve from crises and great loss. Sandberg calls this “post traumatic growth.” People thrive, she said, because of their sorrows. “I have grown and learned; I’m now a deeper, more connected person.”

Sandberg recounted the way her friends attempted to reach out to her. Some simply ignored the “elephant in the room” and said nothing at all. Others asked, “Is there anything I can do?” That question, she said, shifts the burden to the person who’s in pain. “Sure,” she wanted to reply. “Can you make Father’s Day go away?”

Sandberg learned, she said, that “we all need to acknowledge each other’s pain.” Just call, she said. Come over. Bring dinner. “You don’t have to be someone’s friend from the first grade to show up.” And never, ever ask, “How are you?” Ask, “How are you today?”

She felt pure joy again—the first time since Dave’s death—while dancing at a bar mitzvah. But she quickly burst into tears. She felt guilty; how could she find pleasure when her husband was gone? Then Dave’s brother reminded her that above all, Dave had always wanted her to be happy.

At Grant’s suggestion, Sandberg began to write down three moments of joy each day. She still does it. This has helped her rediscover her gratitude for life, she said. She encourages others to search for that gratitude, and to give themselves permission to be happy.

After all, she said, “No one’s life is perfect. Everyone lives some form of Option B.”

Taylor Swift/YouTube

New auditorium, better BMX track and a greener Seattle

Casket Case Bellevue company’s product featured in Taylor Swift video Social media absolutely lost it after a casket manufactured by Bellevue-based Titan Casket was featured in American singer-songwriter Taylor Swift’s recent “Anti-Hero” music video. Tweets and Instagram posts from Swift’s fans about the casket have generated tens of thousands of likes and retweets, resulting in…

Act Theater: History of Theatre group shot-cropped

Seattle Celebrates Black History Month

A guide to events happening throughout the city in February

From the Northwest African American Museum to the Museum of Pop Culture, Seattle residents have an abundance of opportunities to celebrate the achievements of African Americans in February during Black History Month. The annual celebration began in the United States in 1976. Countries around the world also celebrate the month. Here’s a guide to events…

Photography by Tyree Harris

Book Excerpt: Marmots May Be Running Out of Time

New book explores endangered species in Pacific Northwest

In her debut as a book author, Josephine Woolington turns back the clock to examine events that have shaped Pacific Northwest wildlife in an effort to provide a deeper sense of place for those who call this unique and beautiful region home. Where We Call Home: Lands, Seas, and Skies of the Pacific Northwest sheds…

Illustration by Arthur Mount

Seattle Artifacts: The Mystery of Chief Seattle’s Death Mask

Is it real? Where did it come from?

In different parts of the world, and throughout the course of history, death has been memorialized in a variety of different ways. One of the more intriguing was death masks. Typically, a wax or plaster cast was made of a deceased person’s face, which then served as a model for sculptors when creating statues and busts.  …

Photography by Sage Chen

The Art of Weathering Winter: Foraging, Bathing, and Gold Dust

Two Seattle Chefs on the Soothing Hobbies that Get Them through the Winter

Though I’ve lived in Seattle nearly my entire life, the early winter sunsets, which fall like a set of blackout curtains over the world, never fail to feel like a curse. This year, though, I wanted to challenge myself to find a better way to get through it. Could it be an opportunity to surrender…

DSC_5132 copy 2 hero-min

Hip-Hop Healing in Seattle

Rapper Carter Costello’s house is more than just a venue for artists

The last time I was at Seattle rapper Carter Costello’s house was under the cloak of night. I had been invited to an art and music show — featuring Seattle photographer and artist Baby Claypool, a duo of fire dancers, rapper Nobi and Costello — by local photographer James Gerde. Once I set foot on…