‘Option B’ Review: How to Face Adversity

Sheryl Sandberg and Dave Goldberg had it all—great jobs (chief operating officer at Facebook and chief operating officer at Survey Monkey, respectively), two beautiful children and finally time together for an adult vacation in sunny Mexico with dear friends. That is until disaster struck. Sheryl was suddenly a widow and faced with the discovery that the long life she pictured with her husband was not to be. Her plan morphed from Option A into “Option B” in the blink of an eye.

Moving Toward Option B

Sheryl never dreamed her life would take such a detour—the future would be devoid of Dave. She constantly worried about the effects their father’s death would have on her two small children. It was a shock to everyone—family, friends and co-workers. Erasing the image of her son and daughter falling to the ground unable to move at the funeral was an impossible task for the Facebook executive.

In those early days and even the weeks and months to come, Sheryl felt as though her grief was always present. Then when milestones took place—the first day of school, a birthday party—she literally would be overcome with her devastating loss all over again, front and center. It was difficult for Sheryl to function. As a way of working through her all-encompassing emotions with the unexpected death of her beloved husband, Sheryl penned “Option B” along with the assistance of her friend, psychologist Adam Grant.

Facing Adversity

Over the course of one’s life, many people face hardships. There are events you can anticipate and prepare for, and others will catch you totally off guard. The unknown is scary, and a quote by C.S. Lewis brings this point home: “No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear.”

For Sheryl, her greatest fear was her children would never be happy again. People constantly told her things would get better and children are much more resilient than she thought. Nevertheless, Sheryl still found it a difficult concept to wrap her mind around. Early in “Option B,” she shared the following, which sheds light on why: “Just as the body has a physiological immune system, the brain has a psychological immune system. When something goes wrong, we instinctively marshal defense mechanisms. We see silver linings in clouds.”

After Dave’s death, Sheryl suffered because she was grief-stricken that she was grief-stricken. She was given a valuable piece of advice that helped her through the rough spots. Rabbi Nathaniel Ezray told her to “lean in to the suck”— she needed to expect life to be awful at times. Instead of being surprised by her negative feelings, Sheryl learned to expect them.

In Sheryl’s situation, death was the adversity she faced. For others, adversity can be a different type of loss: financial, divorce, illness and unemployment. Unfortunately, no one is immune.

Building Resilience

In 1972, Abraham Tesser and Sidney Rossen coined the term “mum effect” to describe how humans tend to avoid upsetting topics. After the death of a loved one, people are often afraid of talking about the loss with the person left behind—spouse, child or sibling. We naturally avoid the topic, not because we don’t care but because we fear it will be upsetting. Sheryl described this situation as the elephant in the room. “Even people who have endured the worst suffering often want to talk about it.”

Family, friends and coworkers want to help, but they just don’t know how or where to begin. Sheryl tackled it head on and exposed all her of her emotions in a very personal Facebook post about how she felt. The floodgates opened with an outpouring of comments and messages. The elephant was no longer in the room.

On the flip side, finding people—a kindred spirit if you will—can help build one’s resilience. Sheryl was fortunate to have the support system and resources needed to get them through the trauma. They asked for help. But unfortunately, in today’s society, many suffer in silence. Life does not have to be lived in isolation, alone and silent. There are resources available to help community members face adversity (see information in the sidebar of those available from Chapters Health System).

Finding Joy

Option B

In “Man’s Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankel stated what helped him survive the Holocaust: “When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.” Many people who live through trauma and adversity become victims of post-traumatic stress disorder and experience many negative symptoms. However, Tedeschi and Calhoun discovered something totally different can occur: post-traumatic growth. Positive growth can take place in five categories:

  • Finding personal strength
  • Gaining appreciation
  • Forming deeper relationships
  • Discovering more meaning in life
  • Seeing new possibilities

For the sake of her family, Sheryl took this approach, Option B, to life without her husband. In the past, Dave, Sheryl and the kids would share their best and worst moments of the day during dinner. The re-tooled family of three adapted this old family tradition, and now share something that makes them grateful.

Taking the philosophy of Søren Kierkegaard to heart, in that life must be lived forward, Sheryl also would write down daily three things she did well and three moments of joy. It was the small wins that propelled and led her to realize that she could find joy again.

Even though life’s Option A is null and void, it shouldn’t prevent anyone from moving toward Option B, C, D, E, as the case might be. Just know that you are not alone.

Note: Sheryl is donating all of her income from “Option B” to OptionB.org, a non-profit initiative to help people build resilience and find meaning in the face of adversity.

At Chapters Health System and its affiliatesGood Shepherd Hospice, HPH Hospice and LifePath Hospice, every day is devoted to educating our patients and keeping them in the place they call home. We are dedicated to ensuring that patients, young and old alike, and their families are able to make educated decisions about important healthcare matters. For more information, please call our helpful Chapters Health team at 1.866.204.8611 or send an email to info@chaptershealth.org.

About Phoebe Ochman

Phoebe Ochman, Director of Corporate Communications for Chapters Health System, manages all content and communications for the not-for-profit organization.

Grief Support: Always Available

After the loss of a loved one, some survivors may find the pain associated with their loss doesn’t lessen with time. Individual grief counseling and support groups provide a safe place to express feelings, share experiences, learn about grief and move ahead in the process.

Chapters Health System and its affiliates—Good Shepherd Hospice, HPH Hospice and LifePath Hospice—offer various support groups and individual counseling. Our hope is that community members will take advantage of the programs that best suit their particular needs and circumstances. You don’t need to be the loved one of a patient at any of our hospices to participate in these support services.

We are pleased to offer our programs to anyone (adults and children) residing in Citrus, Hardee, Hernando, Highlands, Hillsborough, Pasco and Polk counties, who has experienced the death of a loved one. Preregistration is required for all offerings. For more information and to register for support groups, please call the Bereavement Department that’s most convenient for you.

In Polk, Highlands and Hardee counties, Good Shepherd Hospice Bereavement is 863.968.1707 or toll-free 1.800.464.3994.

In Pasco, Hernando and Citrus counties, HPH Hospice is 727.863.7971 or toll-free 1.800.486.9794.

In Hillsborough County, LifePath Hospice Bereavement is 813.877.2200 or toll-free 1.800.209.2200.





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