Option B (by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant, Knopf 2017) grew out of Sheryl Sandberg’s experience with grief following the tragic death of her husband in 2015. (The end of her Option A). For we who have been thrust into grief following a workplace tragedy the details of her story will be familiar. She describes “overcoming grief” as moving from being in a fog or void (a time of incapacity) to functioning in a more predictable way.
She uses the first two years of her grief journey as a vehicle to reflect on how resilience plays a part in responding to tragic events: how resilience helps in making adjustments to the new normal of living without a loved one. Adam Grant, her friend and a psychologist provides helpful research-based guidance for more effectively coping with the challenges of the grief journey. As a Volunteer Family Guide I found his insights helpful: first in understanding the process of grief; and then with ways to address some of the obstacles to rebuilding what feels like a shattered world.
Early in the book the authors explore a griever’s difficulties when a tragedy becomes personalized (guilt and self-blame for the event); pervasive (nothing will ever be the same again); and permanent (this sad state will last forever). Moving past these three Ps is about recognizing them as untrue and leaving them behind.
Sheryl takes a whole chapter to describe how a trusted listener is essential to helping grievers cope with their suffering. It is a wonderful affirmation of the role of a Threads of Life Volunteer Guide.
All of us in Threads of Life will identify with her experiences in the chapter “The Platinum Rule of Friendship.” She reminds us the five stages of grief are more accurately the five states that we move among following tragedy. There is reference to Susan Silk’s ring theory, of offering comfort inwards to the hurting and seeking comfort outwards for our own hurt.
At the end of the chapter “Self Care and Self Confidence” she describes reaching the point where she is ready to take control of her Option B and make it more to her liking.
Part of her moving forward used the concept of post-traumatic growth; the idea that unless one can see that growth is possible it will not happen. She provides examples of tragedy survivors who went on to create projects to help others. The founding of Threads of Life is a classic example.
In the chapter “Taking Back Joy” she writes, “Seeking joy after facing adversity is taking back what was stolen from you.” Part of that process is to “take back” some of the activities and pleasures shared and experienced before the tragedy. In moving forward we bring along good things from the past.
Resilience, finding strength from within to cope with adversity, is a theme that runs through the book. Resilience is viewed as a lifelong project. Later chapters are devoted to the subject in detail. The authors propose that those with more resilience respond more confidently to adversity. It was disconcerting to think that a person’s response to a tragic event could be used to judge their resilience. Grievers do not need more ways for people to judge them. At the time of tragedy we have to make do with what we have. One way to help a person find and build their strength is helping them understand the three Ps.
A chapter on raising resilient children exhorts adults to help children develop four core beliefs: they have some control over their lives; they can learn from failure; they matter as human beings; and they have real strengths to rely on and share.
She explores building resilience through groups and communities that share hope for a better future, noting collective resilience also requires shared experiences, shared narratives and shared power. An echo of Threads of Life.
Another chapter explored resilience in corporate and institutional settings. Here the emphasis is on seeking out failure and finding its lessons to improve future outcomes. Threads of Life family members can only hope such an approach will reduce the endless repetition of predictable and preventable workplace tragedies.
In the final chapter “To Love and To Laugh Again” she writes that “resilience in love means finding strength from within that you can share with others.”
This is a book that will help others to understand grief. It also calls us to think about the role of resilience in dealing with life’s challenges.