Two years after the tragic, sudden death of Sheryl Sandberg's husband, the Facebook executive has learned how to channel her grief – particularly how such grief would affect the lives of her young children, a 7-year-old daughter and 10-year-old son.
"My biggest fear was that my children's happiness would be destroyed by our devastating loss," she wrote in a New York Times essay adapted from her new book, Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy. "I needed to know what, if anything, I could do to get them through this."
One afternoon, she sat down with her kids, a large poster board, and colored markers to write out a list of "family rules" to remind them of coping mechanisms they all might need now and then.
The list they came up with, which "still hangs in our hall so we can look at it every day," was this:
- It's O.K. to be sad and to take a break from any activity to cry.
- It's O.K. to be happy and laugh.
- It's O.K. to be angry and jealous of friends and cousins who still have fathers.
- It's O.K. to say to anyone that we do not want to talk about it now.
- It's always O.K. to ask for help.
Although their rules, namely the third one, are specific to her family, the underlying message is universal: "It reminds us that our feelings matter and that we are not alone," Sandberg wrote.
Another thing Sandberg has implemented at home is actually a tradition she and her late husband Dave did at the dinner table.
"Each of us would share the best and worst moments of our day," she recalled. "Giving children undivided attention — something we all know is important but often fail to do — is another of the key steps toward building their resilience. My children and I have continued this tradition, and now we also share something that makes us feel grateful to remind ourselves that even after loss, there is still so much to appreciate in life."