How to cope with bereavement – advice from Option B

The sudden death of her husband plunged Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg into a period of grief she believed would last forever. Margaret Gray read her book, Option B, to find out how she coped with bereavement and rediscovered joy, and shares what she learned about overcoming loss.

Coping with bereavement

Use double-sorries

When people are grieving or angry, they tend to get upset much more easily, lashing out at their friends and family in moments of frustration. Sandberg used ‘double-sorries’ with her daughter to keep their bond strong during a difficult time. “When two people hurt each other’s feelings, you both apologize quickly so that you forgive each other and yourselves… when we lost control of our emotions, we would say we were sorry right away.”

Focus on small wins

It can be difficult to accomplish even the most basic of tasks during a period of grief, but focusing on the small things you did really well each day can improve stress levels and your mental health. At the end of each day, try to write down three moments of success you had, no matter how small. Sandberg started off with these:

-       made tea

-       got through all of my emails

-       went to work and focused for most of one meeting

She says this helped her rebuild her self-confidence “to navigate the present and future.”

Recognise your post-traumatic growth

“More than half the people who experience a traumatic event report at least one positive change, compared to the less than 15 per cent who develop PTSD.” This means that most people who suffer and bereave actually bounce forward, finding personal strength, gaining appreciation for small things, forming deeper relationships, discovering meaning in life, and seeing new possibilities.

View milestones as moments to be cherished

As the milestones you once cherished before a tragedy roll around, you may start to feel as though you have nothing to celebrate. Your anniversary with your departed husband or the birthday of a friend you lost can feel insurmountable without them, a yearly reminder of their absence. Use these days to celebrate the time you spent with the person you lost, and to celebrate the fact that you are still here to remember the happiness you shared.

Make a record of this moment

It might seem unimaginable now, but memories of people do fade over time, especially for children. Sandberg decided to make a video of her, her family, and her friends talking about her husband as they remembered him very soon after his death. This way, her and her children will always be able to remember what he was really like in those final days, and remind themselves how they felt about him at the time.

Find moments of laughter

According to Sandberg, “humour can provide a dash of morality in which wrongs are righted… when you take a horrible situation and add a punch line to it, for at least a moment you have shifted the balance of power.” Finding a moment to make a joke with a close friend gives you back power over your emotions, rather than having them controlling you.

We all live some form of Option B. Sheryl Sandberg’s book showed me how to make the most of it.

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