For the most part, incarcerated people aren’t worried about the impact of social media—we’re disconnected. And, if I walk around the prison yard 100 times and talk to dozens of my fellow inmates, I’d be lucky to find one who’d know that Sheryl Sandberg is the chief operating officer of Facebook. That being said, all of my fellow prisoners could connect with Sandberg’s grief—the sudden and unexpected loss of a loved one.
After her husband died, Sandberg wrote Option B (2017), an incredibly open and honest book about her family’s struggle through grief. She’s talked to dozens of professionals, cited numerous studies and brought us into her family to ease the pain and let readers know that joy is still possible after terrible times.
To get an understanding of Sandberg’s mindset about grief, she sets some ground rules, such as “The first noble truth of Buddhism is that all life involves suffering.”
Talking about suffering and feelings are both important to Sandberg.
“Silence can increase suffering,” she writes, “There’s powerful evidence that opening up about traumatic events can improve mental and physical health.”
Another theme in Option B is hope. “Hope keeps people from giving in to despair,” Sandberg writes. Processing and respecting one’s feelings also chimes into Sandberg’s desire to offer and find happiness.
For many prisoners, when a loved one dies, there’s a call that summons the inmate to an office. The inmate is asked to take a seat. At that point, sometimes the inmate knows what’s about to happen. The person is given the bad news and asked if he or she wants to make a phone call. Mental Health checks in with the person, fellow inmates lend a shoulder, and he or she has to continue doing the time.
After that loss, hope comes from a willingness to change—to live a respectful life, to get out and see the gravesite of a beloved family member. It becomes motivational.
Sandberg also has advice for friends of people who’ve lost a loved one. “Simply showing up for a friend can make a huge difference…the most powerful thing you can do is acknowledge.”
“When someone is suffering, instead of following the Golden Rule, we need to follow the Platinum Rule: treat other as they want to be treated,” Sandberg writes.
She notes two emotional responses to the pain of others: “Empathy, which motivates us to help, and distress, which motivates us to avoid.” She adds, “Withholding comfort actually added to the pain.”
Sandberg cites Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl, “When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.” She also recognizes Helen Keller’s quote, “When one door of happiness closes, another opens; but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one which has been opened for us.”
When I reflect on the loved ones that I’ve lost during my more than two decades of incarceration, even still, Sandberg’s book is comforting. Moreover, it has helped me be a better friend to people I know who’ve lost loved ones. It has allowed me to just sit and listen to the wonderful people who are not forgotten by some incredible people doing time in prison.