What everyone gets wrong about helping friends through heartbreak

Sheryl SandbergGetty Images‘I just felt like there was this huge elephant following me everywhere,’ said Sheryl Sandberg, pictured.

In May 2015, Sheryl Sandberg’s husband Dave Goldberg died suddenly.

Her second book, “Option B,” opens with his death. Along with research presented by coauthor Adam Grant, it goes on to share the Facebook exec and mum’s experience working through her grief.

In an episode of Business Insider’s podcast “Success! How I Did It,” Business Insider US editor in chief Alyson Shontell asked about the awkwardness that can descend upon the friends and family of someone who’s going through a tragedy.

“… Some of the people who are the closest in your life, who you love the most and have the closest relationship with, just don’t say anything about what you’re going through,” Shontell said. “They don’t want to bring it up — they don’t want to upset you.”

Sandberg answered that, in her experience, this is common, and a mistake she also used to make. “I used to think that if someone was going through something hard, if I brought it up I was reminding them,” she said. “You can’t ‘remind me’ I lost Dave. You can’t remind someone that their child is sick. You can’t remind someone their dad went to jail or their mum is in trouble or they just lost their job. It’s not possible to remind anyone of that.”

She found herself in an awkward position: Everyone knew that her husband had died, and she knew that they knew it, and that they weren’t saying anything because they didn’t want to “remind” her. 

“I just felt like there was this huge elephant following me everywhere,” she said. “It’s not just death — again, it’s all of those examples I just shared. I think one of the lessons for me is that acknowledging pain is so powerful.”

And what’s the right way to acknowledge it? “Not sugar-coating it, not ‘I know you’re going to get through this’ — because sometimes you’re not — but ‘I know you’re scared and I know this is hard, and we’re going to get through it together,'” she said. “The power of acknowledgement and the power of we. Not ‘You’re going to get through this.’ ‘We’re going get through this.'”

Listen to the full podcast interview:

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