Sheryl Sandberg announces a new way to be there for grieving friends during the holidays

Mandy Velez
Contributing Writer
Sheryl Sandberg is committed to helping us grieve. (Photo: Getty Images; Facebook/Sheryl Sandberg)

Since publishing her book Option B, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg has been at the forefront of helping people who are grieving or going through a similarly tough time in their lives. She wrote the book after losing her husband, in the hopes of helping others find their own resilience and come to terms with their loss.  

With the holidays in full swing, the affiliated organization OptionB, which helps people through times of grief, has decided to expand its services to the family and friends of grieving loved ones, too. It’s called #OptionBThere.

The new initiative is part of the OptionB platform, but was launched to specifically help people be there for friends and loved ones facing adversity this holiday season. It has its own page on the program’s website with tips and tools for interacting with someone who has just experienced loss.

In a Facebook post on Nov. 30, the Facebook COO announced the initiative, explaining that losing Dave made the holidays hard, but having people to support her helped.

“When my husband Dave died, friends and colleagues graciously asked, ‘Is there anything I can do?’” she wrote in the Facebook post. “One answer that came to mind felt like way too much of an imposition: “Can you make sure my children and I are never left alone on the holidays?”

OptionB’s president, Rachel Thomas, spoke to Yahoo Lifestyle to share how #OptionBThere seeks to help make grief easier on everyone, including those who are watching their own loved ones go through difficult times. “It can be daunting [to know] what to do and what to say. Many people can fall into the trap of saying it wrong,” she says. 

“We have a piece on holiday greetings. For people who are struggling, [something like Happy Holidays] can land like a ton of bricks,” she advises. “We hope we can get everybody over their hump.”

The platform includes other articles like how to give the most meaningful gift, as well as #OptionBThere sympathy cards designed by illustrator Emily McDowell that users can download or buy. McDowell is known for her straight-to-the-point copy in her card messages, which is why she made a great partner for the initiative, Thomas says.

Experts in clinical psychology, caregiving, theology, and medicine, as well as OptionB community members who have lost their own loved ones, helped the team shape every bit of content on the platform.

“We [also] put together a deck of cards we call heart-warmers,” says Thomas. “The idea is you get together with friends and family and focus on the positive.”

Diana Nash, a grief counselor in New York City, tells Yahoo Lifestyle that the way we speak or act towards our loved ones during their grieving process can make a big difference in their day-to-day life.

“People can feel isolated in grief,” she says.

She advises that those around them should do more than just reach out — stand with them and be with them.

“Don’t say, ‘Let me know what I can do.’ That doesn’t do much. Rather call and say, ‘I’m just going to the grocery store to pick up a few things, what can I do for you?’”

Jamie Tyre, a graphic designer from Pennsylvania who lost her mother three years ago, says the holiday continues to be hard. She also echoes the sentiments reflected on the OptionB platform about the holidays being tough in general.

“Christmas music is hard, because my mom loved Christmas music. She loved anything Christmas,” she says. 

Tyre says what helps is people who tell her that they’re there for her, even much after the fact. “I feel like when someone dies, others don’t realize that you are affected forever,” she said. “It’s not something that just goes away. So I appreciate it when people acknowledge that.”

Thomas hopes to help people be better prepared to help those, like Tyre, experiencing grief this season.

“We really believe deeply that any little part we can play helping people come together to support friends and loved ones who are struggling [will make] the holidays a little easier for some people,” she says. 

“She’s been there herself, through tough days and tough holidays,” she adds of Sandberg. “I think this is really near and dear to her heart.”

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