In the wake of her husband’s unexpected death, Sheryl Sandberg co-wrote a compelling book about overcoming grief. Option B — Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy tells the story of the first two years of her journey.
Losing someone you love dearly is a journey that never ends. Their lives are always imprinted in your heart. And none of us would want it any other way. We don’t want to forget but we do need to go on living. Sheryl’s book is very helpful in examining three common barriers to recovering from overwhelming grief.
It Is My Fault
One of the problems with the current focus on brain health and reducing dementia risk, is that those who develop dementia and their families, may somehow feel they are at fault. If only I had exercised more. If only I had eaten the right foods. There can be a lot of ‘if onlys’ when things go wrong.
Personalization — the belief that we are at fault — can be a barrier to recovery. When we make personal an event over which we had very little control, it can be paralyzing.
When we feel something is our fault it is difficult to ask for help. And others around us want to help but they don’t necessarily know how. So we become more isolated in our pain.
This vicious cycle can reduce our resilience and impede our recovery.
It is important to see dementia as a complex medical condition that is not so obviously preventable. There are lots of things that we can and should do to reduce dementia risk. But sometimes things happen that are outside our control and for which there is no obvious fix. In those times, we just have to go through to the other side.
Everything is Awful
A diagnosis of dementia is devastating. It can feel like life is over. We can feel like nothing will ever be right again. This second barrier, pervasiveness, can seep into every area of our life.
Pervasiveness — the belief that an event will affect all areas of our life — can overwhelm our ability to see the joy that there is in the everyday, reduce our ability to cope and even make us sick.
But even in the face of terrible loss, as many people can attest, there can still be joy in life.
Deborah Shouse in her book, “Love in the Land of Dementia”, wrote: ““My mother taught me how to celebrate and appreciate what we have right now.”
Through this difficult time, Deborah connected more profoundly with her mother and her family.
Learning to celebrate and appreciate every day’s small gifts increases our capacity for gratitude and joy. It also gives us perspective at a time when we badly need it.
Scratch the surface of any life and you will find suffering. Everyone, to quote the bard, has suffered the ‘slings and arrows of outrageous fortune’. Acknowledging that allows us to connect with others in a deep and meaningful way. And, connecting adds richness to our lives.
I Will Never Feel Joy Again
When we lose someone we love, and are in the pit of grief, we can feel like we will never feel joy again. We are absolutely swamped by our emotions and certain that this state will be permanent. Our coping mechanisms are overwhelmed. This feeling of permanence is the third barrier.
Permanence — the belief that the aftershocks will last forever — can push us towards depression or despair. We can become isolated and feel very, very alone.
Olivia Hoblitzelle speaks about the pact that she and her husband made when he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease that they would lovingly walk the journey together to the end. The book, The Majesty of Your Loving: A Couple’s Journey Through Alzheimer’s, talks about how they grew in wisdom and love through their time together.
These three barriers of Personalization, Pervasiveness, and Permanence, isolate us from others and impede our ability to love and grow and build our personal resilience. When we move past these barriers, we can find joy again.