It’s been nearly two years since Sheryl Sandberg‘s husband died suddenly of a cardiac arrhythmia while the two were on vacation with friends and family in Mexico. Now, after finding her way through the grieving process and ultimately learning to embrace life like never before, the Facebook COO is paying it forward with a new book, Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy, that she co-wrote as a guide for those who are bereaved.
In a new interview with TIME, Sandberg, now 47, opens up about her struggle to rebuild her life — and her self-confidence — after the loss of her husband, SurveyMonkey CEO Dave Goldberg.
“It just kind of crumbled in every area. I didn’t think I could be a good friend. I didn’t feel like I could do my job,” she says, adding that she wasn’t even sure she could take care of her two grieving children.
“It reminded me of how one day in my neighborhood I watched a house that had taken years to build get torn down in a matter of minutes,” she writes in Option B. “Boom. Flattened.”
Sandberg, Goldberg’s younger brother Rob and Rob’s wife were the ones who discovered 47-year-old Goldberg lying in a pool of his own blood after he collapsed in a hotel gym in Punta Mita on May 1, 2015.
“I started doing CPR,” Rob recalls now to TIME. “I remember not being sure if I could feel a pulse or if it was really my own heart pounding.” After Goldberg was rushed to a local hospital, a doctor delivered the news that would turn Sandberg’s world upside down.
“The wails of her crying in that hospital were unlike anything that I’d ever heard in my life,” says family friend Phil Deutch, whose birthday was the occasion for the Mexico trip. “It was an awful, awful scene.”
As they were leaving Goldberg’s body, Sandberg ran back to give him one final hug, Rob recalls. “I think for Sheryl, letting go of him physically meant letting go of the moment that this could somehow not be real,” he says. “I had to gently pull her off of him. She just wanted to hug him and wanted him to be there and wanted him to come back.”
The months that followed were agonizing, but Sandberg found solace in opening up the lines of communication about her grief — including through Facebook posts.
In June 2015, a month after her husband’s death, Sandberg wrote a post, saying: “I think when tragedy occurs, it presents a choice. You can give in to the void, the emptiness that fills your heart, your lungs, constricts your ability to think or even breathe. Or you can try to find meaning. These past 30 days, I have spent many of my moments lost in that void. And I know that many future moments will be consumed by the vast emptiness as well. But when I can, I want to choose life and meaning.”
She also began sharing tips on Facebook: “Don’t avoid the heartbroken (except when they obviously want to be avoided). Don’t tell them that everything will be O.K. because, well, how would you know? And don’t ask the bereaved how they are. Instead ask them how they are that day,” TIME summarizes.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg says Sandberg’s posts taught the people around her how to help her cope. “I think a lot of people wanted to reach out to her, but they didn’t know how. You know, there’s this whole question of, ‘Are you reopening a wound or something?’ And of course, what she would say is, ‘You’re not reopening the wound. I mean, it’s, like, open and gaping.’ ”
With time and the support of her loved ones, Sandberg has begun to heal and find happiness again.
“She embraces joy in a different way than she has before,” says her friend Marne Levine, who was by Sandberg’s side in the hospital when she learned of her husband’s death. “She tries to make her birthdays as joyful as possible.” On Goldberg’s birthday, the kids play poker, his favorite game.
Encouraged by her in-laws, Sandberg eventually started dating. Her current boyfriend is Bobby Kotick, who runs the gaming company Activision Blizzard.
Along with her book, she’s also launching a nonprofit whose goal is to “change the conversation around adversity,” Sandberg’s representatives say.
The ache of her loss is still there, Sandberg says. “I feel it every day. Every day. I go to my son’s basketball game, and there are a lot of fathers there. My daughter is going to be in the school play next week, and Dave is not here to go to any of that.”
A few weeks after Goldberg’s death, there was a father-child event at the kids’ school, and her friend Deutch suggested sending a stand-in dad. “But I want Dave. I want option A,” Sandberg said at the time. “Option A is not available,” Deutch said. “So let’s just kick the shit out of Option B.”