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Sheryl Sandberg: What Not to Say to a Friend Who’s Having a Hard Time

2 minute read

“Adults sometimes flinch a little to this day,” Sheryl Sandberg says, when she mentions her late husband Dave Goldberg’s name. “As if I’m reminding them that my husband died and it’s sad.” While the expressions are tiny and fleeting, Sandberg notices them. “They don’t even know they’re doing it. It’s just people’s reaction.”

The Facebook Chief Operating Officer, who spoke extensively to TIME about her husband’s death, along with her grief and recovery, says she felt incredibly isolated when she returned to work. Employees avoided her, facing the triple threat of a boss who was famous and obviously suffering. Sandberg understood the reaction, but believed that adding isolation to grief was making it so much worse. So she set about writing Option B, with psychologist Adam Grant, to help people better understand grief and hardship and setting up an organization of the same name.

“One thing I learned in the book is look, we have put grief, adversity, cancer, illness, job loss, sexual assault, like all this stuff that people face, in a big old closet,” she says. “And people want it in the closet because it’s easier. People are uncomfortable talking about this. The No. 1 thing everyone I know who’s gotten cancer has said about this, is that no one talks about it. You want to silence a room? Say you were just diagnosed with cancer, or say you had cancer five years ago. People freeze.”

Sandberg has other simple tips for those who want to help friends who are having a hard time, which she shares in the above video.

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Write to Diane Tsai at diane.tsai@time.com