Today I listened to a life changing podcast featuring Sheryl Sandberg. For those who don’t know who she is, she’s the COO of Facebook. She lost her husband very suddenly while on vacation two years ago. The podcast was heart wrenching as she spoke about her loss, her grief, telling her children their father was gone, how her children taught her lessons, and how they began to live life again. But, what got me was that in the face of something she refers to as grieving the void, she also spoke about Option B.
Sheryl’s life was on a path she understood. One she felt was laid out before her. Her Option A would have been spent with her husband raising their children. Instead, life changed her journey. Option B was not the one she would have chosen, but it was hers none the less. While trying to swim through the grief in order to breathe again, she made a choice.
“I’m going to kick the shit out of Option B every day.”-Sheryl Sandberg
Here’s a short video showing just part of an emotional commencement speech she gave after her husband’s death:
How many of us are forced into Option B without a say?
If you could see me right now I’m jumping up and down, holding my hand high in the air!
In some cases, our option change wasn’t the loss of someone we love. It could have been the loss of a job, an accident, or an illness. Anything can happen at any moment that changes life’s trajectory. How do we deal with that? How do we move forward? How do we continue living?
I’m a people watcher. I love decoding what people are doing and why. Looking inside them and comparing what I see to what is portrayed on the outside. It’s always puzzled me why some people quickly and what seems to be easily, pick themselves up and put one foot in front of the other after a loss. Yet, other people spend a long time hiding under the covers, angry, resentful, shaking their fist at God. I don’t believe one way is right and one way is wrong. I believe each person deserves the respect of figuring out what comes next in their own way. But what determines which way a person moves forward after the option change perplexes me.
That is, until I listened to Sheryl Sandberg speak. Her words made me realize that some of us don’t grieve the loss of Option A, which in turn sentences us to continue life looking backward at what might have been. We have to grieve that loss in order to let go of the resentment, the blame, and the shame.
It is only by grieving the loss of Option A that we can move forward and figure out Option B.
In listening to the podcast, I felt a heaviest settle over me. I couldn’t help but be reminded of Tristan’s birth and first few years. On a Monday, I was at a doctor’s appointment and not due for another two months. By that Friday I had delivered a baby, 7 weeks premature with cancer. We spent two months driving to the hospital first thing in the morning and not returning home till close to midnight. We came home administering chemotherapy along with so many other medications our kitchen was like a pharmacy. We spent a year in and out of the hospital with weekly scans and blood work. Our daily lives were filled with home visiting nurses and therapists. For years our lives revolved around cancer every second of every day.
Then it stopped. He still had medical problems and severe developmental delays, but he was able to start attending a special ed preschool.
THAT is when I fell apart.
THAT is when I struggled.
THAT is when the anger, resentment, shame and guilt took over making me feel everything I’d stuffed down in order to survive those first few years.
When I finally went to the doctor because I thought I was losing my mind, I started crying the moment she asked why I was there and I couldn’t stop. I remember sitting on the table with a box of tissues ,weeping with my whole body, and not understanding where all the pain was coming from. I had spent years worrying about my child dying and hadn’t cried that much.
What was going on?
How ironic that the doctor told me I was grieving! She didn’t call it Option A, but that’s what it was. She explained that while I loved Tristan with every ounce of my being, he was not the child I had loved while pregnant. The child I thought I was carrying was one I had certain expectations and dreams for. I saw the future of that child and it included all the normal milestones a child is supposed to go through. All the moments I would get to share as his or her mother. When Tristan was born, it was as if that baby I was carrying died.
I cannot imagine my life without Tristan, nor do I love him any less because he was born with cancer. But, I needed to grieve Option A. I needed to grieve all the hopes and dreams I had because doctor after doctor was telling me I’d never experience those things. That Tristan would never experience those things. My doctor explained that everything had happened so fast since the moment Tristan came into this world, I hadn’t had a chance to absorb it. I was living on adrenaline, fighting to keep him alive. Never processing what we lost or the magnitude of what we were all going through.
The cruel part, is that I’ve had to continue grieving throughout his life. When he couldn’t play the sports he loved in school because of his disabilities, I grieved. When he was bullied relentlessly and couldn’t stand up for himself, I grieved. When he spent his childhood alone and without friends because he was different, I grieved. When he never got invited to birthday parties, I grieved. When he turned 16 and didn’t get his driving permit, I grieved. When he didn’t have the option of going to college, I grieved.
By allowing myself to grieve all the Option A’s we lost, it’s allowed me to celebrate our Option B.
The friends I’ve made because of being a cancer mom are irreplaceable. The woman I met 18 years ago, whose daughter had the same cancer as Tristan, is literally a part of my soul. The special-ed teacher who first came to us in our home to work with Tristan, has become part of our family. The teacher’s aide who lost her parents right before working with Tristan at a time he needed more love and shelter than ever before, is now sunshine in our days. His best friend and his family are one of our many silver linings. The friends he’s making through Special Olympics make our hearts sing.
My ability to take what I’ve struggled with, experienced, and learned over twenty years to help other women, is an opportunity I never would have had in Option A.
The fact that we have seen, lived, experienced, and continue to watch a living breathing miracle every single day is proof that there is something bigger than us.
We never would have strayed from Option A. We never would have chosen this path.
Yet here we are not only surviving, but thriving. I believe a lot of that has to do with the fact that I grieved our loss of Option A and have continued to do so through the years.
Because I faced the pain and worked through the grief over and over again…….
Because Tristan has never know any different….
Because in darkness comes light…..
Because through pain comes resiliency……..
I can confidently say that we kick the shit out of Option B every single day!