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Hello there. Heat wave conditions across much of southern Europe pushing that extreme heat into the southeast of the Med. In excess of 38 degrees across Rome, maybe 40 through to the Balkans.
MEGAN WILLIAMS: The weather from the BBC sounds like something out of a science fiction film these days. The temperatures that reached as high as the mid-40s in some European capitals prompted the Italians to baptize it “Lucifero”—“Lucifer”—a name that's caught on throughout the rest of Europe. In my apartment in Rome where I live, the brass door knobs were almost hot to the touch and the lake I go to just outside Rome—Lago di Bracciano—that supplies water to the city got so depleted it looked like a muddy swamp in parts, with forest fires breaking out along its edges. But heat waves like Lucifer aren't just sweeping over Europe. The high temps roiling everywhere from British Columbia to India this summer seem to be the new normal. We’re starting today by asking about our ability to adapt and what's at stake for the most vulnerable among us in this new age of heat. Then, a Type A executive outlines what she calls option B.
Know that you have deep within you the ability to get through anything and I mean anything. We are more vulnerable than we ever thought but we are stronger than we ever imagined.
MW: Facebook CEO Sheryl Sandberg coming up in about a half hour from now. I’m Megan Williams and this is the summer edition of The Current.Back To Top »
Experts warn heat waves are the new normal, adaption is key
Guests: Robert McLeman, Zoé Hamstead
VOICE 1: It’s very warm. I'm here with my wife and we're visiting from England and making sure we’re just drinking lots of water. It’s just fantastic having all the water fountains around Rome.
VOICE 2: We drink a lot of water. No alcohol. Water. [chuckles]
MW: Tourists on the streets of Rome trying to stay cool as they see the sights because the eternal city—like much of southern and central Europe right now—is in the grips of an infernal heat wave. So bad they've given it a name—Lucifer—for the hellish mid-40 degrees Celsius highs. How hot is it? In Serbia, train tracks have buckled. In the mountains of Slovenia, a so-called tropical night was recorded for the first time ever, meaning temperatures failed to dip below 20 degrees overnight. Electrical grids are strained and wildfires are burning. And if all that sounds apocalyptic, climate scientists warn these kinds of heat waves could be the new normal. A new study says parts of Southeast Asia may be too hot for people to live in by 2100. That is, unless we cut carbon emissions. Steven Hoffman is a professor of law and global health at York University.
There'll be 40 million people currently who are living in India who won't be able to live there anymore. And what that means from a tangible perspective is think of Canada. There's 35 million people who live in Canada. It would be the Canadian equivalence of all of Canada freezing over and no one being able to live in Canada anymore.
MW: Another new study says that in Europe alone, extreme heat will kill 150,000 people a year by 2100 if nothing is done. So today we're asking how hot could it get and what can humans do to adapt to survive heat waves? Our first guest is Robert McLeman, an associate professor of geography and environmental studies at Wilfrid Laurier University. He's also the author of Climate and Human Migration: Past Experiences, Future Challenges. He's in Kitchener, Ontario. Hello.
ROBERT MCLEMAN: Good morning.
MW: Good morning. We've heard a lot in recent years about the threat of rising sea levels, how islands and even big cities could be under water in the next decade. But we're also seeing more and more heat waves. How severe will the impact of the extreme heat be compared to rising sea levels?
ROBERT MCLEMAN: Well, I think that the reality is that heat waves are already upon us, as you're feeling right now in Europe and it's not even anything particularly new. I mean this heat wave that Europe's experiencing right now is very similar to the one that they experienced in 2003 which killed tens of thousands of people across Europe, 14,000 people in France alone. And as the climate warms because of human greenhouse gas emissions, the frequency and the likelihood of these heat events is just going to become more likely and stronger. And so sea level rise is certainly a risk that we will face in coming decades. But before we get to that point where large numbers of people are displaced by rising sea levels, we're already going to be experiencing large parts of Europe and South Asia and East Africa and elsewhere that the temperatures will become the immediate hazard.
DW: Do you have a sense of how frequently we're going to be experiencing these extreme heat events?
ROBERT MCLEMAN: Well, what happens is like I said, these heat events are normal. They're within the normal variations of climate. So what we're seeing right now could happen even in the absence of global warming but what happens is, as you raise the average temperatures around the world, you essentially push the highs higher and the frequency of what we would today think to be an extreme heat event—temperatures here in Canada for example, above 30 degrees on a regular basis—essentially you start to make that more normal, if you will. So that's what we're moving towards.
MW: Now, you know we've seen this latest study that says parts of South Asia could become unlivable by the end of this century and that's almost hard to fathom. I mean what does heat feel like that's too hot to live in?
ROBERT MCLEMAN: Well, I mean the human body, it sweats when it gets hot. And so what happens is when temperatures up to about the mid-30s, your body can sweat and cool itself even in the absence of air conditioning. But as temperatures get above the mid-30s and as they become more humid, your body loses the ability to regulate its own temperature. So you need to artificially cool your body, whether that's immersing yourself in water or getting to air conditioning. And so what's happening— these studies are saying—is that many parts of the world, average summertime temperatures are remaining above that level where your body is no longer physically able to keep itself cool. So in the absence of air conditioning and artificial strategies for keeping people cool, human health actually suffers. And the most vulnerable people—elderly people, pregnant women, infants, people with chronic health conditions—they are most likely to suffer illness or death in those conditions.
MW: And of course, poor people—people who can't afford air conditioning or who just don't have the resources to even get to places that are cooler, no?
ROBERT MCLEMAN: Absolutely. In Chicago in 1995, there was an extreme heat event and 750 people died during that and researchers found that most of them were elderly people, poor people who lived in older apartments that were poorly insulated, poorly ventilated, no air conditioning. Also often in poor areas where for personal security reasons they didn't want to leave their windows open at night for fear of crime, they were the ones who died inside their apartment. So it's definitely a correlation between poverty, marginality and vulnerability.
MW: And of course a lot of different—certain parts of the world as well don't have the resources and I'm wondering what kinds of ways can we adapt for people to live with extreme heat? And not just here in North America, but in countries like India and Pakistan that are experiencing peaks that we can hardly imagine here.
ROBERT MCLEMAN: Well, you're right. There's two different challenges here. In developed countries, it's a case of making sure that our cities and that our houses are capable of dealing with extreme heat. When you think about it, we have cities like Phoenix, Arizona or Singapore in Southeast Asia where they routinely experience high temperatures and through air conditioning, cooling stations and things like that, people are able to adapt. When you're talking about places like rural India or rural East Africa, it's a different challenge because the reality is it's a development challenge. There's just simply isn't the economic wherewithal to provide these sorts of physical infrastructures to people. People don't have access to—many cases they don't have reliable access to electricity so they couldn't possibly run an air conditioner. So we need to rethink about how those societies are structured and how we as a global community, wealthy Western countries as well as the countries themselves that are facing these challenges, how can we work together to build the basic grassroots infrastructure for electricity, for sanitation, for water resources and things like that, so that they can build upon that in coming decades?
MW: Now are there places in the world that experience this extreme heat that have learned to successfully cope?
ROBERT MCLEMAN: Well, I've mentioned again the case of Singapore for example, where just through in the last 100 years ago, Singapore was a relatively quiet, less developed place. But through modernization and through economic development, now it's a shining 21st century city where there's air conditioning everywhere and people are able to do this. Other strategies in less developed countries, there's a variety of different things you can do. Again, when you're in extreme heat event, what becomes important is the availability of water—water for people to cool, to bathe themselves, to consume lots of fluids, and so just making sure that you have basic water infrastructure. In countries that have been able to put that into place, they are less vulnerable or less exposed to these sorts of massive heat deaths and events than places where water is scarce.
MW: Right. And as you say, that those sorts of plans would require investment in some of these poorer countries. I mean obviously along with the effects that the heat has on humans, crops are affected. What changes are we going to see in agriculture?
ROBERT MCLEMAN: Absolutely. There's been a lot of research done on this, on trends on crop production in coming decades. There are many parts of the world right now where you can successfully grow crops, especially if you have access to irrigation. As temperatures rise, what happens is some of those more marginal areas become unproductive, even with irrigation, and a lot of those areas are in places like India, South Asia, East Africa. There are other places where right now you can get away without irrigation, where rain is sufficient to provide enough moisture for crops. But as you increase the heat level, you increase the evaporation and transpiration and so there are many regions in the world which today are productive—20, 30 years from now we'll need irrigation in order to remain productive. So that has a knock on effect because the global population is growing rapidly. Right now there's over seven billion people. By mid-century, there’ll be somewhere eight, nine, 10 billion, depending on growth rates. So we're going into a future which is very ominous, in the sense that the number of people who need to be fed is growing rapidly, but the amount of land that is productive is going to shrink because of climate change.
MW: Okay. Well, a lot to think about there. Thank you very much, Robert McLeman.
ROBERT MCLEMAN: My pleasure.
MW: Robert McLeman, an associate professor in geography and environmental studies at the Wilfrid Laurier University. He's also the author of Climate and Human Migration: Past Experiences, Future Challenges. He was in Kitchener, Ontario. Of course, Europe isn't the only place sweltering. India has been experiencing a summer of record and deadly temperatures. And the heat wave in the western US and Canada has fed wildfires and been punishing on people's bodies. Dr. Reka Gustafson is the medical health officer at Vancouver Coastal Health.
There were some warning signs of serious heat-related illness which is actually a life-threatening condition and that is body temperature about 40 and people start to have neurological signs. So they start to get dizzy and have difficulty walking, actually have difficulty communicating. One of the reasons we want to make sure that people moderate their alcohol intake is that some of the symptoms can be confused, as well as people may not take the precautions that are necessary because they aren't noticing that those are happening.
MW: Zoé Hamstead is an assistant professor of environmental planning at the University of Buffalo’s School of Architecture and Planning. She studies extreme heat waves in cities—who suffers from the most and what cities can do to adapt to them. She helped with the research for the Harlem Heat Project, which looked into how heat affects people living in Manhattan's Harlem neighbourhood and ways the community can adapt to the heat. She's in Buffalo, New York. Hello.
ZOE HAMSTEAD: Hi, good morning.
MW: Good morning. Why are heat waves worse in cities?
ZOE HAMSTEAD: Heat waves are worse in cities due to what's known as the urban heat island effect. Urban heat island describes the phenomena that cities tend to be hotter than the surrounding peri-urban and rural areas. And there are a number of reasons for that temperature difference between cities and their surrounding areas. For one, cities have large amounts of built infrastructure like pavement, asphalt roads and buildings that trap heat and store it for relatively long periods of time. They also tend to have lower amounts of vegetation like trees and exposed soil that actually cool the air through evaporation and transpiration processes. In addition, in some cases there can be urban geometry configuration. So for example, when buildings are close to each other in such a way that traps air and causes hot air to stagnate. But actually in addition to the urban heat island effect—the temperature difference between cities and their surrounding areas—there are also micro-climates within cities, what we call the micro-urban heat island effect. And so areas of cities that are relatively green like parks or urban forests tend to be relatively cool, whereas areas like parking lots and airports that store and trap heat tend to be relatively hot. And that temperature variation across cities can actually be as great or even greater than the temperature difference between a city and its surrounding areas.
ZOE HAMSTEAD: Not everyone experiences heat in the same way.
MW: Right. In fact, I was just going to ask you. I mean who feels the impact of heat waves in cities the most?
ZOE HAMSTEAD: Yeah. So people who live and work in micro-climates or who commute, you know take their children to schools in micro-climates that are relatively hot are going to be particularly vulnerable. So we generally think of vulnerability in terms of exposure—what the environment that you experience is like, where you live or work or travel to—but also in terms of sensitivity or susceptibility. So some people are going to be more vulnerable due to household or individual level conditions as opposed to the environment, the environment that they experience. So things like pre-existing medical conditions, age being elderly or very young, living in social isolation, not getting communications about heat emergencies, being of minority, race or ethnicity, having mobility constraints, economic constraints—these are all things that can contribute to vulnerability.
MW: Right. And you know the obvious solution for many of us is air conditioning, which we turn on when it gets hot. But you know that also drives climate change. So are there any other options for people who want to cool off but not contribute to global warming?
ZOE HAMSTEAD: Yeah. I mean it is clearly the quickest way to solve thermal discomfort in the short term, but certainly is contributing to climate change in the long term. You know I think of that problem as more of a citywide or neighbourhood level scale. So ways that cities can adapt through things like greening, planting trees and vegetation or bluing, creating water features, exposing streams to the daylight so that evaporation processes can happen and using materials like porous pavement that allow water to infiltrate. Energy efficiency programs, particularly for low and moderate income households who may not be able to afford to replace windows or insulate can be really helpful as well.
MW: So solutions sort of at a governmental level, architectural and planning solutions. Listen, can you tell me about the Harlem Heat Project which sounds really interesting? We have to go shortly, but I want to make sure we hear about that.
ZOE HAMSTEAD: Yeah. So I worked with an organization called West Harlem Environmental Action, which goes by WE ACT for Environmental Justice. It’s an environmental justice advocacy organization that has been around for quite a while and historically advocated for issues related to air pollution in that West Harlem community. Recently, WE ACT has initiated a climate action planning process in the northern Manhattan area. So that area includes West Harlem, Central Harlem, East Harlem Washington Heights and Inwood. And as part of that climate action planning process, the organization has engaged in research and trying to understand people's experiences with heat during the summer. And so the community organizers conducted a survey of roughly 500 participants during the summer of 2016 and what they found is that most people in the community feel that extreme heat is a serious threat.
ZOE HAMSTEAD: More than half of the community members who they surveyed reported that they had had symptoms related to extreme heat, whether that be leg cramps or dizziness or fatigue. And roughly 40 per cent of community members reported that they were prevented from using air conditioning for one reason or another. They couldn't afford an air conditioner. They didn't have one. They couldn't afford to repair their broken air conditioner.
MW: Okay. Thank you very much. Sounds interesting. Zoe Hamstead is an assistant professor of environmental planning at the University at Buffalo’s School of Architecture and Planning. She also helped with research for the Harlem Heat Project. I spoke to her in Buffalo, New York. And finally speaking of the Harlem Heat Project, they recently partnered with the New York Public Radio station WNYC for an interesting endeavour—translating temperatures into music. Using heat sensors inside Harlem apartments, they tracked the temperatures throughout the day and translated it into music.
VOICE 1: First, here is the outdoor temperature.
VOICE 2: Our day begins at 6 a.m. and the heat index is a low, comfortable 77 degrees. At 3 p.m., it peaks—93 degrees. And then slowly, the sun sets and things start to get cooler and cooler.
VOICE 1: Now, here's Alan's song for the indoor temperature of an apartment with no air conditioning.
VOICE 2: Remember that we're starting at 6 a.m and it's already at 85 degrees. You can really only hear one or two different temperatures. Doesn't reach the same high of 95, but doesn't really get much cooler either. It's 85 degrees the whole day and all night.
MW: That's part of WNYC’s “Hear Our Heat” project. We'll put a link to the whole segment on our website at www.cbc.ca/thecurrent. The CBC News is next. Then, she's the chief operating officer of Facebook, a bestselling author and founder of the Lean In Foundation. But none of those may be Sheryl Sandberg's most important accomplishment of late. She's up next to talk about finding resilience after a terrible loss. I'm Megan Williams and you're listening to the summer edition of The Current.
[Music: Sting]Back To Top »
ENCORE | How grief can lead to joy: Facebook's Sheryl Sandberg explains Option B
Guests: Sheryl Sandberg
MW: Hello. I’m Megan Williams and you’re listening to The Current.
MW: Up next, Option B.
Sheryl is my most trusted adviser, the person who helps me with everything I do in my job. It's like having the smartest person in Silicon Valley also working at your company, but she just happens to be my wife. I think people who have careers that are very divergent, sometimes it's like you know you want to share with your partner like hey, here's what's going on with me, but they don't necessarily understand it that well. And it's really nice that not only can we discuss these things, but we can help the other person.
MW: That was Dave Goldberg speaking with 60 Minutes in 2013 about his wife, Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook's chief operating officer. At the time, he was CEO of Survey Monkey and the two were known as one of Silicon Valley's power couples. But that came to an end in an instant. Dave Goldberg died suddenly on a vacation the couple took to Mexico in 2015. And Sheryl Sandberg, who in her bestselling book Lean In had written about how she and Dave leaned in on each other, was forced to stand on her own as a parent to two young children. In her new book, Option B: Facing Adversity. Building Resilience and Finding Joy, Sheryl Sandberg is sharing what she's learned about grief, bereavement and growth. In April, Anna Maria Tremonti reached Sheryl Sandberg for a conversation at the Facebook offices in Menlo Park, California. Here’s that conversation.Here’h
ANNA MARIA TREMONTI: Hello.
SHERYL SANDBERG: Hi. Thank you so much. And thank you for that clip. It is really beautiful for me to hear that.
AMT: It's such a beautiful tribute to you. It reminds us that yours is a love story along with everything else.
SHERYL SANDBERG: Yeah. And a beautiful tribute to him. It is a love story. It is a love story in many ways.
AMT: Your husband was well-known as a business leader. But tell us about Dave the man, the dad.
SHERYL SANDBERG: Dave was my rock. Dave was always calm. I'm not always calm. So when I would get upset about something or pack for a trip two weeks in advance because I was excited, you know Dave was always the calm one. Dave was brilliant, a great business person. He showed me the Internet for the very first time. Long before we dated when we were friends, he encouraged me to take the job offer at Google. He was unbelievably generous. To this day, I meet people that I do not know and have not heard of who won't just say, “Oh, I knew your husband.” They'll say, “He changed my life and here's how. Here's the piece of advice he gave me. Here's the way he helped me start my company.” He was a great father. He had so much joy watching our kids. He loved to read as a child. He loved to read with them. He was incredible. And one of the things that I love about having written Option B is I think it keeps him alive because if he were alive, he would be doing so much good. So if this book in his memory can do some good, it's all about who Dave was.
AMT: What do you remember about the day he died?
SHERYL SANDBERG: You know there are these days in our lives that we don't forget. We were on a trip for our friend Phil's 50th birthday with a small group of adults, couples. We were in Mexico and you know it started as a normal day. We all had breakfast together. We went on a little hike. And I'll never forget this because looking back on it you know having no idea that was actually his last day, you know we did what couples do on the hike. He walked with Phil and the boys. I walked with Marnie, Phil's wife and the girls. And then later that day, he went to the gym and hours later I found him. And as anyone who's ever been through anything like this will tell you, you feel in those early days and weeks and months that you're not going to survive an hour, let alone a day, let alone a week. I felt like I was in a void, like you know the world was closing in on me and pressing in my lungs so I couldn't breathe. And the grief is still there. I mean I still think about that day and I miss him for myself and my children every day but years later, the void is gone and one of the reasons that I wrote Option B is that in the early days, people told me I would not feel this way forever and I did not believe them. The grief was so overwhelming and all-consuming that I just thought it would always be there. And years later while the sadness lingers, it's not what it was then and I want so much for other people to know that.
AMT: You made the point early on as you were struggling that one of your greatest fears was really about your children and how they would react to the death of their father, how they would be affected.
SHERYL SANDBERG: No, absolutely. You know my daughter was seven and my son was 10. And I flew home to sit down and tell them they would never see their father again. And my biggest fear was that in that same instant that Dave had the cardiac arrhythmia that killed him, we would have in that same instant wiped out my children's happiness. And I had no idea how to handle this. I had no experience. I had never thought about this happening. And so I turned to my friend Adam Grant who's a psychologist and just said what do I do? How do we get my kids through this? How do I get myself through this? And what he said is that we don't have a fixed amount of resilience. Resilience is like a muscle. We can build it. And he said the sadness will never completely go away—and of course it hasn't—but there were steps I could take. And this book Option B is us sharing what we learned from people who have studied resilience for a very long time and also from these stories of incredible people who have faced all kinds of hardship from rape and sexual assault, to incarceration to losing jobs, to losing children. To the everyday challenges people face, there are ways we can build resilience in ourselves and each other.
AMT: And tell us what Option B is.
SHERYL SANDBERG: Few weeks after Dave died, I was talking to Phil about this father-son activity that Dave had signed up for with our son and we came up with a plan for someone to fill up with Dave so my son could still go. And then I looked at Phil and I said but I want Dave. I want Dave to go. And he put his arm around me and he said option A is not available, so let's just kicked the “mmm” out of option B. And it was a very powerful moment because he didn't say you’re going to kick option B. He said we. Let's just do it together. And what I've realized over the months and years is that we all lived some form of option B. No one's life is perfect. Sometimes we've had the big traumas and the most credible hardship. Sometimes it is the everyday challenges. But we have to meet those challenges. When the worst happens, how do we make option B the very best it can be?
AMT: Well, I want to take you through some of the things that you did to get to the place you are now. As you point out, you did write this with Adam Grant, a psychology professor, a friend of yours. Help us understand what happened between those darkest of times and now, that has allowed you not only to keep breathing but to move forward with your family.
SHERYL SANDBERG: Probably the most important thing that happened is that I found gratitude. And it is so ironic to go through the worst tragedy of your life or a truly horrible experience and wind up more grateful. But it is possible. And when it happens, as sad as I still am, in many ways it gives your life more meaning. One day Adam said to me you should think about how things could be worse. I looked to him like he was crazy. I’m like things could be worse? I just lost my husband. Suddenly my kids lost their father. What could be worse? And he looked at me and said Dave could have had that cardiac arrhythmia driving your children. Oh my God, I could have lost all three of them in that second. Never occurred to me. And I would have thought when you're in the depths of grief and you're trying to feel better, you should think about good things, not think about negative things. But counter intuitively, that thought—which is the most negative of all possible thoughts—made me feel so much better because it gave me gratitude for what I now have. My mom talked about this as walking without pain. You know she walked normally most of her life and then as she approached her mid-sixties, her hip disintegrated and every step she took was painful. And then she got her hip replaced and she said for the first time she appreciated walking without pain and on the good days and even just the normal days, I feel that way. A few months ago my cousin Laura turned 50 and I called her that morning—her birthday’s on Valentine's Day—and I said happy birthday Laura. And then I said and in case you woke up this morning with that “Oh my god, I'm turning 50” thing we all had and I used to have, I'm here to tell you that you are so lucky to turn 50. Because this is the year that Dave won't. He won't turn 50 ever. And there's really only two choices. We either grow older or we don't. I never roll my eyes at getting older and a birthday anymore because I know how precious every birthday is. If I could go back and share that with Dave, live life with my 11 years of being married to Dave Goldberg with that sense of gratitude and appreciation, I would give anything to do that but I can't. So what I can do is try to help other people and myself live that gratitude that they have for everything good in their lives.
AMT: You talk about the gratitude but you also talk about being kind to yourself in a moment of grief and letting yourself grieve, letting your kids grieve. You quote a rabbi who told you to lean in to the suck.
SHERYL SANDBERG: Yeah. Yes, my rabbi told me to “lean into the suck” which is not what I meant when I said lean in, but it was very good advice because when I just accepted that the grief was going to come, I thought it less and it actually passed faster. My kids and I wrote family rules very early on the first week and the first one was respect our feelings. And I told this to my kids. It was just harder to tell myself. There are going to be times you want to cry and it might happen at very inconvenient moments like in the middle of class. There are times you're going to feel okay and feel happy. Let yourself laugh. Don't ever feel bad about that. Daddy would want you to laugh. There are times when you're going to feel jealous of other kids or even of me because I still have a father and you don't. Accepting our feelings rather than fighting them is such a big part of this and then understanding permanence—those feelings are not forever. Even in the totally horrible grief moments, we know that that moment can pass. And if we respect it and lean into it and take the cry break we need, we know that moment can pass.
AMT: Many people have a hard time knowing what to say to those who are grieving. What did people say to you that was painful even if they meant well?
SHERYL SANDBERG: This is one of the major things I learned going through tragedy myself, is really how badly I handled other people's tragedy before. I think the most important thing we can do for people facing hardship is acknowledge it and we don't. All kinds of hardship ushers in the world's biggest elephant into every room. You want to silence a room? Get diagnosed with cancer. No one knows what to say. Have a relative who goes to prison. Lose a job. Have a child who dies. People are just silent. And the problem with that silence is it doesn't acknowledge pain. I used to think that if someone was going through something hard and I brought it up, I was reminding them. So I didn't do it. I waited for them to bring it up. Losing Dave taught me how ludicrous that was. You can't remind me I lost Dave. I know I lost Dave every minute of every day. But acknowledging, saying to someone “I know you're suffering, I'm here to talk if you want to,” you know, not sugar-coating. When I had friends—and I've had many friends who've been diagnosed with cancer as many of us have—I used to say I know you're going to be okay. Well, now I know that little voice inside their head is probably saying what do you mean you know I'm going to be okay? You don't know I'm going to be okay. So now I say, “I know you don't know if you're going to be okay and I don't either, but you're not going to go through this alone. I will be there with you.” The power of we. Don't say you're going to get through this. Say we're going to get through this. And the other thing is it's incredibly powerful—rather than offering to do anything, to do something specific. I used to say to people is there anything I can do? And I meant it well but it kind of shifts the burden to the person who you're trying to help. They've got to think about what to ask for. And having been on that side, it's hard to ask for something. Well, can you help me skip Father's Day? Can you bring dinner over for me and my kids? Like it's just hard to make a specific request. My friend Dan Levy lost a child unfortunately and he and his amazing wife were at the hospital with their child for many months. And one of his friends texted and said what do you not want on a burger? Another friend texted and said I'm in the lobby of the hotel for a hug for the next hour, if you come down or not. Do something rather than offer to do anything. It really helps people feel like they're not alone.
AMT: You mentioned something else as well because people would ask you how you are. And it made all the difference if they said how are you today, to acknowledge that you were—it was a process, one foot in front of the other.
SHERYL SANDBERG: Yeah. When Dave died, it wasn't just the overwhelming grief. What happened over that first weeks and then months was just incredible isolation. The grief therapist I talked to advised me to get my kids back to school quickly and I probably didn't do it as fast as they advised, but ten days later I got my kids back to school, back into their routine so I went back to work during the hours they were at school. And you know I always had very easy friendly relationships with the people I work with. Facebook, no one has an office. I sit out in the open floor with Mark and everyone else. But people weren't really talking to me. And when I would drop my kids or pick my kids up from school, same thing from their parents and teachers. I think everyone was so afraid to say the wrong thing, they weren't saying anything. And so 30 days after Dave died—it's the Jewish period of mourning called sheloshim—it’s the period of mourning for a spouse. I wrote a post on Facebook really to the people I was interacting with every day saying you know say, “How are you today?” Because that communicates I know you are suffering. I know every day is hard to get through. I mean I wasn't even sure I was going to post it. I went to bed the night before thinking there's no way I'm sharing this. It's too personal. And I woke up the next morning in such a dark place, I thought well, might as well post it, can't get worse, might get better. And it really helped because it kicked a lot of elephants out of a lot of rooms. A friend from work told me she had been driving by my house almost every day but afraid to come in and she started coming in and strangers from all around the world posted and shared their stories. A mother posted from the NICU. She had just lost one of two twins and she said she was looking for the courage and the strength to give that surviving twin a wonderful life. And people responded to her and other people talked about their option B. And all of a sudden, I didn't feel alone. I still lost Dave. I still have the grief but I didn't have the isolation.
AMT: Well, let me ask you a little bit more about work because you talk about how grief affected your self-confidence at work. It was hard to be there.
SHERYL SANDBERG: Yeah. It's also counterintuitive, right? I mean I wrote Lean In. I had thought about self-confidence a lot for women. I was very open about the times I suffered and doubted myself professionally and then built up my own self-confidence. And I mean I had thought about grief and I knew about the stages everyone talks about so I wasn't surprised by the anger. I wasn't surprised by the sadness. But the fact that losing Dave really just destroyed my self-confidence and all other areas was something I was completely not prepared for. But of course it did, right? I was a parent. It's hard enough to be a parent. Anyone knows that. And then I was on my own with two grieving children. How could I parent without Dave in this situation? At work I would try to get through a meeting without crying but a lot of the meetings I cried. I would kind of cover up or have to leave the room. So how could I do my job well? And what I realized is that—and Mark is the one who showed me this, Mark Zuckerberg, our founder and my boss—he didn't just say take the time off you want which he did and I'm grateful he did that and so glad Facebook has good policies on these things, but he did something else which is he rebuilt my confidence. So the first night when I went home I called him and I said okay, today I came into work and I fell asleep in a meeting. I said a couple of really dumb things. I rambled in one meeting and he said lots of other people have fallen asleep. Those mistakes weren't that big. And you know you said two really important things today and here's what they were. He built me up.
AMT: Well, you have said there needs to be a rethink on sick leave and bereavement leave in corporate and public policy given what you yourself have gone through. What would you like to see in wider American society on that front?
SHERYL SANDBERG: Well, I mean it's interesting to talk about this with you because Canada has such better policies than the United States. We are one of the only countries without paid family leave and so our public policy in the United States needs to change and get much closer to what other countries have. On the corporate level, companies need to know that when we support our employees they support us and we build the kind of workplaces that really increase people's productivity over the long run. Facebook offered before really good bereavement leave—10 days for an immediate family member, five days for an extended family member. But after we lost Dave and I went through this, I worked with the team and we doubled it. I think companies need to do a better job taking care of their employees and recognizing how important that is.
AMT: And you are very up front about your own financial advantages. But what did you find out about the financial effects of a death of a spouse or partner for the average American?
SHERYL SANDBERG: Oh, it's huge. And I thought about this a lot. I mean I can't imagine going through what I went through and also being worried about paying a healthcare bill. Again, something that is so much better in Canada than United States for most people, or the single mother that wakes up every day and has to worry about losing her job if she stays home to take care of a sick child. Those are choices we should not force anyone to make. Becoming a widow pushes a lot of women into poverty and if you look in the United States, 37 per cent—37 per cent of single mothers—live in poverty, 40 per cent if you're black or Latina. That's unacceptable. Our children, our families deserve more support and poverty increases the rate of hardship. More hardship happens, more violence, more health problems, more things to recover from. But it also makes it harder to recover. And we owe people the safety net they deserve—a living wage, good family leave policies where people get paid to take the time off they need and the support from our companies and our communities.
AMT: You know as I was reading your book, I did catch the subtext of your desire for a kinder gentler nation.
SHERYL SANDBERG: Absolutely. We build resilience in ourselves and our communities and people need the resources to do that. And then the question is what then? How do we support each other? How do we build our resilience? How do we make sure that we give permission to people not just to recover but actually to find joy? And that's another really important part of this book. What I realized was that it wasn't just getting back to being okay and going through the days. It was giving myself permission to feel happy and I couldn't do that because I thought if I felt happy even for a minute, I was somehow betraying Dave. How could I feel joy if he had died? And my brother-in-law Rob did an incredible thing for me. He called me months in, you know tears in his voice. You could hear him choking up and he said Sheryl, all Dave ever wanted was for you and your children to be happy. Do not take that away from him in death. You have to let yourself be happy. And so I started trying to do things that made me happy. I realized that for the first four months after Dave died, I didn't do anything remotely fun because it reminded me of Dave. I didn't play Scrabble because I played with Dave. I didn't watch TV because that was something I did with Dave. I didn't leave my house and go anywhere even if a close friend invited me because I was afraid I would break down. But with Rob's encouragement, my kids and I started taking things back. We started playing Settlers of Catan again as a family. We took it back. We started cheering for the Warriors and the Vikings—Dave’s teams— and we started letting joy come back into our lives and I realized that after hardship, I needed help. I needed someone to give me permission to say you’re allowed to try to find happiness and even humour and even love.
AMT: Well, I have to ask you then because there are so many social norms that come into play after death and judgments of others. Can we talk about dating? Because you talk about dating.
SHERYL SANDBERG: Yeah, I want to talk about dating because one of the hardest things I think after death of a spouse particularly is grief and the loss and then the guilt. And it’s not just guilt about dating. It’s guilt about laughing. How can I laugh? How could I feel okay? You know four months after Dave died, I went to a bar mitzvah and a high school friend pulled me onto the floor and we danced to a song I liked in high school and then I just literally burst into tears publicly on the dance floor and he had to kind of usher me outside to the balcony. And I realized that I felt happy for one minute four months after Dave died—just one minute of joy just dancing to a high school song. I was kind of transported back and then I felt so guilty. And I think that we have to fight the guilt and we have to help people fight that guilt. I never wanted to date again. I found the person I wanted to spend my life with but I don't have that option. And so my brother-in-law and my mother-in-law gave me not just permission but encouragement to date but too many people do not get that, particularly women.
AMT: There’s a real gender divide.
SHERYL SANDBERG: Oh, it is. I mean we judge women for dating in a way we don’t judge men and that’s part of the reason women date less frequently and less quickly. And this is not a judgment. Everyone has to decide if they want to date when they want a date but we need to give them that permission and encouragement. The last thing that a man or a woman needs after losing a spouse and trying to find happiness is judgment because they didn't choose this. And I also write a lot in Option B about humour. Humour is really important. There is a reason people make jokes at funerals. There is a reason we try to laugh even about the most horrible things in our lives because in that second, in that instant of the joke, we take control and we snatch back joy. And I'm hoping that Option B helps people not just build resilience but rediscover joy in all aspects of their lives. And it's not going to be joy every minute. I still miss Dave. I still have sadness in my life I didn't have before. But when I can feel joy, when someone tells a joke when I can laugh, boy do I appreciate that moment in a way I never did before.
AMT: And when it comes to your children and the fears you had for them when he died, what have you let go of?
SHERYL SANDBERG: My kids are doing great. They still miss their dad and we still have our sad moments. But I am so proud of them. I would not wish their perspective on anyone, any child, let alone my own. But they have it and it makes them strong. My son's basketball team lost the playoffs a few weeks ago and all the other little boys were pretty upset. And I looked at my son, I said are you okay? And he rolled his eyes. He goes Mom, this is sixth grade basketball. I'm fine. No one died today. Again, I wouldn't wish that perspective on him or anyone else. But he is strong and the things that would have upset him two years ago really roll right off his back because he has perspective in a way that gives meaning and depth to his life along with the sadness.
AMT: And he has growth which is something else you talk about—the ability to grow through a traumatic event.
SHERYL SANDBERG: Yes. Psychologists talk about it as post-traumatic growth. With the sadness of trauma, we also grow. We can have deeper meaning, deeper gratitude, deeper relationships. I also really believe in pre-traumatic growth, that people can grow without the trauma and that's part of what I hope Option B will do for people. My friend Katie was very close to Dave and is one of my best friends, started writing letters after Dave died to all her friends on their birthdays—long letters telling them how much they meant to her. And then a friend of hers started writing letters to her friends. That friend didn't know Dave has experienced no hardship but that friend showed pre-traumatic growth. She took the lessons Katie learned of deepening her relationships after a loss and applying it to hers. And so I hope Option B can help people find the gratitude for life, the appreciation, the meaning, the relationships even before the trauma and maybe without the trauma.
AMT: Sheryl Sandberg, I'm very sorry for what you had to go through. But I want to thank you for sharing what you learned about grief with us.
SHERYL SANDBERG: Well, thank you for having me and I particularly thank you for starting with that clip of Dave. That meant everything to me. Thank you.
MW: Sheryl Sandberg is the chief operating officer at Facebook and the author of Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience and Finding Joy. She’s also the author of Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead. She spoke to Anna Maria from Menlo Park, California. That’s our program for today. Stay tuned to Radio One for a new episode of New Fire. This week, meet a pair of ceremonial brothers who share a special bond and a kidney. I’m Megan Williams. Thanks for listening to the summer edition of The Current.
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