Sheryl Sandberg is a champion of female empowerment, but the Facebook COO learned how much harder it is for single mothers to “lean in” (the mantra behind her previous book) after her husband’s tragic death.
“In the middle of a meeting , an image of Dave’s body on the floor would flash before my eyes,” the 47-year-old writes in her upcoming book about grief, Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy, which releases later this month. “Even when I was not seeing his image, I was crying constantly. Lean in? I could barely stand up.”
In an exclusive interview with PEOPLE, Sandberg describes how her husband Dave Goldberg’s unexpected death created a deafening crash of grief that reverberated throughout her family. In May 2015, they were on vacation in Mexico when she found him dead on the gym floor — it was later determined the 47-year-old died of cardiac arrhythmia.
“I lost my husband, and it’s a horrific thing to live through,” she says to PEOPLE. “I sat down with my children — they were 7 and 10 — and I said, ‘You will never see your father again…’”
Sandberg eventually pulled herself back from incapacitating sadness by journaling and talking with friend and psychologist Adam Grant. Her attempt to process Goldberg’s death eventually led to Option B, of which Grant is co-author.
While the loss led to a new book, it also caused Sandberg to reflect on her previous work, Lean In. In it, she used research and personal anecdotes to encourage women to aspire to top positions. She explains that it was Goldberg’s dedication as a husband and father that inspired the chapter, “Make Your Partner a Real Partner.”
“As women must be more empowered at work, men must be more empowered at home,” she wrote in Lean In. “I have seen so many women inadvertently discourage their husbands from doing their share by being too controlling or critical.”
“I realize now how hard that must have been to read if you were a single mom,” she says. “I didn’t get it.”
Sandberg explains that her new journey as a single mom, and experiencing the death of her spouse, impacted her decision to expand bereavement leave at Facebook.
“I’ve definitely learned how hard it can be to lean in when you’re struggling at home,” she says. “But I deeply believe — maybe even more — in the importance of female leadership.”
For the full interview, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE on stands now.