When you come into contact with grief, stop.  Stop whatever you are doing, stop the chatter inside your head, stop the automatic pilot that is guiding you through your day.  Just stop.

Once you’ve stopped, direct your attention to the source of the grief.  To the husband trying valiantly to hold his family together and keep his business running while he waits to hear if his wife is ever coming home from the hospital, to the wife watching her husband who struggles daily with the cancer that is taking him away by slow degrees, to the woman who has lost her seventh consecutive pregnancy to miscarriage, to the veteran who is reminded of all that he lost in order to serve his country…

Then what do you do?  Be present.  Be available to do anything that they need even if that is absolutely nothing.  Because there are no rules for grief.  Each person’s grief is as unique as a snowflake and as changing as the weather.  Some may need you to acknowledge their situation and then “carry on” because that’s what’s getting them through the day.  Some may need you to perform tasks because they need an extra set of hands.  Others might need the compassionate gesture of having something or a lot of somethings done for them because they just aren’t up to even realizing it needs to get done.  And yet others might need you to sit and listen.  Because sometimes grief passes when it’s shared.  Sometimes the burden is lighter if it gets an airing.  Sometimes the words can release it like doves striving for sky.

The one thing not to do, is miss it.  It’s ok to ignore it once you’ve seen it if that is what they need you to do. If they are leading that pink elephant along on a lead and needing you not to see it, then the greatest kindness you can offer is to ignore the elephant in the room. But there is a difference between ignoring it because that is what they need and ignoring it because it makes you uncomfortable or because what is going on for you or interesting you in the moment is more important.  Being present means putting them first, even if you act like you aren’t and everything is normal.  Social strategies like that help us survive emotions that threaten to rip apart the fabric of our being.

So when you come in contact with grief, stop.  Drop what you’re doing and focus on the person grieving.  Then pay attention so you can find out what they need.  Because their need in the moment is probably gonna trump anything you’ve got going and someday it will be you in their place.  Do unto others….