Grief is hard for those who must take care of the living.

It’s hard for the ones who can’t take a moment to mourn.

Grief is hard for those worried about their surviving parent or children or siblings who seem more fragile, more affected, more stricken with the pain of loss.

Grief is hard for those who are used to being the strong one who keeps it together in the toughest of times.

But while those who carry all the challenging responsibilities of dealing with a death come off as solid and stable and tough, they often feel quite the opposite on the inside.

Grief is hard for the people who are trying to be resilient in their pain. They put on armor to deflect the ache of loss, they keep moving forward despite the fear, they try to be brave in the midst of chaos.

But grief bleeds from the inside out, and no amount of steel will stop it from seeping through eventually.

Grief is hard for those who must take care of the living, so we can’t be fooled by their confident demeanor.

It can be hard to know how to support someone who faces an unimaginable loss, especially when they look fine from the outside, especially when they tell you they are doing okay.

We can’t exile those who face insurmountable grief, we can’t abandon those who need us the most.

But we also can’t expect to fix their grief.

We just have to get into the passenger side and ride it out with our loved ones. We need to be companions in their darkness, lean in towards their pain.

We need to put aside our own awkwardness with the difficult conversations, ignore our pre-conceived notions about the timetables of sadness.

Grief is a continuum and not a finite experience.

We need to keep reaching out, we need to keep checking in, we need to keep being there for the people who need us—especially when they are taking care of others.

Our presence in whatever way we can offer is more important than it seems. No one can take the pain away, but small gestures can provide hope and stability for a less painful future.

Our job isn’t to make it better. Instead, it’s to help them endure their agony, no matter how long it takes, no matter how challenging it seems, no matter how uncomfortable it makes us feel.

We can be the flashlight that helps guide someone out of their darkness—even if they keep telling us they are doing okay, especially if they are telling us they are doing okay.

In the acknowledgment of their pain, we give them the permission to grieve, something they may not be able to do around others.

And that is a tremendous gift.

Grief is hard for the strong ones, the able ones, for those who still must take care of the living.

Let’s take some of the burden off of them this holiday season. Let us sit with them in their grief.

PS – Check on your strong friend . . . she’s faking it.

Originally published on the author’s Facebook page

Whitney Fleming

Whitney is a mom of three teen daughters, a communications consultant, and blogger. She tries to dispel the myth of being a typical suburban mom although she is often driving her minivan to soccer practices and attending PTA meetings. She writes about parenting, relationships, and w(h)ine on her blog Playdates on Fridays.