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Mourning Manual

Today is the memorial service for the MH17 crash. Many Dutch people have been confronted with mourning and loss due to this disaster. What is the best way to support family and friends of the victims? Marieke Poelmann wrote a manual in seven steps.


One year ago today, Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 was shot down above Ukraine. The 196 Dutch victims leave parents, children, brothers, sisters, grandparents, friends, neighbors and colleagues behind throughout the country. For them, the grief isn’t just here today. They suffer ever day. How can the people surrounding them deal with their loss? There isn’t a recipe for mourning, but maybe there is for compassion. A short ‘mourning manual’ in seven steps.

1. Realize that mourning takes time

There isn’t an expiration date to mourning. The loss will never get better, because the deceased will never return. Grief slumbers, sometimes it hides for short periods of time. But suddenly it’s there again when you least expect it. Just as you thought you were alright again. This process can take years and can be confusing. For those who are left behind, it can be very painful when someone tells them: ‘you must be ok by now, right?’, or ‘life goes on’. It’s important to realize that when someone’s parents die, his or her life as a child dies with them.

2. Share your memories

Luckily, there are many things you cán do when someone loses a loved one. Sharing your memories of the deceased, for example. A letter, a postcard or a story from someone unexpected can be a true gift. An old classmate, telling how they sat next to your mom in class. Or an old college friend, writing about all the pranks he pulled with your dad. If you share your memories with family and friends of someone who died, you give a small particle of the person they lost back to them. A part they might not even knew yet.

3. Don’t avoid someone who mourns 

People who mourn don’t bite. Some people find it hard to approach people after their loss. They are afraid to say the wrong things, or are (subconsciously) freaked out by death coming so near. But not saying anything at all is a lot worse than saying something wrong. Talking about the person who died is the only way in which you can keep them alive. And talking to someone who griefs makes this long process of mourning a little less lonely. That is very important, mourning is something you can’t do together, but sympathy you can share. You don’t know what to say? Just say: ‘I heard what happened and I feel really bad for you. I’m thinking about you a lot. How are you doing?’ Don’t avoid the person. The contrast between the ‘normal’ world and the world of grief is very big for someone who just lost a loved one. If you avoid them, the contrast only gets bigger. It’s a common saying that ‘there are no words to describe how you feel’, but in fact, those words áre there.  You don’t have to deliver a huge speech, just tell someone you are thinking about them.

Read full text (in Dutch) here