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NRC: Kijk verder dan de tranen

Vandaag wordt de ramp met de MH17 herdacht. Veel Nederlanders zijn door de ramp geconfronteerd met rouw. Maar hoe kun je als omgeving het beste omgaan met nabestaanden? Marieke Poelmann schreef een handleiding in zeven stappen.


Vandaag is het een jaar geleden dat vlucht MH17 van Malaysia Airlines werd neergehaald boven Oekraïne. De 196 omgekomen Nederlanders laten door het hele land ouders, kinderen, broers, zussen, grootouders, vrienden, buren en collega’s achter. Voor nabestaanden is het gemis er niet alleen vandaag, maar elke dag van het jaar. Hoe kan de omgeving van een nabestaande daar het beste mee omgaan? Voor rouw bestaat geen recept, maar voor medeleven misschien wel. Een korte ‘rouwhandleiding’, in zeven stappen.

1. Besef dat rouw niet zomaar over is

Aan rouw zit geen houdbaarheidsdatum. Het gemis gaat nooit meer over, want de overledene komt nooit meer terug. Verdriet sluimert, verstopt zich soms voor korte tijd, maar komt op onverwachte momenten weer terug. Net als je denkt dat het wel weer gaat. Dat proces is verwarrend en kan jaren duren. Voor nabestaanden kan het erg pijnlijk zijn als iemand uit de omgeving zegt: ‘het zal nu wel weer gaan’, of ‘het leven gaat door’. Besef dat als iemands ouders overlijden, ook zijn of haar leven als kind sterft.

2. Deel je herinneringen

Gelukkig zijn er een heleboel dingen die je wél kunt doen als iemand een dierbare verliest. Het delen van je herinneringen aan de overledene bijvoorbeeld. Een brief, kaart of verhaal uit onverwachte hoek waarin iemand vertelt hoe ze naast jouw moeder in de klas zat of wat voor streken je vader uithaalde in zijn studententijd, helpt enorm. Wanneer je met de nabestaanden je herinneringen aan de overledene(n) deelt, geef je hen namelijk een klein stukje terug van de persoon die ze zijn verloren. Een stukje dat ze misschien nog niet kenden.

3. Ontloop een nabestaande niet

Iemand die rouwt, bijt niet. Sommige mensen vinden het moeilijk om een nabestaande te benaderen. Ze zijn bang om iets verkeerds te zeggen, of vinden het (onbewust) een eng idee dat de dood zo dichtbij komt. Maar helemaal niets zeggen is veel erger dan iets verkeerds zeggen. Praten over de overledene is de enige manier waarop je iemand levend kunt houden. En praten met een nabestaande maakt dat zware rouwproces een beetje minder eenzaam. Dat is belangrijk; rouwen doe je namelijk alleen, maar herdenken en meeleven doe je met elkaar. Weet je niet zo goed wat je moet zeggen? Zeg dan: ‘ik ken je niet zo goed maar ik heb het gehoord en ik vind het heel erg en het houdt me bezig, hoe gaat het met je?’. Ontloop iemand niet. Het contrast met de ‘gewone wereld’ waar niets mee aan de hand lijkt, is groot voor iemand die rouwt. Als je diegene vermijdt, wordt dat contrast steeds groter. Spreek desnoods uit dat je niet goed weet wat je moet zeggen. ‘Er zijn geen woorden voor’, wordt vaak gezegd. Maar die zijn er wel degelijk. Je hoeft geen complete toespraak te houden. Zeggen dat je aan iemand denkt, is vaak al voldoende.

Verder lezen?

Articles News interview series – V Jojanneke

You can never be unreasonable again

Final episode of the short interview series about how young people deal with loss and grief. Today: Jojanneke van den Bosch. She lost both of her parents. „The people surrounding someone who lost his or her parents can take over a small part of the parents’ role. Doing nothing is always a bad idea.”


What is it like to lose your parents at a young age and what’s the best way to deal with that by the people surrounding an orphan? Communications expert Jojanneke van den Bosch (39) answers questions like these. Questions that people are afraid to ask, because death is still taboo. With her website and her book So, You’re An Orphan Now Van den Bosch wants to use her own experiences about becoming an orphan to help others. She lost her father and her mother, five months apart. She and her sister were left behind, all on their own when she was just 14 years old.

„Orphans don’t really stand out in our society because we have a very mediatised and conditioned image of an orphan. People think about Oliver Twist, Annie, or Harry Potter. Somebody who is really sad or really tough. Apart from that, it’s still a taboo. Not because these children are a taboo themselves, but because mortality is. If your child tells you a classmate’s mother died, you think: damn it, that could have been me.

I want people to know how many children lose their parents in The Netherlands. I calculated those numbers myself, the Central Bureau of Statistics never investigated it. Later on they finally did, in 2013 the Central Bureau of Statistics published a report stating that there are 34.000 orphans and half-orphans under 18 in The Netherlands. According to the CBS, that number is raised every year by 6.000 new (half)orphans. But when you’re 20 years old, in a way you’re also still a child. So if you add young people up to 23 years old, that adds another 25 percent.”

Read full text (in Dutch) here

Articles News interview series – IV Linda

I’m a fighter, just like my mom

Short interview series about how young people deal with loss and grief. Today: Linda de Best. She lost her father when she was still a toddler and her mother a year ago. „Focus on what you have, not on what you’ve lost.”


Linda de Best (25) was only four years old when her father ended his life by jumping in front of a train. Linda herself was suffering from leukemia at the time. She was left behind, together with her mother, and was cured. She grew up as a happy child and was very close to her mother. Until her mother got hit by a car last year. She ended up in a coma and died. Linda talks about how the loss of her parents dictates her life, then and now.

„In kindergarten I raised my finger and said: ‘my father is dead’. I got kicked out of class, the other children weren’t supposed to hear it.  I found out about this in my mom’s old notes, I can’t remember it myself. I never knew my mother kept a diary at the time, I found the notebooks after she died. I could read that she was desperate at times, I never knew about that either. I wish I could talk to her about it.”

Read full text (in Dutch) here

Articles News interview series – III Katja

How do I put this on Facebook?

Short interview series about how young people deal with loss and grief. Today: Katja Renkers. She lost her parents and her brother, less than a year ago in the MH17 disaster. She talks about how personal loss becomes public through media and social media.


Katja Renkers (20) was 19 when her parents and brother Tim died in the MH17 crash. She was still living at home. Surrounded by photos of her father, mother and brother, Katja talks about her loss.

Have fun and I love you. Those are the last things we said to each other in our family WhatsApp group. Ten minutes before take-off. I only opened it twice after July 17th. A week after the crash everything was still in there. A couple of months later I got a notification that my mother had been removed from the group and my brother had left the group. I was shocked. I still don’t get it. That must mean that someone else is using their phone or their phone number, but why would anyone do something like that?

I cried when I dropped them off at the airport. I felt so stupid about that, I was going to see them again in just four weeks. I had already booked my own vacation with my friends, if I hadn’t I would’ve come with them. As I drove off, I looked at them one last time through my rear view mirror. I almost hit another car. Luckily my dad didn’t see it, I was driving his lease car. They were worried about me returning home safely from Schiphol airport in that car. If only I had been more worried about them.”

Read full text (in Dutch) here

Articles News interview series – II Ingrid

I don’t want to be indifferent

Short series about how young people deal with grief. Today part two: Ingrid Burggraaff. She lost both of her parents and her brother in the airplane crash in Tripoli. Ingrid had to see the crash site with her own eyes before she could realize they were really gone.


Ingrid Burggraaff (35) lost her parents and younger brother in the airplane crash in Tripoli. She was left behind as the only family member. Five days after the crash she decided to travel to Libya herself. She talks about how that visit helped her to deal with reality.

„I had to go. The government discouraged us to go but I had to be with them. I didn’t want to leave my father, my mother and my brother alone, so far away in a foreign country. So five days later I was on a plane to Tripoli. I had already given the forensics all the information about their identification and they had taken my DNA material, I could go.

I work for an international company and my colleagues made sure my flight and visa were all in order. When I arrived at Tripoli airport, it was chaos. I felt so bad about it happening there, this place felt like it had nothing to do with my parents. The vacation to South Africa wasn’t something they would do every year, to the contrary. It was the second time ever they left Europe and everything was carefully planned out. Tripoli was supposed to be a simple overlay for them. There was a hostile atmosphere at the airport when I got there. Dilapidated buildings and armed soldiers. My husband and I were placed in a small room. What am I doing here? I tried to explain why we were there, but nobody spoke English. Finally, our visas turned out to be waiting for us right after customs. We were welcomed by Kenyon Disaster Management, they had even arranged a Dutch interpreter.

Read full text (in Dutch) here

Articles News interview series – I Maryam

Maybe I had the wrong day

Five years ago today, an airplane crashed in Tripoli, Libya. Marieke Poelmann lost both of her parents and wrote a book about it. For she interviews others who suffered the same fate. This week: Maryam Massarrat, who heard during her vacation that her father was on board of the crashed plane.


Today, it’s May 12th. Exactly five years after the Tripoli airplane crash where 103 people died. Among them there were seventy Dutch passengers, who were returning from their vacation in South Africa. One of them was the father of Maryam Massarrat (35). We met in Amsterdam to talk about the first moments after hearing about the crash.

One of the first things people always ask me, is how I heard about the accident five years ago. What happened on that day for you? 

“On May 12th 2010 I was on vacation with my sister in Iran, we were visiting my grandmother. I was supposed to stay at my uncle’s place that night and arrived at 11 pm. I never got past their garden. My family was waiting for me outside. ‘Why aren’t we going in?’, I asked them. They stopped me. I remember thinking: this isn’t a really warm welcome. ‘We have to tell you something’, my uncle said. ‘Something bad happened.’ I asked him if it was my mother, or my sister. ‘Is it dad?’, I finally asked. ‘Did his plane crash?’.

I knew my father was supposed to come home that day from his vacation in South Africa. When my uncle said yes I got dizzy. I felt this silence in my head, everything went past me. I clung onto the first thing I saw, a parked car covered in dust. I had to hold on to something. We returned to my grandmother and sister immediately. My family had booked us a flight home to The Netherlands that same night. They told me the news at the latest possible moment, just in time to catch the plane.”

Read full text (in Dutch) here