Grief is often difficult for young people: ‘I no longer knew what my place in the house was’

“It really feels like yesterday,” says Suzanne Houterman in NOS Met het Oog op Morgen. She and Zahraa Noureddine both lost sisters and wrote in the book about it. “But when you look back at what you experience in your life, it was also a long time ago. But it actually feels like yesterday that it happened.”


Houterman lost his sister, Eline, in a car accident. “One Monday morning, my sister entered high school in the second week, seventh grade. She just goes to school, says hi to us, and rides her bike to school. 10 minutes later we get a phone call and our world turned upside down.” Houterman answered the phone. “At first we thought it was a broken leg, but later, when we got to the accident, it turned out to be worse. An air ambulance came.”

Noureddine’s sister Mariam’s death came as no surprise. She had been mentally and multiply disabled since birth, and it was clear that she would never grow old. “It was especially special how long my sister lasted at all,” she says. “My sister was a very strong person, when she was 2 she was told she only had 2 years left. In the end she turned 11, but in the end you have all these years again with the uncertainty of whether she would make it this time. make it or not because she ended up in the hospital every time and several times in the intensive care unit.” Noureddine’s sister was unpredictable, she says. “Every time she recovered. Although no one expected it, not even the doctors. It was very special. If it happens once, you’re shocked.”

Think back

When Noureddine thinks back to her sister, she sees big brown eyes. “Then I see the surprised look she often gave, it was a very nice look. I know many people have not forgotten and will never forget.”

Houterman thinks primarily of the blonde hair and green-blue eyes. “And a smile on her face. She was actually always happy and nothing could be too much. She was so social and loving.”


Houterman describes in the book how everything changed after Eline’s death: her parents changed, she herself changed. She wrote: It felt like I was visiting my own home. “She died on Tuesday evening, the next day I came home and I was in a house full of sadness and emotions. I remember it so well: usually you sit on the sofa and lie down. Then you don’t think about where to sit. I was standing in the living room thinking where should I sit in my house. My parents were very upset with the sofa and I actually didn’t know where my place in the house was.”

Houterman says she found it difficult to express her grief, not wanting to burden her parents. Noureddine recognizes it very well. “That you find it difficult to express to your parents how you feel. But also to my other brothers and sisters. Of course they also have their sadness, it still does now and then, I also want to cry very loudly every now and then when I weep for myself. To comfort them.”

Bottling of emotions

“At a certain point you start to bottle up your emotions,” says Noureddine. “Today I have a psychologist, I talk to them, it helps. But it led to moments when you sit in your room and you yourself burst into tears. It’s not nice either, because then you don’t have someone who comfort you.”


It made Houterman feel lonely at times. “I could hide it for many years. I went to grief counseling and therapy. My parents also divorced after the death, and I lost my sister in a short time, but the family also fell apart. I was left alone with my mother. .” Houterman became deeply unhappy when she was 12. “That I also said at times that I no longer wanted to live and that I wanted to be with my sister. It all felt so unfair.” She felt guilty for going through more than her sister had in her life. “I also realized that life is actually very short, and that made me sad and unhappy.” Houterman changed schools at one point. “I wasn’t Suzanne, I was Suzanne’s sister,” she explains. I couldn’t develop as much for who I was.”

Noureddine has also felt guilty for a long time. “I kept it a secret for a long time, namely that I had the feeling that in the last 2 years of my sister’s life, when I was just in high school, I didn’t pay enough attention to my sister. Then I walked in. in my house and you say hello to everyone, but they also come to you. But my sister couldn’t walk, she couldn’t say hello, couldn’t move by herself. I had to do that on my own, but then I forgot, because I’m busy in my head. After the death it bothered me a lot, it still does now. That I should have given her more hugs, more attention. Maybe she hasn’t experienced it like that at all and I’m just thinking about it. think, but it’s a great guilt I’ve been left with.”

Process grief

Both talk to psychologists about their experiences, now they have also written their story down in a book. It helps Noureddine. “Then you have everything on paper. It’s fixed, you can read it back and you just know: everything that happened and how you felt is lined up. It’s very nice,” she explains. It’s nice that people can now read it and have a little insight into how I feel and what happened without me having to tell them myself.”

“By talking to psychologists and being able to give it a place, of course it remains a loss, but by giving it a place, you can talk about it. The picture has become calmer, that it all has to do with EMDR treatments, I have had,” says Houterman. Through the book, they came into contact with other young people who had lost a loved one. “For me, it was the first moment I had contact with someone suffering. It hadn’t been there at all in those years,” she says. “The parents are often watched, and the brothers and sisters follow.”

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