It felt easier to laugh again

Ilja was 31 when her father passed away unexpectedly. Whilst taking walks with volunteer Sophie of Support during Mourning she found support and recognition.


“I was always very connected with my father. I felt very loved by him. One day he became ill. At first it seemed like flu. But it was a serious infection and a couple of days later he suddenly passed away.

The first half year I didn’t have time to mourn. We were very busy arranging all the practicalities. From cancelling his bank accounts to emptying his house. Not being able to mourn but still feeling sadness, gave me a literal heartache. As a remedial educationalist I know how important mental health is. When most of the practical stuff was arranged, I felt I needed help with my process. I knew there were volunteer organisations that could offer this support and I ended up at Humanitas. Support during Mourning attracted me because the support came from fellow sufferers.

The first meeting with volunteer Sophie I felt comfortable straight away. We met in a café and I saw a sweet lady of my age with an approachable look. We had finished the same study, we had the same age and we could talk about anything. The mourning ran through our conversation like a common thread.

For a year we met regularly. Especially during important periods, like my father’s birthday and the Christmas period, it was nice to be able to share my feelings with her. She was a great listener, and actually never gave advice. I found that very pleasant. It gave me my own space and was a fitting addition to the attention I got from my friends. They wanted to be there for me but didn’t always know how. A couple were abroad or were busy themselves. And sometimes I felt like a burden to them.

Often Sophie and I took walks in the park. We would get a nice cappuccino and whilst walking I would share what I felt like sharing. I knew in my mind that taking a walk could be healing, but now I really experienced this. It felt easier to laugh again. And yes, slowly, the colours in the park become more vibrant, literally and figuratively.”


From a young age Sophie felt a need to help people in mourning. With Humanitas and the programme Support during Mourning she became a buddy for Ilja.

“When I was 14, I first experienced mourning. My father passed away and it was intense and heavy. At the same time it created many special moments with my family and friends. At that time I also sought help from a grief counsellor, and I thought: ‘What a great occupation’. When I started studying pedagogics, I followed classes on mourning for children. I noticed this subject still sparked my interest.

I now work as a caregiver with children, but I also wanted to contribute my time to people in mourning. That is why I applied as a volunteer at Humanitas Support during Mourning. For a year I met with Ilja. With mourning everybody has their own path. It was pleasant being able to listen without being a therapist. Our contact was equal, from person to person. We didn’t make a plan for our conversations, I was focussed on Ilja’s wishes. I like that concept. That we both had similar experiences created an extra special connection.

Mourning is a vulnerable subject. I think it is great that volunteers at Humanitas get a good training and mentoring. It was new for me to work with adults. It is easier to fill in an answer for adults than children. For example, by saying:  I have that too. If you try not to do that, then you really give the other person room for their own story.

The first times we met the focus was Ilja’s mourning. Towards the end there was also space for other subjects. It was a nice experience to be there for someone at such a vulnerable time. That brings me satisfaction. Because the contact was over a longer period, it felt like we really got to know each other.”

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