Last month’s BBC documentary ‘Rio Ferdinand: being Mum and Dad’ was very powerful, I thought. It’s currently on YouTube:
Ferdinand talked very candidly about what it’s been like for him losing his wife, Rebecca, and taking care of his children afterwards.
Money and fame are no insulation from the emotional ups and downs of life and the deep pain that can accompany dealing with illness and bereavement – especially when a we lose a partner or spouse.
There are other aspects when children are involved, too – such as how to explain what’s happened, where Mum (or Dad) is now. And for Ferdinand, there was suddenly having to think about things that his wife previously took care of – lunch, washing, checking that the children brush their teeth, packing their school bags … keeping a routine going for them.
The programme also featured Ben Brooks Dutton whose wife died in 2012. He talked about his blog and the social events he organises for widowed Dads. Talking about his own bereavement, he said he was able to be productive, busy – writing his blog, running a marathon – but that “grief gets you at some point”
A group of Dads were filmed chatting, exchanging their stories of how their wives died and how they’ve coped. I was particularly struck by the one who said this felt like “… the shittiest game of Top Trumps ever….” and then another who talked about taking off his wedding ring – after all, as he said, the last line of his vows were “… till death do us part…”.
Regarding talking about his own feelings, Ferdinand had tried avoiding them: “I don’t want certain thoughts running round my head …” and his Mum, Janice, had noticed: “… when he stops, that’s when he has to think about … his loss, his children’s loss … I think he’s scared to relax … all his emotions will come out …”
After meeting with Dutton’s group of Dads he realised he probably hadn’t grieved. Throughout the programme the theme of strength versus weakness was apparent.
People might say “you’re doing so well ….” but what does that actually mean? As he says: “how are you supposed to grieve like a man when you don’t even know what it is to grieve?”
And what does “… like a man…” mean? Lots of people (men and women) still think that ‘men don’t cry’ – so what do they do? Aren’t they simply a person who is grieving? Or are there other things that come into play if you’re a man, or a boy?
Ferdinand sought professional help and also went to see his own Dad who talked about how he did, and does, deal with things, tending to keep things close to his chest: “… things happen and I have got to … get used to the idea … before I can even talk to anybody about it …”
His Dad wasn’t a ‘friendly’ person and didn’t say much. Ferdinand said that he had tended to be like his Dad and not show emotion but that he wanted to be different with his own children.
Darren Clark, the golfer, said to Ferdinand “… there is a life out there afterwards … the best thing you can do for your kids is to let them see you smile now and again … smile because you’re smiling …”.
I agree that we need to show children that it’s OK to be sad sometimes – and happy, too. Emotions come and go. The mix and range are all ‘part of the rich tapestry of life’, as they say.
Ferdinand set up a memory jar with his children so that they could write down things they remember and then dip into it to read and remember again later.
It’s healthy to talk about the person who has died – not talking about them can store up problems for later. Prince Harry talked about this aspect this week in his interview with Bryony Gordon for The Telegraph.
It’s the first in a series of podcasts she’s doing (‘Mad World’) with guests who talk about their experiences with mental health. The Telegraph also ran an article written by Hannah Furness, their royal correspondent.
The podcast is an easy listen, informal and peppered with humour from both parties. Harry talks openly about years of not talking about the death of his own mother, twenty years ago when he was just twelve, and that this impacted not only his personal life, but also his work.
Counselling has helped him and it’s one of the drivers behind his involvement in the UK Heads Together charity.
Bereavements are usually painful. And I’m not saying that there aren’t occasions when we are able to process what’s happened by ourselves – for example, when the situation or death is uncomplicated, our resilience is high and we have family and friends who are able to give us the support we need.
However, if the death was unexpected, complicated or traumatic in some way, our resilience is low, we feel vulnerable, don’t have the support we need, it brings up the pain of past losses or we avoid or delay our feelings – these are the times when talking to a professional might help.